Monday, October 15, 2018

Think Tanks Continuing to Weigh Whether to Take Saudi Money

A number of US think tanks have been distancing themselves from Saudi Arabia following the alleged murder of Jamal Khashoggi by a Saudi assassination squad.

The Brookings Institution announced that it would terminate a research grant from Saudi Arabia.  The think tank will also stop taking money from Aramco Services Company "effective immediately."

The Middle East Institute (MEI), which receives money from Aramco, said it will no longer participate in New York museum exhibits and programs funded by Saudi Arabia.  MEI's Board of Governors reportedly will meet next week to make additional decisions about its Saudi funding.

Mr. Alexander Nazaryan of Yahoo News also has some interesting updates about think tank thinking on Saudi money:

The Wilson Center, where Khashoggi has been offered and accepted a position as a fellow, said that in July, it had requested funds from the Saudi government for work on an index of female leaders. “The Saudi Arabian government never confirmed that funds would be forthcoming,” said Wilson spokesman Ryan McKenna in a statement. He added that if it turns out that Khashoggi was indeed murdered by the Saudis, “we will withdraw our pending funding request.”
Not all think tanks are rushing to distance themselves from Saudi Arabia. The Center for Strategic and International Studies told Yahoo News that the think tank “has received funding from the Saudi Arabian government to conduct diplomatic training exercises,” Andrew Schwartz, the organization’s spokesman, said in a statement. “We are following the Jamal Khashoggi story closely and haven’t made any decisions.”
Several think tanks were able to say that they do not accept any Saudi government funding. These included several prominent conservative and libertarian institutions, including the Heritage Foundation, the American Enterprise Institute and the Cato Institute. The Council on Foreign Relations also said it did not accept funds tied to the Saudi government. 

The announcements come after a number of people started calling for think tanks to disclose their Saudi funding.

Hudson Institute chief Kenneth Weinstein notes that five years ago, the think tank's board of trustees set a policy to refuse funds from non-democratic governments.  "Yes, the policy undoubtedly cost us tens of millions of dollars but it was and is the right thing to do."

Here is a similar story about Saudi funding of think tanks by Emily Tamkin of BuzzFeed News.

Sunday, October 14, 2018

AEI Think Tanker Tom Donnelly Transitions to Being a Woman

Here is more from Josh Rogin of the Washington Post:

Giselle Donnelly is a renowned national security expert, author and conservative think-tank scholar — and even though she’s 65 years old, she was “born” only this year. That’s because Giselle has just recently transitioned to living openly as a trans woman. She is now re-introducing herself to the Washington community she has been a part of her entire adult life.
Giselle came into the world as Thomas Donnelly, the name most of Washington’s foreign policy establishment has known her by over her long career in media, policy and politics. She has now “changed her name and crossed genders,” she told me in an interview.
The conservative national security community in Washington is not known for its enlightened thinking on gender identity. Yet, so far, Giselle said, she has received nothing but support from her bosses at the American Enterprise Institute, where she works as a resident fellow in defense and security studies.
A turning point came five years ago, when, a few months after separating from her first wife, Giselle met a photographer and makeup artist named Elizabeth Taylor. A former naval nuclear instructor, Taylor opened up a beauty shop in Washington called Makeovers that helps trans women find their style. The shop became an important node in a small but growing trans community in D.C., and was featured by the Washington Post in 2015.
Giselle and Beth shared a love of national security, wine, gender fluidity and BDSM.

When one visits the biography of Thomas Donnelly on American Enterprise Institute's (AEI) website, it notes that Thomas "transitioned in October 2018" and has a link to Giselle Donnelly's current bio.

Saturday, October 13, 2018

Brookings Terminates Research Grant From Saudi Arabia

The Brookings Institution has become the latest entity to distance itself from Saudi Arabia over the alleged killing of dissident Jamal Khashoggi.

Here is more from the Washington Post:
The Brookings Institution said Friday that it would “terminate” its “sole research grant” from Saudi Arabia, which was earmarked for an analysis of the Saudi think tank sector. “We felt we would be unable to conduct further research with this funding” given the Khashoggi case, Brookings said.

The announcement came after a number of people criticized Washington think tanks for taking Saudi money.

The top of Brookings' homepage currently features a piece by Shadi Hamid entitled "Saudi Arabia is Taunting Trump."  Here is a link to all the center-left think tank's writings on Saudi Arabia.

Brookings receives funding from a large number of foreign governments, including Qatar, United Arab Emirates (UAE), Norway, Taiwan, Australia, Denmark, Finland, European Union (EU), South Korea, Japan, France, Netherlands, and others.

After Think Tank Watch posted that Brookings receives money from Aramco Services Company, a subsidiary of Saudi Aramco which is 100% wholly-owned by the Saudi government, a Brookings spokesperson reached out to tell us it will no longer be accepting funding from Aramco "effective immediately."

In related news, the Middle East Institute (MEI) said it will no longer participate in New York museum exhibits and programs funded by Saudi Arabia.

Here is a previous piece about how a think tank speech could have helped trigger Khashoggi's apparent death.

Here is a piece from Vox entitled "How Saudi Arabia Captured Washington," which discusses Middle East funding of various Washington think tanks.

According to Ben Freeman, who directs the Foreign Influence Transparency Initiative program at the Center for International Policy, registered foreign agents working on behalf of interests in Saudi Arabia contacted congressional representatives, the White House, the media, and figures at influential think tanks more than 2,500 times in 2017 alone.

