Friday, June 14, 2019

New Trend: Deepfake Think Tank Scholars

As if the think tank industry didn't already have enough to worry about, now comes a new concern that is sending shivers down the spine of the scholarly world: foreign spies using AI-generated images and posing as think tankers to lure targets.

Here is more from the Associated Press:

Katie Jones sure seemed plugged into Washington’s political scene. The 30-something redhead boasted a job at a top think tank and a who’s-who network of pundits and experts, from the centrist Brookings Institution to the right-wing Heritage Foundation. She was connected to a deputy assistant secretary of state, a senior aide to a senator and the economist Paul Winfree, who is being considered for a seat on the Federal Reserve.
But Katie Jones doesn’t exist, The Associated Press has determined. Instead, the persona was part of a vast army of phantom profiles lurking on the professional networking site LinkedIn. And several experts contacted by the AP said Jones’ profile picture appeared to have been created by a computer program.
Experts who reviewed the Jones profile’s LinkedIn activity say it’s typical of espionage efforts on the professional networking site, whose role as a global Rolodex has made it a powerful magnet for spies.
The Jones profile was first flagged by Keir Giles, a Russia specialist with London’s Chatham House think tank. Giles was recently caught up in an entirely separate espionage operation targeting critics of the Russian antivirus firm Kaspersky Lab. So when he received an invitation from Katie Jones on LinkedIn he was suspicious.
She claimed to have been working for years as a “Russia and Eurasia fellow” at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, but Giles said that, if that were true, “I ought to have heard of her.”
CSIS spokesman Andrew Schwartz told the AP that “no one named Katie Jones works for us.”

Here is a Think Tank Watch piece from 2015 about fake think tanks.  In November 2018, Think Tank Watch noted that hackers had been impersonating US State Department officials in order to attack think tanks.  We also reported on fake Chinese think tank accounts used for spying.  There have also been several instances of people impersonating think tank scholars online.

Here is a 2017 Think Tank Watch story about another fake think tank that had been uncovered.  Here is another 2017 piece about fake think tanks.

Also in 2017, Russians dumped real documents hacked from the Bradley Foundation (which funds a number of think tanks), and added a forged letter indicating that the foundation had made an illegal $150 million donation to the Clinton campaign.

Was the White House's internal think tank a fake think tank?

Other problems that think tanks recently have had to deal with include: a serious spearphishing campaign, Chinese hackers, 2020 presidential candidates plagiarizing their work, China blocking US think tank scholars from entering the country, Russian hackers, pressure over funding sources, the leaking of emails, being targeted by Iran, gender inequality problems, illegal think tanking, and deceptive information operations.

Here is a recent Brookings piece on AI and deepfakes.

On a lighter note, here is a parody video of think tankers from another "fake" think tank: The Institute for the Promotion of War.  However, we tend to prefer the work of the Center for Advanced Bullshit Studies.

Monday, June 10, 2019

Think Tank's Influential Media Unit Bleeding Money, Staff

Here is more from The Daily Beast:

ThinkProgress, the website that is a project of the Democratic Party’s primary think tank, is facing dire financial troubles and bleeding staff, according to primary-source documents viewed by The Daily Beast.
A budget document provided to ThinkProgress management and obtained by The Daily Beast showed that the website was expecting a roughly $3 million gulf between revenue and expenses for 2019. ThinkProgress has never been a revenue generator, and has often made up for its deficits through fundraising efforts and funds from its mothership entity, the Center for American Progress (CAP). But the current outlook is significantly worse than ever before.
According to the document, advertising revenue is projected to fall $350,000 short of what was budgeted this year, and online contributions are expected to fall short by nearly $180,000. The site is projected to have about $64,000 in grant revenue (money derived from donations to CAP and meant for coverage by ThinkProgress) in 2019. That’s roughly $60,000 short of what it had budgeted for the year and roughly $540,000 less than it received in 2018. 
In the face of these falling revenue streams, ThinkProgress has seen payroll drop by 12 percent from its peak level in 2019 and “salary growth” by 5 percent, according to the document. Among those leaving is the site’s managing editor, Tara Culp-Ressler, who announced her departure last week
The numbers paint a grim picture for one of the better-known, unapologetically progressive media platforms. And it has been exacerbated by what a source described as a failure of leadership at CAP to provide answers about “the short- and long-term future of the site.” ThinkProgress is editorially independent from CAP and the accompanying Center for American Progress Action Fund, but operates within its organizational umbrella.
ThinkProgress launched in 2005 and quickly made a name for itself as a liberal-minded blog and sharp critic of the George W. Bush administration. Along the way, it became a launching pad for prominent political and journalism careers. Its former editor in chief, Faiz Shakir, is Sen. Bernie Sanders’ (I-VT) 2020 campaign manager.

Talking of Sen. Sanders, he has been none too happy with CAP, particularly in recent months.

As Think Tank Watch previously noted, ThinkProgress staff unionized back in 2015.

Sunday, June 9, 2019

Think Tank Quickies (#350)

  • New USIP report on extremism in fragile states says war on terror has cost US $5.9 trillion.
  • Trump pulls plug on Fed pic Stephen Moore, a habituĂ© of conservative think tanks.
  • Silicon Valley-funded privacy think tanks fight in DC to unravel state-level consumer privacy protections. 
  • Russian think tanks and foreign policy-making.
  • 2019 ranking of free-market think tanks measured by social media impact.
  • Conservative think tank Hamilton Flourishing launched to help nudge Chattanooga area public policy toward right.
  • Bernie Sanders video: "Check out who funds the think tanks." 
  • Max Blumenthal: US military attack on Venezuela mulled by top Trump advisors and Latin American officials at private meeting at think tank CSIS (attendees list included).
  • The history of women at think tank Chatham House.
  • NYU event: Working at NGOs and think tanks. 
  • Conservative think tanks urge Republicans to oppose Sen. Lamar Alexander's "New Manhattan Project."

Saturday, June 8, 2019

2020 Democrats Lifting Material from Think Tanks

Here is more from Politico:

Twenty-four hours after Joe Biden’s campaign was taken to task for lifting portions of a climate change plan without citation, it’s clear that the former vice president has plenty of company.
A sampling of policy proposals from Biden’s leading rivals suggests the lifting of direct text from academic papers, think tanks or policy institutes — and the cribbing of facts without attribution — is fairly widespread on 2020 campaign websites.

