Thursday, December 1, 2022

Dimitri Simes to Retire as President of Center for the National Interest

Mr. Dimitri Simes will retire as president of the Center for the National Interest (CFTNI) and publisher of The National Interest on Dec. 31, according to Politico.

The think tank hosted Donald Trump's first major foreign policy address, leading to one of CFTNI's scholars being fired for criticizing the decision in an op-ed article.

The Trump campaign's interactions with Mr. Simes and CFTNI became part of the 2017-2019 Special Counsel investigation.

The Mueller report ultimately found to evidence of wrongdoing by Simes or CFTNI, but the investigation reportedly hurt the think tank financially.

The think tank was established by former president Richard Nixon in 1994, as the Nixon Center for Peace and Freedom.  The group changed its name to the Nixon Center in 1998.  It was renamed Center for the National Interest in 2011.

Simes annual salary is around $400,000 per year.  No successor has yet been named.

Wednesday, November 30, 2022

CAP President is Friends With New House Democratic Leader

Mr. Patrick Gaspard, President and CEO of the Center for American Progress (CAP), is a close ally of new House Democratic leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY), according to Punchbowl News, which notes that the two become close friends in New York and know each other from when Gaspard was a top official at the labor union 1199 SEIU United Healthcare Workers East.

Last year, Rep. Jeffries spoke at a CAP event welcoming Jeffries as the think tank's new leader.

Earlier this year, CAP co-founder John Podesta was tapped to serve as Senior Advisor to President Biden for Clean Energy Innovation and Implementation.

Tuesday, November 29, 2022

Can Back-Channel Diplomacy by Think Tanks Boost US-China Ties?

Think tanks and think tankers have been playing a quiet role in helping keep the US-China relationship afloat.  Here is more from the Wall Street Journal:

China is turning to an old friend in corporate America to bolster communications with the U.S., as President Xi Jinping tries to stabilize the bilateral relationship while gearing up for greater competition between the two powers.

A few days before Mr. Xi’s summit last week with President Biden, according to people with knowledge of the matter, Beijing dispatched a delegation of senior policy advisers and business executives to New York to meet with a U.S. counterpart group set up by insurance executive Maurice “Hank” Greenberg, one of the most successful American businessmen in China.

Xi approved the trip, organized by a think tank affiliated with China’s Foreign Ministry, right after a Communist Party conclave in October that extended his hold on power, the people said. 

The Chinese People’s Institute of Foreign Affairs, the Foreign Ministry-affiliated think tank, was named as organizer of the group—whose members, according to the people, include Cui Tiankai, Beijing’s former top envoy to Washington, Chen Deming, ex-commerce minister, and Ning Jizhe, former vice minister at China’s top economic-planning agency.

 

As Think Tank Watch previously noted, the US group, formed in July 2022, consists of several US think tankers.

Monday, November 28, 2022

Heritage Working to Sink Same-Sex Marriage Bill

Here is more from Politico:

The Heritage Foundation will drop seven figures on a new ad campaign opposing legislation to codify same-sex and interracial marriage rights ahead of a vote on the bill when lawmakers return from the Thanksgiving recess next week.

— The legislation overcame its first procedural hurdle in the Senate last week with 12 Republicans joining all Democrats in support following an agreement to include protections for religious liberty that Heritage skewered as not going far enough. “Republican senators claiming the bill protects religious liberty are misleading the public,” Roger Severino, the think tank’s vice president of domestic policy, said in a statement pointing to Democratic leaders denying a vote on an amendment from Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah).

— The last-minute effort to derail the bill includes putting $1 million behind a TV spot that will air    until next week on Fox News and on Thanksgiving weekend NFL and college football games in Iowa, Indiana, West Virginia and Wyoming — the home states of four Republican senators who voted to advance the bill last week — and another $300,000 in digital ads from Heritage Action, the organization’s lobbying arm.

 

Here is more on the ad campaign from Heritage's "The Daily Signal," and here is more from Fox News.