Friday, October 12, 2018

Think Tank Quickies (#330)

  • The memo that launched 1,000 think tanks.
  • A pocket guide to think tanks that have developed conservative and libertarian policies and principles in health care; Trump recruited from think tanks to fill health care positions.
  • Think tank alums (Zach Graves of R Street and Cato, and Daniel Schuman of Demand Progress) look to build tech expertise for Congress.
  • The think tank (Kohelet Policy Forum) that quietly runs the Knesset in Israel. 
  • Think tanks for everything: "Digital tourism think tank."
  • Zambia's president courts "impartial" think tanks. 
  • Creeping bias in research: negative results are glossed over. 
  • Ben Shapiro's headquarters "has the look of a think tank and the feel of a refurbished doctor's office." 
  • Why academics are creating deepfakes; fall of top US scientists points to ethics gap in research.
  • "Whacky study alleges conspiracy theory linking Moscow to DC think tanks."

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Parody Video: Think Tank Scholars on TV

Senior fellow at the Institute for the Promotion of War...

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Hudson Institute Becomes Major Anti-China Platform

The Hudson Institute has become the leading platform in the Trump Administration to launch attacks against the Chinese government, gaining influence and attention along the way.

The conservative think tank has just announced that Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) will deliver a keynote speech at Hudson examining China's influence on international media, university campuses, think tanks, and the Chinese diaspora.

Rubio will be speaking on Oct. 24 at Hudson.  Here is more:

The Hudson Institute and Freedom House’s Mark Palmer Forum for the Advancement of Democracy invite you to a conference on China’s global challenge to democratic freedom. U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) will deliver an introductory keynote speech, followed by three panel discussions bringing together experts and activists to share cutting edge research, analyze recent trends, and consider potential responses. 
The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) under General Secretary Xi Jinping has put enormous financial and political resources into expanding its influence abroad. Xi has elevated the importance of United Front activities, which rely on co-opting the Chinese diaspora and building relationships with Western enablers. 
In democracies, CCP influence operations target politicians, business people, academia, the media, and the Chinese diaspora. CCP and Chinese government funding has also intruded into the realm of ideas, influencing think tanks, academia, newspapers, and other media outlets. The CCP, by changing how democracies speak and think about China, is attempting to make “the world safe” for its ongoing efforts to deepen its authoritarianism at home and extend its influence internationally. 
The Mark Palmer Forum for the Advancement of Democracy honors the legacy of Ambassador Mark Palmer, long-time Freedom House trustee and vice chairman. The Palmer Forum includes an annual conference with leading policymakers and experts, and programs by human rights defenders and leading digital activists, exploring ways to improve global prospects for strengthening human rights and democracy.

Last week, Vice President Mike Pence used Hudson for an aggressive China policy speech that caused Beijing to lash out against the Trump Administration.

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Think Tank Role in Jamal Khashoggi Disappearance?

This is from the Washington Post editorial board:

After Donald Trump’s election, Mr. [Jamal] Khashoggi remarked at an event at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy that the kingdom was rightfully nervous about a Trump presidency. This comment apparently angered the Saudi leadership, which hoped to ingratiate itself with the new president. Mr. Khashoggi was told to stop writing and using Twitter.

The above-mentioned event is referring to a November 15, 2016 talk sponsored by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP), a Washington, DC-based think tank established in 1985.

Some have reported that WINEP is essentially the think tank of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC).

Funders of WINEP reportedly include the Smith Richardson Foundation, the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, the Adler Family Foundation, the CMS Foundation, the Lafer Family Foundation, the James and Merryl Tisch Foundation, the Harold and Anna S. Ullian Foundation, and the Etzioni Charitable Foundation.

Update: Have Washington think tanks been silent on Khashoggi because they take so much Saudi money?

Friday, October 5, 2018

Think Tank Quickies (#329)

  • Former Brookings scholar Fiona Hill, Trump's top expert on Russia, quietly shaping tougher sanctions on Russia.
  • The return of Pentagon's Yoda (Andrew Marshall), who led its in-house think tank (Office of Net Assessment).
  • Leading Chinese think tank invites group of former senior US officials and business leaders to Beijing to discuss US-China trade tensions.
  • Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) goes after Twitter for mistakenly barring tweets from right-wing think tank on immigration.
  • US groups raise millions for right-wing UK think tanks?
  • Think tanks and universities have different goals.
  • Think tank that has yet to be named
  • New York leads the US in "hidden debt," according to new report by conservative think tank Truth in Accounting.
  • Vanity Fair: Recipients of DeVos family largesse include Heritage and AEI. 
  • ThinkProgress: Right-wing US think tanks co-author "radical" US-UK free trade deal.

Thursday, October 4, 2018

VP Mike Pence Delivers Major China Speech at Hudson

US Vice President Mike Pence will be delivering a major policy speech today at the Hudson Institute, a conservative think tank with close ties to the Trump Administration.

Here is a link to video of the speech, in which attendance is by invitation only.  Previews of the speech can be found here and here.  Axios recently reported that the Trump Administration was planning an administration-wide anti-China campaign.

In June, Hudson scholar Jonas Parello-Plesner published a report on the Chinese Communist Party's "foreign interference operations."

Last year, Chinese cyber attackers allegedly crashed Hudson's website, as the think tank was about to host an event with a Chinese political dissident.  And as Think Tank Watch previously reported, Hudson was recently the target of a cyber attack that allegedly came from Russia.