Politicians often rely on think tanks specializing in certain issues for facts and legislative ideas.

People plagiarizing from think tanks and think tanks plagiarizing from others is quite prevalent.  Years ago, CNN's Fareed Zakaria was accused of plagiarizing from think tanks.  Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) was also accused of plagiarizing from various think tanks.

Even think tank CEOs have been accused of plagiarism.  Non-US think tanks have also been accused of plagiarism.

Friday, May 31, 2019

More Details on Papadopoulos's Connection to Think Tanks

Here is more from the Washington Post about George Papadopoulos, a former member of the foreign policy advisory panel to Donald Trump's 2016 presidential campaign:

Papadopoulos was an agreeable young man who’d often worked alongside Hudson Institute fellow Seth Cropsey. But most offered no response. Cropsey ignored multiple emails and eventually passed me on to the Hudson Institute press office, which offered careful and uninteresting replies.
George [Papadopoulos]...had been quick to pull up articles he’d written with Cropsey (claiming to have done most or all of the writing) and a photo of himself and Cropsey in a meeting with the president of Cyprus, to prove that he had played a crucial role at the Hudson Institute. But I was still waiting to see emails backing up other claims about his career there.

The article also notes that Papadopoulos exchanged emails with Ivan Timofeev of the Russian International Affairs Council, a "prominent Moscow think tank."

Here is a link to the biography of Seth Cropsey, Senior Fellow and Director of the Center for American Seapower at Hudson.

Did Papadopoulos lie about his think tank experience?

Thursday, May 30, 2019

Cato Institute Closes Its Climate Shop

Here is more from E&E News:

The Cato Institute quietly shut down a program that for years sought to raise uncertainty about climate science, leaving the libertarian think tank co-founded by Charles Koch without an office dedicated to global warming.
The move came after Pat Michaels, a climate scientist who rejects mainstream researchers' concerns about rising temperatures, left Cato earlier this year amid disagreements with officials in the organization.
"They informed me that they didn't think their vision of a think tank was in the science business, and so I said, 'OK, bye,'" Michaels said in an interview yesterday. "There had been some controversy going around the building for some time, so things got to a situation where they didn't work out."
A spokeswoman said Cato's shuttering of the Center for the Study of Science does not represent a shift in the institute's position on human-caused climate change. But the think tank moved decisively to close down the science wing that was overseen by Michaels. Ryan Maue, a meteorologist and former adjunct scholar, also left the center.
Cato also is no longer affiliated with Richard Lindzen, an emeritus professor of meteorology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who has long been critical of established climate science. Lindzen was a distinguished fellow at the think tank.

A week ago, Jerry Taylor, President and Co-founder of the think tank Niskanen Center who used to work at Cato, penned a piece entitled "What Changed My Mind About Climate Change?"

As Dr. Janne Korhonen recently pointed out, in the context of climate change, 92% of environmentally skeptical books published between 1972 and 2005 were linked to conservative think tanks.

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Think Tank Quickies (#349)

  • A $30,000+ prize for debut non-fiction proposals, open to think tankers.
  • PhRMA spends millions on conservative think tanks.
  • UK thinks tanks being tarnished by secretive right-wingers?
  • New spokesman for Saudi embassy works the think tank circuit.
  • British think tank that counters Russian information operations has been hacked
  • Ilhan Tanir: "I wonder if this new awakening re FARA registration will ever reach to some of Washington's think tanks' lobbying by any other name."
  • On China's investment in think tanks.
  • Talking Galleries: "Think tank for [art] galleries."
  • Pic: Food trucks visit think tanks.
  • Peter Mendelsund turns a homage to "The Magic Mountain" into a clever metafictional send-up of artists' retreats and tech-industry think tanks.

    Tuesday, May 21, 2019

    Top 3 Conservative Think Tanks Collectively Larger than Combined Budget of CRS & CBO

    Here is more from E.J. Fagan:

    Congress is more polarized and has less capacity to process complex information than ever. These trends are related. As Congress cut the budgets of its own internal think tanks – CRS and CBO – it began to rely more heavily on  party-aligned think tanks. This change makes it more difficult for members and leadership to build consensus and solve policy problems for their constituents.
    My work examines the congressional activities of the six largest (by expenditures) party-aligned think tanks. On the right, these include the Heritage Foundation, American Enterprise Institute, and Cato Institute. On the left, they are the Center for American Progress, New America, and Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Collectively, these six institutions have grown to a massive size, while Congress’s internal think tanks, the CBO and CRS, are slowly shrinking. The below figure shows how rapidly these six think tanks have grown since 2001. The three conservative think tanks are collectively larger than the combined budget of the CBO and CRS. The three progressive think tanks, which began the 2000s as tiny blips on the screen, now spend over $100 million collectively.
    As they have grown, these party-aligned think tanks have become more influential in Congressional debates. One way that I measure the changing influence of think tanks over time is to observe how frequently they testify in hearings. The figure below charts the number of witnesses from the six think tanks per hearing against the staff witnesses from the CBO, CRS, and OTA. The two trends are mirror images of each other. When Congress cut the budgets of its analytical organizations in the mid-90s, there was a subsequent explosion in think tank witnesses. While this explosion subsided after the 104th Congress, a new equilibrium was established for much of the late-90s and early 2000s. Finally, the series accelerates again in the mid-2000s, as the analytical organization budgets suffered further cuts.

    E.J. Fagan is a Ph.D. student at the University of Texas at Austin.

    Think Tank Watch should note that the RAND Corporation by itself has a budget that is much larger than the CBO and CRS combined.