Tuesday, November 22, 2022

Think Tank Quickies (#459)

  • Off-the-record, invitation-only talk by Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis leader James Bullard at Citigroup event similar to 2017 Stanley Fischer talk (when he was Fed's vice chair) where he gave a closed-door speech at Brookings that drew some outcry.
  • The Pentagon is not happy about a Heritage Foundation report that rated the US military as weak. 
  • Quincy Institute played a major role in drumming up support for a Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC) letter calling for the Biden Administration to seek a diplomatic solution in Ukraine.
  • Andrew Cohen to join the German Marshall Fund as its first-ever managing editor.
  • Former US Ambassador to Russia John Sullivan is joining Georgetown University's School of Foreign Service as a distinguished fellow.
  • Barre Seid is a major donor to Heartland Institute and Leonard Leo's dark money network.
  • The Institute for Progress, a US think tank, is helping government agencies distribute grants more effectively. 
  • Katie Porter (D-CA) accused Heritage Foundation witness Amy Swearer of perjury during House hearing on gun control.
  • Washington Consensus is a term coined in 1989 by PIIE's John Williamson.
  • Canon Institute for Global Studies (CIGS) under pressure to remove "dangerous" climate articles.

Thursday, November 17, 2022

Think Tanks Bolstered FTX, But Funding Now Endangered

The now-collapsed cryptocurrency exchange FTX received lots of support from outside groups along the way, including think tanks.

Here is more from Bloomberg:

"No one saw this coming" has been a common refrain in the financial world since the swift disintegration of Sam Bankman-Fried's cryptocurrency empire. Nowhere is that sentiment more plain to see than in the letters sent to US regulators in support of FTX's application for a controversial plan that would have revolutionized trading of derivatives, a heavily regulated corner of Wall Street.

From Fidelity Investments to Fortress Investment Group, Susquehanna International Group and Virtu Financial, from faculty members at Georgetown, the University of Chicago, William & Mary and Stanford, from the Jones Day law firm and the Heritage Foundation think tank, hundreds of letters in support of FTX’s plan landed with the CFTC earlier this year.

 

In Oct. 2022, think tank Bipartisan Policy Center (BPC) hosted FTX co-founder and CEO Sam Bankman-Fried (SBF) for an event on the future of cryptocurrency.

Some think tanks have allied themselves with or received money from the FTX Foundation, and the collapse of FTX endangers SBF's philanthropic gifts, both through the FTX Foundation and through other non-profits.

SBF has been a proponent of the "effective altruism" movement which believes in prioritizing donations to projects that have the largest impact on the most number of people.

Wednesday, November 16, 2022

UAE Funding of Think Tanks Comes Under More Scrutiny Amid New US Intel Report

Here is more from the Washington Post:

U.S. intelligence officials have compiled a classified report detailing extensive efforts to manipulate the American political system by the United Arab Emirates, an influential, oil-rich nation in the Persian Gulf long considered a close and trusted partner.

The activities covered in the report, described to The Washington Post by three people who have read it, include illegal and legal attempts to steer U.S. foreign policy in ways favorable to the Arab autocracy. It reveals the UAE’s bid, spanning multiple U.S. administrations, to exploit the vulnerabilities in American governance, including its reliance on campaign contributions, susceptibility to powerful lobbying firms and lax enforcement of disclosure laws intended to guard against interference by foreign governments, these people said. 

The UAE has spent more than $154 million on lobbyists since 2016, according to Justice Department records. It has spent hundreds of millions of dollars more on donations to American universities and think tanks, many that produce policy papers with findings favorable to UAE interests.

 

The article notes that boosters of the UAE within US think tanks often call it "Little Sparta" for its "military prowess while sidestepping its human rights record and ironclad kinship to Saudi Arabia."

Here is a Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft report entitled "Gulf funded think tank turns pro-Saudi, UAE messaging up to 11."

Monday, November 14, 2022

Think Tank Quickies (#458)

  • Daniel Bunn will be the next president and CEO of the Tax Foundation.
  • Jon Huntsman has joined CNAS's board of directors.  He was previously the Atlantic Council's board chair.
  • Politico: Spotted on an American Airlines flight from Palm Beach to DC: Heritage Foundation president Kevin Roberts in first class; Manhattan Institute president Reihan Salam in coach.
  • Quincy Institute event: Foreign funding and public trust in the think tank sector (and a summary).
  • Only 15% of people trust think tanks?  (Most don't even know what a think tank is...)
  • Warning: Someone is impersonating think tanker Michael McFaul.
  • New book Spies and Lies details how covert influence operations by China reach into US think tanks and elsewhere.
  • Todd Moss: "Think Tank" is the name of the orangutan house at the National Zoo. 
  • Shit Nonprofits Say on how think tanks decide to take donor money.
  • Pic: Scary costume for the DC think tanker.