Here is a previous post about how many think tankers from Hudson and other think tanks have gone into the Trump Administration.

President Donald Trump recently said that Hudson's Michael Pillsbury is the "leading authority on China."  Pillsbury is the director of the Center on Chinese Strategy at the think tank.

Update:  In the speech, Pence made several references to think tanks:
  1. He said China is employing a whole-of-government approach to advance its influence and benefit its interests. It’s employing this power in "more proactive and coercive ways to interfere in the domestic policies and politics" of the United States.  "The Chinese Communist Party is rewarding or coercing American businesses, movie studios, universities, think tanks, scholars, journalists, and local, state, and federal officials," Pence said.
  2. He said China provides generous funding to think tanks and scholars, with the general understanding that they will avoid ideas that the Communist Party finds dangerous or offensive.
  3. He noted that even scholars and groups that avoid Chinese funding are targeted by China, just as the Hudson Institute was last year.
  4. He noted that more scholars are "speaking out forcefully and defending academic freedom," and more universities and think tanks are "mustering the courage" to turn away Beijing's "easy money."  He added that the Trump Administration is confident that "more will join their ranks."

Kurdish Group to Engage More With DC Think Tanks

Here is more from Al-Monitor:

An Iranian Kurdish rebel group is the latest faction to jump on Washington’s anti-Tehran bandwagon.
The Komala Party of Iranian Kurdistan, an armed group with communist origins exiled in northern Iraq, registered with the Justice Department late last month as a lobby aiming to “establish solid and durable relations” with the Donald Trump administration. The registration hints at a more public role for a group that has left a digital track record of foreign advocacy on Capitol Hill dating back several years.
Salah Bayaziddi, a Canadian citizen who identifies as a journalist and doctoral candidate in federal filings, will lead the effort on a volunteer basis, writing op-eds, meeting US officials and engaging Washington think tanks. In a September filing with the Justice Department, Komala leader Abdullah Mohtadi said the group “seeks to represent the human rights of Iranian citizens and promotes the democratic representation of minority voices in Iran.” Komala has a track record of insurgent activity against the Iranian government.

These days, nearly every type of foreign entity is engaging with Washington more, which inevitably means that think tanks will see more activity with these foreign entities and likely score big contracts to host events, write reports, and engage with the US government on behalf of those entities.

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Chinese Think Tanks Targeting Young Students, Says Germany

This is from a German counterintelligence report:
Chinese think tanks are used for targeting young students, diplomats and business persons. “The think tanks gather sensitive information, not least to prepare cyberattacks, but also to select suitable targets and disguise intelligence activities.”

The full report can be found here, and a 47-page English synopsis can be found here.

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Think Tankers Writing for Russian Propaganda Site?

Here is more from the New York Times:

To an untrained eye, USAReally might look like any other fledgling news organization vying for attention in a crowded media landscape. Its website publishes a steady stream of stories on hot-button political issues like race, immigration and income inequality. It has reader polls, a video section and a daily podcast.
But this is no ordinary media start-up. USAReally is based in Moscow and has received funding from the Federal News Agency, a Russian media conglomerate with ties to the Internet Research Agency, the “troll farm” whose employees were indicted by the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, for interfering in the 2016 presidential election.
Unlike the Russian trolls of 2016, who posed as Black Lives Matter activists, pro-gun Republicans and other American groups, many of USAReally’s writers use their real names. Several of them also write for a variety of other pro-Kremlin media outlets and think tanks.

Here is a link to USA Really's website.

Arc Digital notes that Walt Garlington, a USA Really author, also writes for "a think tank run by extremist Russian nationalist Alexandr Dugin," referring to a think tank called Katehon.

Think Tank Watch recently noted that fear of Russia connections has hit Washington's think tanks.

Monday, October 1, 2018

Think Tank Quickies (#328)

  • Video: Code Pink activist interrupts Trump official at Hudson Inst. event on Iran. 
  • Express: Putin spooks hacked UK think tank (Henry Jackson Society) 2,400 times.
  • The new Conservative think tank preparing for life after Brexit.
  • Crypto-advocacy comes of age as trade groups and think tanks move on Washington.
  • Foreign lobbying and think tank event hosted by Center for Responsive Politics.
  • Idrees Kahloon: The swampy business of lobbying for foreign governments (via think tanks).
  • Stuff You Should Know: What are think tanks all about?
  • Is there a start-up re-thinking how think tanks work?
  • Think tank gathering Think 20 Summit in Argentina.
  • Brookings brings its young stars to Berlin to debate on engaging China.
  • Rolling Stone piece on think tank liberalism and battle between Bernie Sanders and Jeff Bezos.

Sunday, September 30, 2018

Middle East Think Tank Feud Deepens

Here is more from Politico:

The legal battle between SAPRAC, a Washington lobbying firm closely aligned with Saudi Arabia, and the Institute for Gulf Affairs, a think tank, has escalated since the think tank sued SAPRAC this summer. The suit alleged that Salman Al-Ansari, who runs SAPRAC, smeared Ali Al-Ahmed, one of the think tank’s experts, by calling him a terrorist in an interview with a blogger. SAPRAC’s lawyers filed a motion to dismiss the suit. The institute’s lawyers have responded by filing a legal motion of their own on Tuesday, including an affidavit signed by Al-Ahmed in which he reports living “in constant fear of being attacked, especially by people who sympathize with Saudi Arabia who will take Al-Ansari’s word as truth.”
Al-Ahmed also claims he’s been blackballed by reporters who used to interview him. “Specifically, a significant number of media outlets have stopped inviting me to appear, and those that had recorded interviews with me, such as BBC and NPR, chose not to air them after Al-Ansari made these statements,” he writes in the affidavit. “Additionally, the political newspaper called The Hill has ignored my request to become a contributing writer.” SAPRAC didn’t responded to a request for comment.