    Monday, May 20, 2019

    Democratic-Aligned Think Tank Knocks Bernie Sanders for Iran Vote

    Here is more from The Intercept:

    A mainstream, Democratic Party-aligned foreign policy think tank is knocking Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., for voting against new sanctions on Iran in 2017 — though the think tank itself and many members of its board oppose new Iran sanctions.
    Sanders has been an outspoken supporter of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal and said at the time that he voted against the measure in order to preserve the deal. Sanctions, he argued, would have jeopardized the landmark agreement. But the sanctions were part of a package that also imposed restrictions on Russia and North Korea, which is why the think tank, Foreign Policy for America, supported the package.
    Foreign Policy for America’s knock came in a score card that rated politicians on their votes in Congress. The group, also known as FP4A, released its new score card at the end of April, ranking members of Congress from the 115th session on a variety of foreign policy issues. The relatively new advocacy group gives Sanders a positive score in all but two of 13 categories — one of which was the bill that sanctioned Iran and Russia.
    Among the members of the Foreign Policy for America’s boards are foreign policy experts who were instrumental in fighting to make the Iran deal happen. Some of those figures have expressed concerns over the choice to penalize Sanders for taking the position he did.
    Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, former Secretary of State Colin Powell’s chief of staff and a Foreign Policy for America advisory board member said the scoring of the vote that included the Iran sanctions, along with a few other disagreements, had caused him to reconsider his involvement with Foreign Policy for America.

    Here is a link to FP4A.  Here is a link to the group's board of directors and advisory board.

    The liberal think tank Center for American Progress (CAP) has also been tussling with Sanders.

    Tuesday, May 14, 2019

    Think Tank Quickies (#348)

    • Reihan Salam to run Manhattan Institute.
    • Matthew Sears proposal: "All think tanks should have a warning label at the top of their websites and attached to every article they publish, stating by whom they're funded.  Like cigarette warning labels..."
    • Are India's think tanks promoting conflict with Pakistan?
    • Think tank bearing McCain's name releases "fact sheet" rebutting Trump's criticisms.
    • Hudson Institute was first major think tank to have a woman as its president, Gail Potter Neale.
    • FT: EU think tanks strengthen their defenses after Russian attacks.
    • In tweet, President Trump praises new book by Hoover Senior Fellow Victor Davis Hanson.
    • Family put in Chinese concentration camp for speaking up at Hudson Institute?
    • DC think tanks continue to push for US-Taiwan FTA.
    • Turkish lawmakers visit DC's think tank land; Saudi foreign minister meets with think tankers.
    • Pic: Carnegie Endowment for International Peace gives great gifts to its guest speakers.

    Monday, May 13, 2019

    Images Released by Think Tank Provide First Look at New Chinese Aircraft Carrier

    Here is more from CNN:

    New satellite images published by a US think tank may provide the world's first look at China's next aircraft carrier, as construction progresses on a mysterious large vessel in a shipyard outside Shanghai.
    Significant new activity at the Jiangnan Shipyard was captured in satellite images from April, published by Washington-based think tank the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS).
    According to CSIS, they show a massive bow and main hull section of a large vessel under construction. At points, the hull section is as wide as 40 meters (131 feet). 
    Experts said while it was difficult to be sure, the size and scale of the new vessel strongly suggested China's much-anticipated new aircraft carrier, referred to as Type 002.
    Rumors that the Chinese military was constructing a third, more modern aircraft carrier have been circling for more than a year. It was only in November that state media Xinhua first hinted at a new vessel.

    Here is a previous Think Tank Watch post about CSIS using satellite intelligence to track various Asian island disputes.

    Thursday, May 9, 2019

    New Report: Government More Trusted Than Think Tanks

    Here is more from Associations Now:

    Even in an era when congressional staffers are hearing a lot of arguments about the issues of the day from all directions, more traditional advocacy voices are still finding room in the conversation.
    That’s a key finding of “Surround Sound,” a new report from the Public Affairs Council in partnership with the research firm Morning Consult.
    In results from an online survey of 173 congressional staffers and federal employees, 8 in 10 respondents stated that they trusted political information from trade associations, and nearly the same amount (79 percent) said they trusted think tanks. The report found that associations and think tanks were generally more trusted than individual businesses (59 percent), lobbyists (61 percent), and online sources unaffiliated with the media (55 percent).
    However, associations and think tanks don’t top the chart of most trusted sources by staffers—those generally tend to be official government sources, such as the Government Accountability Office (90 percent), the Congressional Research Service (88 percent), and federal agencies (86 percent).

    When asked to compare the effectiveness of different advocacy techniques, congressional staff rate personal visits to Washington, DC (83%) or district offices (81%), and think tank reports (81%) at the top of the list.

    Monday, May 6, 2019

    Think Tank Quickies (#347)

    • Mayor Pete Buttigieg threat to conservative think tanks: "They've got their own institutions, they've got their own think tanks...and we're going to have to poke those bubbles."
    • Job opportunity at the only trade think tank in Brussels (i.e., ECIPE).
    • Flashback: Influence of Turkish money at US think tanks. 
    • Spring pic: The story of the cherry tree in front of Brookings.
    • Cato Institute hosts new art exhibition open to the public.
    • Nancy Pelosi trying to recruit DC think tanks to undermine Medicare for All?
    • Ola Salem and Hassan Hassan in FP: Arab regimes spend millions of dollars on think tanks in part to advance Islamophobia.
    • Pic: Only recently did I discover that think tanks do not holding meetings in actual tanks.
    • New film Blood Money deals with how Qatar funds think tanks to advance its agenda.
    • Pic: When you bring a baby to a think tank...

    Friday, May 3, 2019

    Milken to Open Closest Think Tank to the White House

    Think Tank Watch has spotted a notice from real estate firm Akridge which shows that a California-based think tank founded by Michael Milken will be opening a swanky outpost just a stone's throw from the White House.  In fact, it will be the closest think tank to the White House.

    Here is more:
    Located on the prominent corner of Fifteenth Street and Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, across from the US Treasury Building and the White House, the Milken Museum and Conference Center will be the new home for the Milken Institute as well as the Center for the American Dream. The development is comprised of three historical addresses, including 1501 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, 1503-1505 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, and 730 Fifteenth Street, NW. All three of these buildings contribute to Washington, DC's Financial Historic District and Lafayette Square. The mixed-use development will offer a combination of traditional office space as well as a conference center and museum, located within the main halls of the historic bank buildings.

    Here is more from CNN.

    The Milken Institute, formed in 1991, is an economic think tank currently headquartered in Santa Monica, California.

    At this year's Milken Institute Global Conference, more than 4,000 people from 60 countries attended, including three presidential hopefuls who gave speeches, Sesame Street's Elmo, and Ivanka Trump.  Twenty years ago, barely 1,000 people attended the gathering.