Friday, November 11, 2022

Viktor Orban-funded Think Tank Aims to Shake Things Up

Here is more from Politico:

A think tank funded by illiberal Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán is set to disrupt the Brussels chin-stroking scene when it launches this month — provoking a fierce backlash from detractors back home.

MCC Brussels — an arm of the Mathias Corvinus Collegium (MCC), a Budapest-based college that has controversially received billions of forints from Orbán’s government — plans to “provide an alternative” for Europe’s “polarized cultural landscape,” according to one of its founders.

The center — backed by Hungary’s right-wing, EU-confrontational government — will shake up a think tank ecosystem in Brussels currently dominated by largely homogeneous, pro-European thought.

 

The new think tank will be lead by British-Hungarian scholar Frank Furedi and German political scientist Werner Patzelt.

Tuesday, November 8, 2022

Think Tank Third Way Warns Democrats on Flaws

Here is more from Axios:

Third Way — a center-left think tank backed by some of the biggest names in Democratic politics — is sounding the alarm about deep-seated party flaws, based on its own new polling from Senate battlegrounds.

Driving the news: "If Democrats manage to hold on to the House and Senate, it will be in spite of the party brand, not because of it," Third Way writes in a memo synthesizing its conclusions, shared first with Axios.

  • "Despite a roster of GOP candidates who are extreme by any standard, voters see Democrats as just as extreme, as well as far less concerned about the issues that most worry them."

Why it matters: Lifelong, respected Democrats are saying the quiet part out loud — that if Republicans have a huge night on Tuesday, as polls are blaring, Democrats must blame "much deeper" problems than simply the "historical trends" that beset the party in power.

 

Meanwhile, the Bipartisan Policy Center (BPC) is expanding and restructuring its Democracy Program to "strengthen the foundations that sustain representative democracy," according to Politico.

The program includes six initiatives and BPC will release reports and convene experts over the next two years in anticipation of the 2024 election season.

Monday, November 7, 2022

RAND Corporation Used Heavily by Intelligence Community

Daniel Golden's book Spy Schools highlights a few interesting anecdotes about how think tanks are often used by foreign and domestic intelligence service.

Golden, citing a former CIA operative, notes that every single day, intelligence services around the world work conferences, sponsor conferences, and look for ways to get people to conferences in order to help collect information and recruit spies.

The book says that the "graybeard" of "CIA concealment conferences" is the RAND Corporation.  The think tank holds a number of conferences each year, often under non-disclosure agreements with intelligence agencies, according to the book.

It also notes that Barbara Walter, a University of California, San Diego political scientist, gives unpaid presentations on her specialty, civil wars, at think tanks fronting for the CIA.

Dr. Walters' UCSD biography lists a number of policy briefings she has given, including at think tanks such as RAND, the Atlantic Council, and Council on Foreign Relations (CFR).

Funders of RAND include the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI).

Also, as Think Tank Watch has reported, think tanks, including RAND, abound with former spies.

Friday, November 4, 2022

Think Tank Quickies (#457)

  • New Carnegie report: How we would know when China is preparing to invade Taiwan. 
  • New think tank launched by Michael Wear: The Center for Christianity and Public Life.
  • New launch: Asia Society France, to be chaired by Serge Dumont.
  • New launch: Brussels Institute for Geopolitics, co-founded by Luuk van Middelaar, Hans Kribbe, and Sebastien Lumet. 
  • Billionaire Sam Bankman-Fried speaks at Bipartisan Policy Center.
  • Cryptocurrency think tank Coin Center filed a lawsuit challenging the US Treasury Department's sanctions against cryptocurrency mixer Tornado Cash.
  • David Laufman: Retired US military officials working for foreign governments must be careful about any nexus to the US; if they are promoting interests of their benefactors to...think tanks they may have an obligation to register under FARA.
  • Henry Rome, Eurasia Group's deputy head of research and a director covering macro politics and the Middle East, is now at senior fellow at WINEP covering Iran.
  • Zachary Karabell, president of River Twice Capital and the founder of the Progress Network at New America, was named the Eurasia Group Foundation's new board chair.
  • Lisa Curtis, senior fellow and director of the Indo-Pacific Security program at CNAS, has joined RadioFreeEurope/Radio Liberty's board of directors.