Here is a link to the Institute for Gulf Affairs' (IGA) website, and here is a link to Ali Al-Ahmed's biography.  IGA is based in Washington, DC.

Friday, September 28, 2018

New Gender Scorecard: Too Many Men at Think Tanks

Women in International Security (WIIS) has just released its new 2018 scorecard on gender in Washington, DC think tanks and the conclusion is no surprise: men dominate DC think tanks.  Here is more from a WIIS press release:

Think tanks in DC continue to be staffed and managed primarily by men with only three of  22 institutions having an equal number of men and women on staff, a report released today by Women In International Security (WIIS) has found.
The WIIS Gender Scorecard presents data with regard to the gender balance of 22 major thinks tanks that work on foreign policy and national and international security issues in the DC area. The scorecard reviews think tanks along four main axes: 1) percentage of women leading think tanks; 2) percentage of women experts; 3) percentage of women in governing bodies; 4) and number of think tanks with significant commitment to gender and/or women’s programming.

Here are some of the significant findings:
  • Heads of top DC think tanks: 68 percent men
  • Average percentage of experts in DC think tanks by gender: 73 percent men
  • Average percentage of Governing Board members in think tanks: 78 percent men
  • Think tanks with significant gender programming: 1 out of 22 

According to WIIS, the three think tanks that have gender parity at the expert staff level are the Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI), Stimson Center, and US Institute of Peace (USIP).

Here is the full gender scorecard.

As Think Tank Watch recently reported, the Brookings Institution just announced a huge diversity push within the think tank.

Update:  Emma Ashford of the Cato Institute notes that the WIIS data is much less reliable for smaller think tanks, where one female expert can make a big difference.  "In this study, I represent 9% of Cato's foreign policy staff.  Compare to the Atlantic Council, where each woman is only 0.44% of all policy staff."

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Think Tank Chief Placed on Leave of Absence Over Kavanaugh Comments

Here is more from the Washington Post:

Conservative legal commentator Ed Whelan has offered to resign from his position as president of the Ethics and Public Policy Center in the wake of tweets — since deleted — suggesting that Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh’s accuser may have mistaken the jurist for someone else.
Whelan’s offer was not accepted by the board of the Washington-based center, which decided instead to place him on a leave of absence following the tweets, which he has since described as “appalling and inexcusable.”
The board of the conservative think tank — which offers commentary on the courts, religion, abortion and other issues — announced its decision in a statement Sunday that described Whelan as having led the organization “with integrity and excellence for many years.”
Whelan’s claims on Twitter on Thursday suggesting that Christine Blasey Ford might have been assaulted by someone other than Kavanaugh, President Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, set off immediate controversy. He subsequently deleted the tweets and apologized.

Here is a link to the Ethics & Public Policy Center (EPPC), which was founded in 1976 by Dr. Ernest Lefever.

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Think Tank Quickies (#327)

  • House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) to AEI or Heritage?
  • Koch-funded think tank Mercatus Center pretending it's not part of George Mason U.
  • David Brooks: Expertise is not at think tanks but among those who have local knowledge.
  • Think tankers to attend Summer Davos Forum in China.
  • Centre for Human Security Studies (CHSS) opens in India.
  • Kiwi professor (Anne-Marie Brady) whose work exposed China's influence in New Zealand and whose home was burglarized, had presented her paper at US think tank.
  • Clemson University's International Center for Automotive Research: "An industry technology center and think tank that BMW helped create in 2006."
  • Outspoken Putin critic Bill Browder spoke over Skype to the Atlantic Council.
  • IKEA's think tank envisions self-driving cars as rooms on wheels.
  • Huawei was the biggest corporate sponsor of overseas travel for the country's politicians from 2010 to this year, according to an independent analysis by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, a think tank based in Canberra.

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Think Tank of the Week: "Center for Advanced Bullshit Studies"

From news satire organization The Onion:

Revealing that the “you aren’t going to fucking believe this” metrics were currently measuring off the goddamn charts, experts at the Center for Advanced Bullshit Studies published a report Monday that this week’s all hell breaking loose was projected to be 30 percent more insane than last week’s complete shitshow. “All of our reports are projecting tomorrow’s Total Fucking Pandemonium Magnitude at three times more bonkers than what it was a few days ago,” said Director Adrienne Morehead, who confirmed that this week will be at least 60 percent more of a batshit fucking insane circus compared to last week’s batshit fucking insane circus. “We are currently looking at a seven-week high on the ‘Jesus Christ Not That’ and the ‘Fuck This Shit’ charts. People need to be prepared for at least a doubling of recent ‘Fucking Nightmare Levels,’ because if our measurements are correct, the ‘Everything’s Going To Shit’ ratio is a whopping 179 percent higher than it was this time last year.” At press time, sources confirmed, “Oh, fuck, here we fucking go.”

Think Tank Watch has documented various examples of The Onion creating new think tanks.

Monday, September 24, 2018

Fear of Russia Connections Hits Think Tank Land

Here is one anecdote from Politico:

Even young Americans in Washington who fraternize too much with Russians can face career consequences. One think-tanker with a security clearance said he recently came to trust an American underling less because the underling participates in too many Russian-sponsored cultural exchanges for his liking.