    Quartz put together a quiz to help determine if your think tank event is a "Very Important Global Conference."

    Wednesday, May 1, 2019

    Atlantic Council Fetes at the Ritz

    Here is more from Politico:

    The Atlantic Council held its 2019 Distinguished Leadership Awards at the Ritz-Carlton on Tuesday night. The event honored NATO, whose award was received by Rose Gottemoeller from retired Gen. Jim Jones; Adrienne Arsht, whose award was presented by Alonzo Mourning; Christine Lagarde, whose award was presented by Ivanka Trump; and Fred Smith, whose award was presented by Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.).
    ALSO SPOTTED: Wolf Blitzer, Bret and Amy Baier, Colin and Alma Powell, Marillyn Hewson, Dina Powell and David McCormick, John F.W. Rogers (the incoming chairman of the board), Anthony Scaramucci, Steve Clemons, Niki Christoff, Mitch Landrieu, John Waldron, Nicole and Dave Nason, Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez and wife Lourdes, Sharon Rockefeller,Julie and Wynn Radford, Fred Kempe, Josh and Ali Rogin, Morgan Ortagus and Jonathan Weinberger, Stuart and Gwen Holiday, Franco Nuschese, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, Wesley Clark, Anita McBride, Capricia Marshall, Sam Vinograd and many ambassadors.

    Here is more about this year's Distinguished Leadership Awards, which were presented to NATO, philanthropist Adrienne Arsht, IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde, and FedEx Chairman Frederick Smith.

    Monday, April 29, 2019

    Heritage Foundation Influences Trump Admin. on Health Policy

    Here is more from Roll Call:

    Close ties between the administration and a prominent conservative think tank correlate with several Trump administration health policy decisions, according to new information from a liberal government watchdog group shared exclusively with CQ Roll Call.
    The 35-page Equity Forward report says that The Heritage Foundation’s influence plays a large role in decisions related to abortion, fetal tissue research, contraception and protections for same-sex couples.
    Think tanks that support an administration are known to yield influence over policy decisions, but Equity Forward calls the ties with The Heritage Foundation “alarming” because the organization says Heritage is succeeding in securing policy decisions that contradict HHS’ intended mission.
    A separate 2018 report by the Think Tanks and Civil Societies Program of the Lauder Institute at the University of Pennsylvania found that The Heritage Foundation ranked as the think tank with the most significant impact on public policy and the top U.S. think tank to watch in 2019.

    Here is a link to Equity Forward's new report and here is a press release about it.

    Here is an Equity Forward link that takes you directly to Heritage Foundation's ties to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

    Thursday, April 25, 2019

    Think Tank CNI Taking Financial Hit From Mueller Probe

    The Washington, DC-based think tank Center for the National Interest (CNI) and those connected to it have faced a significant financial blow stemming from the Mueller probe into Russian interference in the 2016 US presidential election.  Here is more from Bloomberg:

    Dimitri Simes’s name appears 134 times in the redacted version of special counsel Robert Mueller’s report on Russian interference in the 2016 election. Born and educated in Moscow, Simes has been a fixture in Washington since the 1970s, brokering advice and authority for contacts in both capitals. Those relationships proved helpful to the nascent presidential campaign of Donald Trump, later drawing the scrutiny of Mueller’s team.
    Mueller’s investigation resulted in a total of 34 indictments covering everyone from Russian hackers to Trump campaign officials, but not Simes or anyone else at his Washington think tank, the Center for the National Interest. And yet, as the probe unfolded, Simes and his staff incurred punishing legal bills during the hours they sat for interviews with the special counsel’s team. The think tank’s largest donor drastically cut his financial support earlier this year, according to four people familiar with the organization’s finances, and Simes himself dealt with unwanted public exposure. With no finding of wrongdoing to show for their travails, Simes and the center are nevertheless an object lesson in the unexpected costs of influence-peddling.
    Simes has spent his career mostly behind the scenes, moving to the U.S. in 1973 and serving as an informal foreign policy adviser to President Richard Nixon. Nixon personally installed him at the helm of the Center for the National Interest when he founded it in 1994 as the Nixon Center for Peace and Freedom. 
    The Center for the National Interest organized the event where Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner first met Henry Kissinger, and it also hosted Trump’s first foreign policy speech at Washington’s Mayflower Hotel. Furthermore, as the Mueller report says, Simes met Jared Kushner in August 2016 to offer dirt on the Clinton family’s relationship with Russia.
    The last two years have been a drain on Simes’s think tank, which is down to about $1.2 million in assets, a person familiar with its finances says, from $5.3 million at the end of 2016, according to a tax filing. The Center for the National Interest ran up huge legal bills with its longtime attorneys David Rivkin and Lee Casey of BakerHostetler, say three people familiar with the costs; one of them says some monthly bills ran in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.
    Simes’s think tank has found itself in a precarious financial position in part because its largest donor, a foundation overseen by Maurice “Hank” Greenberg, the former American International Group chief executive officer and former Center for the National Interest board chairman, has pulled much of its support. Last August the Daily Beast published a story connecting Greenberg to Maria Butina, once the darling of the pro-gun right, who has since pleaded guilty to federal charges of acting as an agent of the Russian government, in matters unrelated to the Mueller probe.
    Charles Boyd, the think tank’s current chairman and a retired four-star general in the U.S. Air Force, expects that new interest from donors and increased revenue from its magazine, the National Interest, will help the organization bounce back. Jacob Heilbrunn, the magazine’s editor, says an investment in “the six figures” into the National Interest’s website and magazine has boosted traffic and advertising; monthly revenue is in excess of $250,000, while monthly page views hit 16.6 million in March, Heilbrunn says.

    Here is a previous Think Tank Watch piece about CNI hosting Donald Trump for a foreign policy speech.  After that event, CNI fired one of its employees for questioning the think tank's ties to Trump.

    Here is a link to an interview that Simes just had with Christiane Amanpour on the Russia probe and the think tank's ties to Russia.

    Update: Here is a new Politico piece on Simes and his ties to Jared Kushner. And here is a piece by Washington Post's Josh Rogin entitled "Dimitri Simes Flew Too Close to Trump, and His Think Tank Got Burned."