Thursday, November 3, 2022

Think Tankers Stink at Predictions

Mr. Damien Ma, the co-founder and managing director of the Paulson Institute's in-house think tank MacroPolo, has an anecdote on how bad most think tankers really are at predicting geopolitical events.

Here's what he wrote in a recent piece for the new publication Semafor:

Don’t make predictions about Chinese politics. That’s the lesson from our think-tank’s month-long “fantasy football”-style competition to forecast the “Chinese election” before it concluded last weekend.

Of the more than 1,000 players who played — China specialists and casual observers — not a single person correctly predicted all seven members of the Chinese Communist Party’s new Politburo Standing Committee, the peak of political power in China.

So it turns out the political scientist Phil Tetlock’s longstanding insight holds: On average, expert predictions don’t outperform non-experts’ results.

But maybe it’s not just that expertise didn’t matter, and instead that expertise was neutralized by the paradigm shift that has taken place in China. Basically, expert or not, it was nearly impossible to win our game.

This wasn’t a normal Communist Party congress. The presumed norms that guided and bounded Chinese elite politics fell away. We put too much stock in assumptions about the Party’s commitment to a de facto retirement age, for example, when what counted most was proximity to Xi Jinping himself. Above all else, loyalty and trust were the determinative factors.

 

An example of a prediction that didn't age well: In 1996, Harry Rowen, who worked at the Hoover Institution, said China will become a democracy in 2015.

Here is one to watch for the future: China expert Oriana Skylar Mastro, a Center Fellow at Stanford University's Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies and a Non-Resident Senior Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), is predicting a 100% chance China will use force against Taiwan in the next five years.

Here is a 2020 RAND Corporation post entitled "How Accurate Were Predictions About the Future?"  Among other things, it discusses RAND's so-called "Delphi Method" which attempts to make effective use of informed intuitive judgement in long-range forecasting.

Wednesday, November 2, 2022

Think Tank Fellow Being Sued by Former WSJ Reporter

Here is more from Politico:

Jay Solomon was abruptly fired from his job as the Wall Street Journal’s chief foreign correspondent in 2017 after the Associated Press reported on his alleged discussions of business deals with one of his key sources. It was one of the most high-profile examples of a prominent journalist being sacked for unethical behavior.

Now Solomon is suing, not over his firing or the unflattering news coverage that precipitated it — but over what he says was a multi-million-dollar criminal campaign by a foreign emirate’s American law firm that allegedly hired Indian mercenary hackers to turn up his correspondence.

The lawsuit, filed this month in federal court in Washington, makes for absolutely wild reading. It pulls back the curtain on the murky intersection of American media, international law firms, Persian Gulf politics and Beltway think tanks — and ought to discomfit anyone who thinks working in Washington protects them from hardball tactics that hold sway in other parts of the world.

The cast of characters named as co-defendants in the lawsuit is large, and includes the pair of former Dechert lawyers, private investigators in Israel and North Carolina, and a New York public affairs firm and its founder. It also includes Amir Handjani, who works at the New York firm but has been also a fellow at two Washington think tanks: the Atlantic Council, where he left the board in 2021, and the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft, where he remains a non-resident fellow. 

 

In March 2022, the Washington Free Beacon had a story entitled "Legal Docs Tie Quincy Institute's Amir Handjani to Spy Operation."  It published another story in July 2022 saying that a judge had ordered Handjani to turn over documents in an alleged hack-and-leak scheme.

Tuesday, November 1, 2022

Former RAND Scholar Involved in Senate Investigation Unearthing Origins of COVID-19

Here is more from Vanity Fair and ProPublica:

Toy Reid has always had a gift for languages — one that would carry him far from what he calls his “very blue-collar” roots in Greenville, South Carolina. In high school, Spanish came easily. At nearby Furman University, where he became the first person in his family to attend college, he studied Japanese. Then, “clueless but curious,” as he puts it, he channeled his fascination with the Dalai Lama into a master’s degree in East Asian philosophy and religion at Harvard. Along the way, he picked up Khmer, the national language of Cambodia, and achieved fluency in Chinese.

But it was his career as a China specialist for the Rand Corporation and as a political officer in East Asia for the U.S. State Department that taught him how to interpret a notoriously opaque language: the “party speak” practiced by Chinese Communist officials.