Here is a recent Think Tank Watch piece on the shadowy (and now-defunct) think tank, Center for the Study of Former Soviet Socialist Republics (CXSSR), linked to Paul Manafort.


Friday, September 21, 2018

Shadowy Think Tank Linked to Manfort Disappears

Here is more from Daily Beast:

A shadowy think tank that Paul Manafort boasted about directing featured one of the libertarian movement’s most prominent foreign policy voices—who told The Daily Beast he didn’t know the now-convicted fraudster was involved.
The think tank, which appears to no longer exist, typifies the way savvy lobbyists can covertly introduce and amplify voices backing their clients—a strategy that’s especially valuable when those clients are tough to defend.
But while it’s not unusual for lobbyists to turn to K Street to gin up support for their clients, it is extraordinary for them to manufacture entire institutions—which is just what Manafort’s group reportedly did.
The Guardian reported in April that Manafort’s then-business partner, Alan Friedman, started a “fake think tank” called the Center for the Study of Former Soviet Socialist Republics (CXSSR) to push narratives that supported his then-client, former Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych. People affiliated with the think tank say they don’t share the assessment that it was fake, and one said he received a monthly stipend for his work.
The think tank’s website no longer works. But archived internet pages show Doug Bandow, currently a scholar with the libertarian Cato Institute, was listed as its only “senior scholar” going back to 2012. A few other names come and go from the archived masthead, some of them with virtually nonexistent online footprints. 

Here is a previous post on how Manafort may have gotten help from a Wilson Center scholar.  Did Manafort work with scholars from the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) to help Vladimir Putin?

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Think Tank Quickies (#326)

  • Visa, Mastercard block donations to David Horowitz think tank. 
  • CSIS: Within US foreign affairs think tanks, there is currently no mechanism to examine the link between organizational performance and diversity.
  • James O'Brien: I'm beginning to think that the only circumstances in which the "research" of "think tanks" should get reported as "news" is when their findings contradict their previously stated opinions.
  • How China's tightened control over think tanks is impacting its foreign affairs.
  • Inside the progressive think tank that really runs Canada. 
  • Kathmandu Post: Strengthening think tanks.
  • US think tanks continue to grow.
  • Simon Cowan: Should think tanks be forced to disclose their funders?
  • Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, a former Brookings trustee, in hot water.
  • Pic: AEI President Arthur Brooks beheads David Brooks.
  • Women to watch at RAND Corporation.

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

NPR Blasted for Over-Using Right-Wing Think Tankers

Here is more from Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR):

When it comes to seeking “expert” opinions on events for its reports, NPR often looks to a trusted roster of think-tank sources. In a study of NPR’s Morning Edition from February to July 2018, FAIR found that sources from left-of-center think tanks were underrepresented, with right-leaning think tank sources appearing almost twice as often.
Out of 129 episodes aired Monday through Friday over the course of six months, researchers and fellows representing think tanks were quoted 144 times. Centrist think tanks were most commonly heard on Morning Edition, with 63 interview (44 percent of citations). Fifty-one (35 percent) of the show’s interviews were with conservative or center-right groups, while 28 (19 percent) involved progressive or center-left groups.
Of the 63 right-leaning interviews, we characterized 37 as featuring representatives from conservative groups—e.g., the Heritage Foundation and American Enterprise Institute—while 14 categorized as center-right, like the Cato Institute and Foreign Policy Research Institute. The 28 left-of-center interviews broke down into 16 from center-left think tanks (e.g., Prison Policy Initiative and Center on Global Energy Policy) and 12 with progressives like the Women’s Refugee Commission and the  MLK Research and Education Institute. (Center-left think tanks were distinguished from progressive think tanks largely on the basis of their corporate underwriting.) The contrast between Morning Edition’s use of clearly conservative and clearly progressive think tanks was stark: Analysts from the former appeared more than three times as often as interviewees from the latter.
FAIR has noted (e.g., Extra!, 7/13) that the funding think tanks receive from corporations, wealthy foundations and governments often shapes the agendas they push. NPR’s own Ethics Handbook employs a cautionary tone regarding the sourcing of think tanks. It stresses NPR reporters’ responsibility to be aware of such organizations’ conflicts of interest...
Contrary to its code of ethics, NPR rarely if ever discloses the financial supporters of think tanks. For example, one of its most-cited think tanks, the conservative Center for Strategic and International Studies, receives funding from weapons manufacturers like Boeing and Lockheed Martin. This was not mentioned during a segment (7/13/18) on arms control negotiations between Russia and the US, even though NPR cited two different representatives from the think tank.


Think Tank Watch's favorite line from the FAIR piece:  "Representatives from two think tanks—the pro-seafood Lobster Institute and the Rich Earth Institute, which promotes turning urine into fertilizer—could not be placed on the political spectrum."

Harvard has put out an excellent tip sheet for citing think tanks.