    Tuesday, April 23, 2019

    Think Tanks Helping Shape China's Belt and Road Initiative

    China continues to ramp up its support for and creation of think tanks.  Here is more from Xinhua:

    Preparation is complete for a thematic-forum on think tank exchanges to be held during the Second Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation, the organizers said Tuesday.
    The think tank forum will be held at the China National Convention Center in Beijing on Thursday.
    The event, hosted by the Publicity Department of the Communist Party of China Central Committee, is organized by the China Center for International Economic Exchanges and the Xinhua Institute.
    About 300 people will attend the thematic-forum, including former foreign politicians, representatives of international organizations, enterprises and financial institutions.
    The forum will begin with an opening meeting and then be followed by two parallel sessions on think tanks and media, respectively.
    The sessions will focus on four sub-topics: aligning development strategies and plans, building a fair, open and transparent system of international rules, promoting an inclusive world economy and building a community with a shared future for humanity.

    Here is more about think tanks and the BRI.

    In related news, the Chinese government has chided some think tanks, such as the US's Center for Global Development (CGD), for spreading what it says are "false accusations" about BRI.

    Indeed, skepticism about BRI abounds in many Western think tanks.  For example, Amsterdam-based think tank European Foundation for South Asian Studies recently said that that BRI is not likely to work for Nepal.

    The Beijing-based Pangoal Institution has just published a book on node countries' views of BRI.

    South Korean lawyer Choi Jae Cheon has established his own think tank on BRI.

    Update: The Belt and Road Studies Network, co-initiated by Xinhua Institute and 15 other think tanks, was inaugurated in Beijing.

    Monday, April 22, 2019

    Microsoft Helping to Secure Think Tanks, 2020 Elections

    Microsoft has a new security service called Microsoft AccountGuard designed to help targeted customers, including think tanks, protect themselves from cybersecurity threats.

    Here is more from Microsoft:
    While Microsoft AccountGuard is new, it’s grounded in work we’ve done for years to protect democratic processes. This includes support for the Iowa caucuses in 2016, our role as a technology supplier to conventions for both major U.S. parties, and the work of our Washington, D.C.-based team to serve both political campaigns and U.S. government institutions. Based on these foundational experiences, we constructed Microsoft AccountGuard to account for the threats these organizations face, their unique resource constraints and the mix of technologies they often use.
    Microsoft AccountGuard is open to all current candidates for federal, state and local office in the United States and their campaigns; the campaign organizations of all sitting members of Congress; national and state party committees; technology vendors who primarily serve campaigns and committees; and certain nonprofit organizations and nongovernmental organizations. Microsoft AccountGuard is offered free of charge. Organizations must be using Office 365 to register.
    Microsoft AccountGuard will provide notification about cyberthreats, including attacks by known nation-state actors, in a unified way across both email systems run by organizations and the personal accounts of these organizations’ leaders and staff who opt in. Eligible organizations can invite staff and other associates to enroll in Microsoft AccountGuard, and notification will only occur with the consent of the account owner.

    Microsoft is also expanding AccountGuard in Europe, citing similar threats to democracy:
    We all saw hacking and disinformation attacks on the French presidential election in 2017, and European leaders have recently warned that attacks will continue across Europe in 2019. At Microsoft, we’ve seen recent activity targeting democratic institutions in Europe as part of the work our Threat Intelligence Center (MSTIC) and Digital Crimes Unit (DCU) carry out every day to protect all of our customers.
    These attacks are not limited to campaigns themselves but often extend to think tanks and non-profit organizations working on topics related to democracy, electoral integrity, and public policy and that are often in contact with government officials. For example, Microsoft has recently detected attacks targeting employees of the German Council on Foreign Relations, The Aspen Institutes in Europe and The German Marshall Fund.

    The service launched in August 2018, in preparation for the 2018 US midterm elections.  AccountGuard is now helping secure "the 2020 US general elections and broader political and think tank community," says Microsoft.

    Over the past several years, Think Tank Watch has documented cyber attacks and cyber intrusions on scores of think tanks in the US, Europe, and elsewhere.

    Saturday, April 20, 2019

    Think Tank Quickies (#346)

    • Missing in action: The absence of women scholars on foreign policy panels (via Federiga Bindi and Mimosa Giamanco).
    • Asia Pacific Initiative: What is a think tank? (written by Yoichi Funabashi)
    • Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to lash out at Wikileaks at think tank event.
    • The Onion: Father-in-law think tank issues comprehensive one-sentence solution to immigration, unemployment, crime problems.
    • Chinese think tank warning: US, China "at greater risk of military incidents" in South China Sea.
    • Hudson Institute to staff a committee in charge of implementing a key provision of First Step Act.
    • Good advice for think tank events from Harvard: Just because you can speak up at an event, doesn't mean you should.
    • John Holbein: Has anyone written about the replicability/reproducibility of research done by think tanks?
    • Montenegro officials meet with DC think tanks, including CSIS and Atlantic Council.
    • Should Congress get its own think tank to get smart?

    Friday, April 19, 2019

    Think Tanks Quietly Help Write Thousands of Laws Across US

    Here is more from USA Today:

    Each year, state lawmakers across the U.S. introduce thousands of bills dreamed up and written by corporations, industry groups and think tanks.
    Disguised as the work of lawmakers, these so-called “model” bills get copied in one state Capitol after another, quietly advancing the agenda of the people who write them
    A two-year investigation by USA TODAY, The Arizona Republic  and the Center for Public Integrity reveals for the first time the extent to which special interests have infiltrated state legislatures using model legislation.
    USA TODAY and the Republic found at least 10,000 bills almost entirely copied from model legislation were introduced nationwide in the past eight years, and more than 2,100 of those bills were signed into law.

    Think tanks also play a very significant role in helping write, analyze, and pass (or defeat) legislation at the federal level.

    Thursday, April 18, 2019

    US Think Tank Scholars Blocked From Entering China

    Almost everyone has heard of the ongoing US-China trade war but few have noticed a much quieter war taking place: a US-China think tank war.  Here is the latest from the New York Times:

    An American scholar who has advised President Trump on China said late Wednesday that he was not given a visa he sought to attend a recent conference in Beijing, in what he called apparent retaliation for American restrictions on visas for visiting Chinese scholars.
    The scholar, Michael Pillsbury, director for Chinese strategy at the Hudson Institute, a conservative think tank in Washington, said he applied for a visa with the Chinese Embassy in Washington on March 22 but failed to get approval to attend the conference last Sunday, which was organized by a research institute in Beijing.
    The host of the conference in Beijing was the Center for China and Globalization. Mr. Pillsbury, citing Chinese associates, said that the conference had also invited Wendy Cutler, a former United States trade official, but that she had also failed to get a visa. Ms. Cutler could not be reached for comment late Wednesday night.
    Mr. Pillsbury said that when he raised the issue with a Chinese Communist Party official he knows, the official pointed to a recent New York Times article that said counterintelligence officials at the F.B.I. had been canceling the long-term visas of some Chinese scholars.
    Mr. Pillsbury said he took that to imply that his visa application had been stymied in reprisal for the new restrictions.

    The New York Times recently reported that the FBI has barred around 30 Chinese scholars from entering the US.

    Here is a link to other people, including scholars from the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), Asia Foundation, Heritage Foundation, and Cato Institute, who were supposed to attend the event in China.

    Here is a previous Think Tank Watch piece about Michael Pillsbury, President Trump's "go-to" China scholar.

    Calls are now being made for a ceasefire in the "visa war."

    Wednesday, April 17, 2019

    Think Tank Quickies (#345)

    • China cultivating a network of EU think tanks to promote Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). 
    • Andrew Marshall, RAND researcher who founded DoD's "internal think tank," dies.
    • The world's think tank dilemma, by Yoichi Funabashi.
    • MEI event: The role of think tanks in shaping Middle East policy.
    • The detrimental effects of experts (including think tankers) on politics in autocratic regimes in the Middle East.
    • Public policy think tank SynergyNet to close after 17 years from lack of funds and unfavorable environment in Hong Kong.
    • Think tank CEI calls on NBC to stop blacking out climate skeptics.
    • US think tank leaders urge China to release Canadian researcher, citing threat to ties.
    • Women, gender, and think tanks. 
    • Will the secretive 45 Club be a conduit for Trump alumni to get think tank jobs?

    Tuesday, April 16, 2019

    Scholars Try to Block Kirstjen Nielsen from Think Tank Post

    Here is more from Vox:

    Kirstjen Nielsen is out of a job. Now some scholars want to make sure she doesn’t get a new one — at least, not anywhere near them.
    A handful of scholars and media figures have signed a petition, written on Monday by George Washington University political scientist Henry Farrell, vowing not to “associate myself in any way” with any think tank or university department that employs the homeland security secretary, who resigned on Sunday.
    It’s pretty typical for former administration officials to take jobs in the American intelligentsia: Two former Trump allies have landed at Harvard alone. But Farrell and his allies think Nielsen shouldn’t get this kind of soft landing in the intellectual class. The harsh immigration policies she instituted — most infamously the “zero tolerance” policy that led to thousands of family separations at the border — are, in their view, morally intolerable.

    Here is a link to the petition, which has around 200 signatories so far.  Dr. Henry Farrell, who started the petition, is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR).

    Here is a recent piece by Charles Pierce of Esquire entitled "Kirstjen Nielsen Will Have a Book Deal and a Think Tank Job Before You Can Say 'Kids in Cages.'"

    Monday, April 15, 2019

    FBI Blocking Chinese Think Tankers From Entering US?

    Here is more from the New York Times:

    In the four decades since China and the United States normalized relations, Washington has generally welcomed Chinese scholars and researchers to America, even when Beijing has been less open to reciprocal visits. Republican and Democratic administrations have operated on the assumption that the national interest was well served by exposing Chinese academics to American values.
    Now, that door appears to be closing, with the two nations ramping up their strategic rivalry and each regarding academic visitors from the other with greater suspicion — of espionage, commercial theft and political meddling.
    The F.B.I. has mounted a counterintelligence operation that aims to bar Chinese academics from the United States if they are suspected of having links to Chinese intelligence agencies. As many as 30 Chinese professors in the social sciences, heads of academic institutes, and experts who help explain government policies have had their visas to the United States canceled in the past year, or put on administrative review, according to Chinese academics and their American counterparts.

    According to the latest think tank count from the University of Pennsylvania, the United States has 1,871 think tanks, India has 509, and China has 507.

    Sunday, April 14, 2019

    Bernie Sanders Gets Angry at Liberal Think Tank CAP

    Here is more from the New York Times:

    Senator Bernie Sanders, in a rare and forceful rebuke by a presidential candidate of an influential party ally, has accused a liberal think tank of undermining Democrats’ chances of taking back the White House in 2020 by “using its resources to smear” him and other contenders pushing progressive policies.
    Mr. Sanders’s criticism of the Center for American Progress, delivered on Saturday in a letter obtained by The New York Times, reflects a simmering ideological battle within the Democratic Party and threatens to reopen wounds from the 2016 primary between him and Hillary Clinton’s allies. The letter airs criticisms shared among his supporters: That the think tank, which has close ties to Mrs. Clinton and the Democratic Party establishment, is beholden to corporate donors and has worked to quash a leftward shift in the party led partly by Mr. Sanders.
    Mr. Sanders sent the letter days after a website run by the action fund, ThinkProgress, suggested that his attacks on income inequality were hypocritical in light of his growing personal wealth.

    The Sanders-CAP feud seems to be escalating.  And here is more from The Hill.

    Here is a link to Sanders speaking at CAP's Ideas Conference in 2018 where he thanked CAP for the "important work" it has done over the years.

    In 2017, Sanders was not invited to CAP's Ideas Conference.

    Update: The New York Times has a major piece on Neera Tanden and CAP, which among other things, quotes her mother, Maya Tanden.  [The Washington Post has a new piece on how her mom became "collateral damage."]  NYT notes that CAP and its sister political arm have a $60 million combined annual budget and 320 staff members.

    It says that money to the think tank from the personal foundation of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg surged to $665,000 in 2018 from $15,000 in 2017.  And from 2016 through 2018, CAP accepted nearly $2.5 million from the United Arab Emirates (UAE) to fund its National Security and International Policy Initiative.