Monday, September 17, 2018

Think Tank Scholar: Left Think Tanks on the Rise

Here is more from Jason Stahl, author of "Right Moves: The Conservative Think Tank in American Political Culture Since 1945":

Starting in the mid-1970s, it became common practice among establishment newspapers to provide positive coverage of conservative think tanks—particularly during Republican administrations. As I explain in my book on the history of conservative think tanks, such stories served a dual purpose. For the think tanks, the stories were essentially press releases that gave them credibility in Washington. For the papers, the stories functioned as a signal of political balance—a sign that conservative intellectuals and policymakers were receiving the same level of exposure as liberal ones.
Through sea changes in the political and media landscape, this trend has persisted. The most recent installment is New York Times Magazine's 7,000-word article on the Heritage Foundation. The heft gives the sense of an exhaustive account, supposedly of Heritage’s ability to stock the Trump administration with its preferred appointees. However, despite all of the spilled ink, the story, as is usually the case, functions primarily as Heritage propaganda, with this central claim left open to question. Most of the sources quoted are from Heritage itself, and these sources are largely taken at face value. Thus, in the end, Heritage gets to tell a story of its own importance while the Times once again gets to show its “balance” by writing a familiar story about the Right.
Today, stories like these are causing fundamental misunderstandings of the current think tank landscape in Washington, D.C.. They inflate the importance of think tanks on the Right and downplay their increasing irrelevancy and sclerotic nature, while leading the public to ignore the more dynamic happenings in think tanks on the Left.

Here is more about Stahl's book on conservative think tanks, which has just come out in paperback.

Paul Manafort Got Help From Wilson Center Scholar?

Here is more from Daily Beast:

An influential American think tank chief helped Paul Manafort advocate for his Russia-friendly Ukrainian client, according to an email Manafort sent that surfaced in federal court filings Friday.
The scholar, Matthew Rojansky, heads the non-partisan Wilson Center’s Kennan Institute, which focuses on American relations with Russia and Ukraine. The Wilson Center, which Congress established 50 years ago, is considered one of Washington’s most influential think tanks.
In an email, Manafort claimed one of its scholars coordinated with him on an op-ed about his client Viktor Yanukovych, the pro-Russia Ukrainian strongman who had imprisoned his top political opponent, Yulia Tymoshenko.
Under Rojansky’s leadership, the Kennan Institute has faced turmoil. A host of former Ukrainian alumni of the Center’s programs wrote an open letter in February of this year lambasting Rojansky and calling his organization “an unwitting tool of Russia’s political interference.” 
It noted that the Institute hosted a concert featuring musicians who praised Russia’s annexation of Crimea and gave an award to billionaire Alfa Bank head Petr Aven. The Institute later shuttered its Kyiv office. 
In a statement released in March of this year on the closure of the Institute’s Ukraine office, Wilson Center CEO Jane Harman praised Rojansky’s work.

Here is a link to Matthew Rojansky's work.

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Think Tank Quickies (#325)

  • The New Republic: No think tanks dedicated to crafting left-wing foreign policy. 
  • New Google platform for datasets to help think tankers.
  • French government think tanks recommend not to accredit Sputnik, RT journalists.
  • Think tanks should travel in the summer months; CNAS travels with Danish Ambassador.
  • As presidents depart, center-right think tanks face new pressures.
  • A new model for think tank communications. 
  • What does the analysis of a decade of think tank activity reveal about Russian political ruling?
  • Brookings John L. Thornton China Center announces collaboration with Yale's Paul Tsai China Center; Crown Center for Middle East Studies at Brandeis University partners with Brookings.
  • Salam Fayyad, former prime minister of the Palestinian Authority, joins Brookings; CNAS and Brookings announce formation of task force on US policy toward Gaza.
  • London's Tufton Street home to a network of policy think tanks.

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Email Prompts Resignation at UVA Think Tank

Here is more from Politico:

A member of the governing council of a University of Virginia think tank resigned after a records request by POLITICO uncovered an email in which he belittled women working at the prestigious public policy center.
Council member Fred W. Scott Jr. said women at the Miller Center “don’t like to be put into groups” unless they involve “Lunch, coffee, Children, etc.” and that “some people just like to stir up trouble” and should not be promoted.
Scott, a member of a prominent family of longtime UVA donors, also wrote: “There are no United White People College Funds or White Students' Alliances or Men Against Drunk Driving. Even at a ‘tolerant university' ... especially there! Women's Initative [sic]. We both support it. Is there a Men's Initiative???”
Scott sent the email to the governing council’s former chairman a year ago, but it wasn’t until the inquiry by POLITICO that he quit and the Miller Center launched an investigation. It’s the latest episode to rock the UVA think tank, which has faced intense pushback over its decision to appoint Marc Short, a former aide to President Donald Trump, to a senior fellow position. It also marks the third departure from the center’s governing council in the last year over allegations involving sexual harassment, the center acknowledged in a statement to POLITICO.

Here is a previous Think Tank Watch piece about historians leaving leaving UVA's think tank after hiring a former Trump Administration official.

Friday, September 7, 2018

Brookings Announces Huge Diversity Push at Think Tank

This week, the center-left think tank Brookings Institution announced it will for the first time make its workforce demographic data publicly available on an annual basis.  Here is more from Brookings:

As of July 2018, 52 percent of all 444 full-time Brookings employees were women and 32 percent were people of color.  Among fellows and senior fellows, however, the gender and racial breakdowns were not where we want them to be. Only 34 percent of our fellows were female and just 22 percent of our fellows were people of color.  Diversity among staff in research support positions—including research assistants and analysts—was slightly better. Overall, the highest percentages of women and people of color at Brookings are in operational positions.

Brookings' entire demographic data is available here.  The data show that 68% of Brookings employees are white, 13% are black or African American, 10% are Asian, and 5% are Hispanic or Latino.

As for generational representation, 51% are Millennials (born between 1981-1996), 30% are Generation X (1965-1980), 17% are Baby Boomers (1946-1964), and 2% are in the Silent Generation (1928-1945).