    Among other things, Tanden, whose salary was $397,000 in 2018, reportedly punched Faiz Shakir, the former editor of the think tank's ThinkProgress website.  He is now managing Sen. Bernie Sanders' presidential campaign.

    Can a think tank president be "too online."

    Here is a piece about Benjamin Edwards, professional artist and husband of Neera Tanden.

    Saturday, April 13, 2019

    Think Tank Quickies (#344)

    • Next100: A pop-up think tank for the next generation of policy leaders.
    • Stability in think tank rankings, but are they an elitist bunch?
    • Microsoft says it has found another Russian operation targeting prominent think tanks. 
    • Richard Fontaine named CEO of CNAS after Victoria Nuland returns to Albright Stonebridge Group as senior counselor.
    • Antiquities Coalition: A think tank fighting stolen art and antiquities.
    • AEI holds secretive Republican gathering at Sea Island Resort in Georgia with VP Pence, Mike Pompeo, and Jared Kushner. 
    • Little-known think tank (Niskanen Center) becomes brain trust of "Never Trumpism."
    • Ben Freeman: DC think tanks receive millions from authoritarian governments to shape foreign policy in their favor.
    • The Onion: Brookings report says fax machines still pretty impressive.
    • New French think tank: L'Observatoire de l'Ethique Publique.

    Friday, April 12, 2019

    Google Employees Demanded Removal of Heritage President From New AI Council

    Here is more from CNN:

    Google has shuttered its new artificial intelligence ethics council, a little more than a week after announcing it and days after a swarm of employees demanded the removal of the president of a conservative think tank from the group.
    In a statement Thursday, Google told CNN Business that it has "become clear that in the current environment" the Advanced Technology External Advisory Council "can't function" as the company wanted.
    "So we're ending the council and going back to the drawing board. We'll continue to be responsible in our work on the important issues that AI raises, and will find different ways of getting outside opinions on these topics," Google said.
    The decision, which was first reported by Vox Media, came in the wake of nearly 2,400 Google employees signing a post on the website Medium demanding the company remove Kay Coles James — president of conservative think tank The Heritage Foundation — from the council. Published Monday by a group of employees calling itself Googlers Against Transphobia, the post said that by adding James to the group, Google was "making clear that its version of 'ethics' values proximity to power over the wellbeing of trans people, other LGBTQ people, and immigrants."
    Heritage has openly opposed LGBT rights. And the group of Google employees pointed out several recent Twitter posts in which James criticized proposed federal legislation such as the Equality Act, which aims to halt discrimination based on gender identity, sex and sexual orientation. On Twitter, James called the bill "anything but equality" and said it would "open every female bathroom and sports team to biological males."

    In response, Kay Coles James penned an opinion piece saying that she had been treated with "hostility."

    Thursday, April 11, 2019

    Japanese Government Funding More Japan Chairs at Think Tanks

    Japan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) is making an intense push to fund more Japan Chairs at think tanks in the US and Europe as is seeks to influence Western allies.

    In March, the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) announced the establishment of a new full-time Senior Fellow for Japanese Studies who will be based at the think tank's London headquarters.  The position, which has not yet been filled (job ad here), was created through a multi-million dollar donation from the government of Japan.

    In the United States, the Hudson Institute is also launching a Japan Chair, with President Donald Trump's former National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster to be the new chair.

    Some of the people spotted in attendance at a launch event for Hudson's Japan Chair, according to Politico, include:
    H.R. McMaster, Ken Weinstein, Matt Pottinger, Patrick Cronin, Mike Pillsbury, Scooter Libby, Jim Carafano, Leslie Schweitzer, Francesca Craig, Dave Lawler, Zeke Miller, Josh Rogin, Halley Toosi and Steve Herman.

    In 2018, after being pushed out of the Trump Administration, McMaster returned to Stanford's Hoover Institution.  McMaster had his first stint at Hoover in 2002 as a national security affairs fellow and then served as a visiting fellow from 2003 to 2017.

    He has also been a Consulting Senior Fellow at IISS.  Conservatives launched numerous attacks (see here, here, and here) for his affiliation with the UK-based think tank.  Dr. Patrick Cronin, who holds Hudson's Asia-Pacific Security Chair, formerly served as Director of Studies at IISS.  Cronin recently left the Center for a New American Security (CNAS) to join Hudson.

    The largest and most influential Japan Chair is at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS).  It is run by Dr. Michael Green, former Senior Director for Asia at the National Security Council (NSC).

    In 2018, Hudson hosted more than 115 events in Washington, DC, including a major China speech by Vice President Mike Pence.  Hudson also says its experts penned 446 op-eds in major newspapers in 2018.

    Last year, Hudson had total revenues of $17.5 million.  Of that, 40% came from individuals, 30% from foundations, 12% from corporations, 11% from endowment distributions, and 7% from governments.

    Besides the government of Japan, other Japanese donors to Hudson include: All Nippon Airways (ANA), The Japan Foundation Center for Global Partnership, Japan External Trade Organization (JETRO), Mitsui Corporation, and Hitachi.

    Non-Japanese donors to the think tank include the Government of Denmark, MacArthur Foundation, Microsoft, Rupert Murdoch, Northrop Grumman, Oracle, Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office (TECRO), Boeing, and Ford Motor.

    Wednesday, April 10, 2019

    White House Working on Secret Health Care Plan With 3 Think Tanks

    Here is more from the Washington Examiner:

    The White House is quietly working on a healthcare policy proposal to replace the Affordable Care Act, according to multiple sources with knowledge of the matter.
    While it is not clear how far along the process is, work on a proposal has been going on for months. The effort appears to belie criticism that Trump's decision to restart the debate on healthcare, an issue Democrats used to their advantage in the 2018 midterms, was an error committed without forethought.
    The analyst said the administration has been “having conversations” on healthcare policy and has reached out to numerous think tanks, including the Heritage Foundation, the Mercatus Center, and the Hoover Institute.

    And in related healthcare news, Scott Gottlieb, the Commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), recently announced that he would be returning to his old think tank, American Enterprise Institute (AEI).  He reportedly plans to focus on drug prices and will commute to Washington, DC around six days per month.