As for the think tank's leadership team (which includes the president, executive vice president, and vice presidents), 75% are white, 17% are Asian, and 8% are black or African American.

As for fellows and senior fellows, 78% are white, 9% are Asian, 8% are black or African American, and 3% are Hispanic or Latino.

In terms of research assistants, research analysts, and research associates, 65% are white, 19% are Asian, 5% are Hispanic or Latino, and 3% are black or African American.

In addition to publishing all the demographics data, Brookings say it is:
  • Convening an Inclusion and Diversity Committee with representation from across the Institution charged with creating a strategic implementation plan.
  • Cultivating relationships with diverse colleges, fellowship programs and associations in order to attract diverse applicant pools for research positions.
  • Examining more ways it can influence the pipeline of future employees by encouraging the pursuit of Ph.D.s in disciplines with the fewest number of women and people of color.

Here is Brookings' Board of Trustees demographics.  Here is a literature review by the think tank's Inclusion and Diversity Committee on the case for diversity at Brookings.

Brookings President John Allen says that since 2015, Brookings has seen a 47% decline in all-male panels at the think tank.

The Brookings moves come after years of negative press the think tank has received related to various pay-to-play schemes.

Here is a previous Think Tank Watch post on a group highlighting diversity problems at think tanks.

Here is a link to a 2015 event sponsored by the Wilson Center and Urban Institute on promoting diversity at US think tanks.

Thursday, September 6, 2018

Think Tank Quickies (#324)

  • Qatar used think tanks to cheat its way to World Cup 2022?
  • Chart: Number of employees at US think tanks making more than $100K.
  • Behind a major think tank's (Aspen Institute) new fund for promising problem solvers.
  • Think tanks fill knowledge gap of politics.
  • Vibe of "Fortune Brainstorm Tech": Think tank in the Rockies. 
  • Brookings grants for productivity studies. 
  • Capitol Hill comes to the Hoover Institution. 
  • Foreign spies at Aspen National Security Forum? 
  • Think tankers need to hustle: The rise of the promotional intellectual. 
  • RAND study: Marines lead all services in binge drinking, sex partners.

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Accused Russian Spy Had Closer Ties to Think Tank Than Previously Thought

Here is more from Daily Beast:

When federal prosecutors charged Maria Butina with infiltrating the conservative movement on behalf of the Kremlin, questions began to swirl around a Washington think tank that had published her pro-GOP writing—and hosted then-candidate Donald Trump’s Russia-friendly first foreign-policy speech.
The executive director of the organization, the Center for the National Interest, insisted that its interaction with Butina was “very limited.
But previously unreported emails and direct messages between Butina and officials at the Center show her relationship with the think tank’s president—former Richard Nixon adviser Dimitri Simes—was closer than previously understood. The two didn’t just make plans to have dinner together. According to emails and Twitter DMs reviewed by The Daily Beast, Simes looked to use his connections with Butina and her associate, Russian Central Bank official Alexandr Torshin, to advance the business interests of one of the Center’s most generous donors.
These communications indicate that Simes tried to connect a top benefactor of his organization and one of the most powerful officials in the Kremlin.
The meeting never happened. But if anyone could have pulled it off, it might have been the Moscow-born Simes. A fixture of the D.C. foreign policy establishment, he worked at some of Washington’s most prestigious institutions—including the Center for Strategic and International Studies, the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, and the Nitze School of Advanced International Studies—before being selected by Richard Nixon to lead the Center for National Interest. Simes is widely viewed as one of the Washingtonians with the closest Kremlin connections. And his think tank argues for foreign policy realism, including warmer relations between Washington and Moscow. 

Here is a previous Think Tank Watch post about Butina's ties to the Center for the National Interest.

Update: Daily Beat is now reporting that Dimitri Simes had early access to Trump's pro-Russia speech.

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

China's Communist Party Funds DC Think Tanks?

Here is more from Bill Gertz of the Washington Free Beacon:

China's Communist Party is intensifying covert influence operations in the United States that include funding Washington think tanks and coercing Chinese Americans, according to a congressional commission report.
The influence operations are conducted by the United Front Work Department, a Central Committee organ that employs tens of thousands of operatives who seek to use both overt and covert operations to promote Communist Party policies.
The Party's United Front strategy includes paying several Washington think tanks with the goal influencing their actions and adopting positions that support Beijing's policies.
The report said the Johns Hopkins School of Advance International Studies, a major foreign policy education and analysis institute, has received funding from Tung Chee-hwa, a vice chairman of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, the party group that directs the United Front Work Department and includes a member of the Politburo Standing Committee, the collective dictatorship that rules China.
The funding for Johns Hopkins came from Tung's non-profit group in Hong Kong, the China-U.S. Exchange Foundation, which is a registered Chinese agent.
In addition to Johns Hopkins, other think tanks linked to China and influential in American policy circles include the Brookings Institution, Atlantic Council, Center for American Progress, EastWest Institute, Carter Center, and the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

Here is a previous Think Tank Watch post about Tung Chee-hwa.

Here is a recent Think Tank Watch post about a crackdown at Chinese think tank Unirule.

Here is a post entitled "China Daily Recruiting US Think Tankers to Influence China Policy?"

Will President Donald Trump ban Chinese think tanks in the US?

China has been targeting US think tanks doing military research.

Also, Chinese spies have been posing as think tankers to acquire information.

Meanwhile, the Chinese government has been seeking advice from US think tanks about how to deal with Trump.

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Russian Hackers Targeting Conservative Think Tanks

Here is more from Reuters:

Hackers linked to Russia’s government tried to target the websites of two right-wing U.S. think-tanks, suggesting they were broadening their attacks in the build-up to November elections, Microsoft said.
The software giant said it thwarted the attempts last week by taking control of sites that hackers had designed to mimic the pages of The International Republican Institute and The Hudson Institute. Users were redirected to fake addresses where they were asked to enter usernames and passwords. 
The International Republican Institute has a roster of high-profile Republican board members, including Senator John McCain of Arizona who has criticized U.S. President Donald Trump’s interactions with Russia, and Moscow’s rights record.
The Hudson Institute, another conservative group, has hosted discussions on topics including cybersecurity, according to Microsoft. It has also examined the rise of kleptocracy, especially in Russia and has been critical of the Russian government, the New York Times reported.

Hudson President and CEO Kenneth Weinstein has been tweeting about the attack, noting that the think tank's Kleptocracy Initiative got them targeted by Russia's GRU:



Here is more on the attacks from Microsoft.

Here is a previous Think Tank Watch post about how a Mueller probe witness was linked to shady payments to the Hudson Institute.

Several Trump Administration staffers have come from Hudson.

The Chinese government reportedly crashed Hudson's website last year.

Saturday, August 18, 2018

Think Tank Quickies (#323)

  • China sets up "think tank alliance" to help it battle US in trade war.
  • Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA) under investigation.
  • UAE lobbying US/UK via think tanks? (via Spinwatch)
  • Political journalists way too close to think tanks?
  • US think tanks influencing Brexit?
  • Are think tanks as brainy as they sound? 
  • Building effective think tanks, via Vedanta Dhamija. 
  • CJR: "This gives men, who dominate the top spots in think tanks...an advantage."
  • Nepal-India think tank summit held July 31.
  • Prospect think tank awards 2018.

Friday, August 17, 2018

New Entity to Launch 10+ New Think Tank-Related Websites

A new Paris-based entity called Think-Tanks'Media is rolling out the first of what it says could be around a dozen new websites related to think tanks.  Possible future sites include:

  • Think-Tanks’Blog ( dedicated to the social media publications of the think-tanks )
  • Think-Tanks’Team ( a repertoire of think-tankers )
  • Think-Tanks’Jobs ( to present the job offers of the think-tanks )
  • Think-Tanks’Solutions ( focusing on think-tank lobbying and think-tank diplomacy )
  • Think-Tanks’Fund ( to connect think-tanks to donors )
  • Think-Tanks’App ( to harness the potential of think-tankers )
  • Think-Tanks’Shop ( to sell briefing notes to political leaders )
  • Think-Tanks’Market ( to offer opinion polls concerning think-tank proposals )
  • Think-Tanks’Lawyer ( to highlight the legislative impact think-tanks can have )
  • Think-Tanks’Foundation ( to promote, via a foundation, the sustainable development of the think-tank land ).

Think-Tanks'Media says its goal is to "give you an overview of the daily work of more than 2,000 think tanks across the world, and to introduce you to best of it."

In fact, it has already launched Think-Tanks'Guide, which aims to be the most comprehensive and up-to-date think tank directory.  Additionally, it has launched Think-Tanks'Work, a search engine of think tank reports.

Stay tuned for more...

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Think Tank Using Data from Spy Agency, Predictive Analytics Firm

Many think tanks are getting more sophisticated in the tools they use in data collection, research, and analysis.  Some are even partnering with US spy agencies for various reports and projects.

Here is one example from a prominent Washington think tank:
We’ve [Predata] helped global organizations anticipate the risk of violence by militant groups, multinational corporations anticipate the risk posed by government regulatory actions and global macro hedge funds gain evidence for asset positions, and to anticipate the risk of large market moves.
Recently, Predata used its platform to predict a major appreciation in the Japanese yen one week before it happened. Using Predata anticipatory signals, the think tank CSIS correctly predicted the last seven ballistic missile test launches by North Korea. We also helped a global energy company’s public affairs team anticipate a major reputational risk to their brand.

The Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) recently announced a renewed partnership with Predata providing its global geopolitical risk signals to help Beyond Parallel's experts (at CSIS) assess Korean unification prospects and related geopolitical issues.

CSIS notes that Beyond Parallel's funding comes from the think tank's Korea Chair, as well as the Brzezinski Institute of of Geostrategy, The Korea Foundation, and the UniKorea Foundation.

CSIS also says that it has partnered with the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) to use unclassified geospatial imagery and data to produce "new, timely, and accurate reporting on the North Korean economy and society, infrastructure, and border activities."

In related news, it was recently reported that South Korea is the country spending the most to influence Washington.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Think Tank Quickies (#322)

  • Norm Ornstein of conservative AEI: Rep. Devin Nunes should be expelled from Congress.
  • Flashback: SCOTUS Justice Clarence Thomas broke law by not disclosing his wife's $700k think tank salary.
  • IISS's new Armed Conflict Survey 2018.
  • Think tanks: When too much policy analysis is barely enough.
  • Transparify's 2018 think tank transparency report.
  • RAND Corp. on Russian propaganda model.
  • Moton Fellows visit Heritage Foundation.
  • US think tanks lobbying to secure US-UK trade deal?
  • Swedish think tank Timbro publishes first global index of the sharing economy.
  • ComRes study on think tank impartiality and influence.