    Tuesday, April 9, 2019

    Sanctioned Russian Oligarch's Think Tank Might Come to US

    Here is more from ThinkProgress:

    A Berlin-based think tank founded and chaired by sanctioned Russian oligarch Vladimir Yakunin is exploring the possibility of opening an office in the United States, a spokesperson for the group told ThinkProgress.
    Jean-Christophe Bas, the current CEO of Yakunin’s Dialogue of Civilizations Research Institute (DOC) think tank, said that he’s considering opening a “liaison office” in New York. The office “would be liaising with the United Nations,” as well as with international groups like the International Monetary Fund (IMF), Bas said.
    Yakunin has been on the U.S. sanctions list since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in 2014, identified as a key player in Russian President Vladimir Putin’s Kremlin. The oligarch has long been a member of Putin’s inner circle, and was closely involved in the early networks used to cement Putin’s power.
    Yakunin helped found the DOC, and is currently chairman of its supervisory board.
    The DOC claims to be independently funded, but German media reported that Yakunin planned to give tens of millions of dollars to the DOC to help fund its operations. [Olga] Shorina wrote that “Yakunin reportedly has invested $28 million of his personal wealth in the think tank over five years, but the organization has no official record of its income and expenses.”

    Here is a link to the think tank's website, and here is a link to its 2017 annual report.

    Monday, April 8, 2019

    Dems Seek Answers on Heritage Foundation Law Clerk Training

    Here is more from Bloomberg Law:

    Six Democratic senators want to know if law clerks participating in a conservative organization’s training program violated the judicial codes of conduct.
    The Heritage Foundation, which held the training program in February, has advocated for “repealing reproductive rights; dismantling affirmative action policies; limiting voting rights; and restrictive immigration policies,” the Judiciary Committee members said in a letter to James Duff, the director of the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts.
    The organization has touted its role in helping President Donald Trump select nominees to the U.S. Supreme Court.
    The anonymously-funded program originally made participants pledge their secrecy and promise not to use their training for purposes contrary to the interests of the Heritage Foundation, the senators said.
    It also held a session about immigration law on the same day that the foundation released a report concerning its immigration agenda, the letter said.
    The senators asked whether any current or future judge or judicial employee asked the office for advice about attending that program, and what conclusion the office reached if they did. 
    The letter cited guidance that the office issued after the program, which listed situations in which attending certain events could violate judicial codes of conduct.
    Concerns are raised when the event sponsor engages in contentious debates over public policy and the program is funded by unknown sources, according to that guidance.

    In response to the letter from the US senators, Heritage Foundation's John Malcolm issued this response, which denies any wrong-doing.

    Here is more about the think tank's Federal Clerkship Training Academy.  And here is what the New York Times had to say about it.

    Saturday, March 23, 2019

    Think Tank Quickies (#343)

    • Outgoing AEI President Arthur Brooks joins Washington Post opinions section as a columnist.
    • Brookings hosts launch of 2019 think tank rankings.
    • The now-defunct Office of Technology assessment, operated as a think tank for Congress, tasked with studying science and technology issues.
    • CSIS launches Stephenson Ocean Security Project (SOS).
    • CSIS flags increase in number of Chinese fishing vessels in Spratlys
    • Global Times: China-US think tanks can promote resilient engagement. 
    • Brookings scholar Benjamin Wittes meeting quietly with NYT reporters over Mueller probe.
    • Jamie Bartlett of Demos reflects on think tanks.
    • The Bank of International Settlements: the "central bankers' think tank."
    • Educational Fund to Stop Gun Violence: A public health think tank.

    Thursday, March 21, 2019

    Think Tank Founded by Bernie Sanders' Wife Shutting Down

    Here is more from the Associated Press:

    The Sanders Institute, a think tank founded by Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders’ wife and son, is shutting down, at least for now, amid criticism that the nonprofit has blurred the lines between family, fundraising and campaigning.
    The Vermont-based institute has stopped accepting donations and plans to suspend all operations by the end of May “so there could not even be an appearance of impropriety,” Jane Sanders told The Associated Press.
    The unexpected move by the institute’s board of directors comes as Bernie Sanders, a leading candidate for the 2020 Democratic nomination, prepares for a wave of intense scrutiny into his political network and his family’s role in its operation.
    The institute was founded to promote liberal policies less than two years ago by Sanders’ family with the backing of pro-Sanders celebrities and advocates— though Sanders himself had no formal role. While it operates at a fraction of the scale of the Clinton Foundation, it has accepted hundreds of thousands of dollars during its brief existence and has declined to disclose its donors.
    Jane Sanders, who also serves as a chief adviser to her husband’s presidential campaign, is not compensated for her role at the institute. Her son, David Driscoll, is paid $100,000 a year as co-founder and executive director. Driscoll previously was an executive for Nike and the Vermont snowboarding firm Burton, but had no previous nonprofit experience, according to his LinkedIn profile.

    Here is a link to the Sanders Institute.  Here is a press release from the think tank about its suspension of operations during the 2020 presidential elections.  Here is a press release from the launch of the Sanders Institute.

    Friday, March 1, 2019

    Georgetown Launches Think Tank on Emerging Tech

    Here is more from the Washington Post:

    Georgetown University announced Thursday the launch of a think tank focused on how technological advances in fields such as artificial intelligence are influencing national and international security.
    Backed by a $55 million grant from a private funding group, the Center for Security and Emerging Technology will be based in the university’s Walsh School of Foreign Service.
    The center’s director, Jason Matheny, was director of federal Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity from 2015 to 2018 and has participated in government initiatives related to artificial intelligence.
    “There’s huge demand for policy analysis but very little supply,” Matheny said. The center, to be based near the Capitol, aims to change that. It will start with a staff of about 15, with plans to expand to 35.
    The grant, from the San Francisco-based Open Philanthropy Project, is primarily funded by Silicon Valley entrepreneur Dustin Moskovitz and his wife, Cari Tuna. Moskovitz was a co-founder of Facebook. Forbes estimates his net worth at more than $10 billion.

    Here is a link to the new think tank, whose acronym is CSET.

    Think Tank Watch estimates that fewer than a half-dozen think tanks are started, on average, each year in Washington, DC.