For 15 months, Reid loaned this unusual skill to a nine-person team dedicated to investigating the mystery of COVID-19’s origins. Commissioned by Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., the team examined voluminous evidence, most of it open source but some classified, and weighed the major credible theories for how the novel coronavirus first made the leap to humans. An interim report, released on Thursday by the minority oversight staff of the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor & Pensions (HELP), concludes that the COVID-19 pandemic was “more likely than not, the result of a research-related incident.”

 

Reid's RAND page lists two reports that he co-authored with the think tank, one on the China-Taiwan dispute and another on domestic trends in the US, China, and Iran and implications for US Navy strategic planning.

Monday, October 31, 2022

Think Tank Quickies (#456)

  • New US intelligence report says the Kremlin spent $300 million since 2014 to try to influence several European countries using front companies and think tanks.
  • Chinese think tank issues rare public disagreement with the ruling Community Party's severe "zero-COVID" policy.
  • Iranian operatives have targeted members of the US-based think tank community through surveillance and cyber operations.
  • Are think tanks ready for the age of AI?
  • ChinaFile, a digital magazine published by the Asia Society, collected 100,000+ Chinese government bidding documents for surveillance technology and shared them exclusively with the New York Times.
  • Progressive Jewish groups launch think tank (Emor) to counter spread of right-wing ideas.
  • Nick Eftimiades of the Atlantic Council keeps a database on Chinese espionage cases.
  • Carter Price, a mathematician at RAND Corp., is working on a budget model that will incorporate the latest social science research, as well as climate science, to inform long-term policy decisions.
  • Rhiana Gunn-Wright, director of climate policy at the Roosevelt Institute, is an architect of the Green New Deal.
  • Matt Duss, foreign policy adviser for Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), is joining the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

Friday, October 28, 2022

RAND Corp. Exposes Fake RAND Report

Over the years, Think Tank Watch has documented numerous incidents where people or entities have impersonated think tanks and think tank scholars.

Now, RAND Corporation has uncovered a fake RAND report that has been circulating online.

Here is more from RAND:

A supposedly leaked RAND report about a bizarre U.S. conspiracy to “weaken Germany” is fake.

Genuine RAND research, analysis, and commentary on the war in Ukraine may be found at this page.

Given the potential origins of this fake document, we encourage you to explore this resource on the “firehose of falsehood” approach to propaganda and RAND's extensive research on “Truth Decay,” a phenomenon driven in part by the spread of disinformation.

 

SOFREP has much more on the fake report, which was apparently published in Swedish newspaper Nya Dagbladet.  SOFREP says that Russian agents likely created the fake report.

Thursday, October 27, 2022

Think Tank Analyst Acquitted in Trial Over Trump Dossier

Here is more from Associated Press:

A jury on Tuesday acquitted a think tank analyst accused of lying to the FBI about his role in the creation of a discredited dossier about former President Donald Trump.

The case against Igor Danchenko was the third and possibly final case brought by Special Counsel John Durham as part of his probe into how the FBI conducted its own investigation into allegations of collusion between the 2016 Trump campaign and the Kremlin.

Danchenko, by his own admission, was responsible for 80 percent of the raw intelligence in the dossier and half of the accompanying analysis, though trial testimony indicated that Danchenko was shocked and dismayed about how Steele presented the material and portrayed it as factual when Danchenko considered it more to be rumor and speculation.

 

Mr. Danchenko was a former Brookings Institution analyst.

Wednesday, October 26, 2022

New Legislation to Impact Republican-leaning Think Tanks More?

Legislation that is working its way through the US Congress, which is largely being pushed by Republicans, may impact conservative think tanks more than liberal ones.

Here is more from Politico:

For all the joy that conservative pols have taken at Brookings’ latest turn in the barrel, conversations with people around the industry reveal an irony: Any potential new wave of government-mandated disclosure rules, especially those that go beyond foreign money, would actually represent a bigger cultural change at right-wing organizations, some of which historically have tended to see donations as a form of free speech. Establishmentarian center-left outfits like Brookings already share significant pieces of that information — thanks in part, it should be noted, to previous funding imbroglios, and their reliance on corporate dollars. (The Heritage Foundation, by contrast, says less than two percent of its income comes from corporate sources.)

The last spate of transparency efforts, which followed a blockbuster set of New York Times reports in 2014 and 2016 about donor influence at think tanks, was embraced “way more on the left than the right,” one longtime conservative think tank figure tells me. (To be clear, this veteran of fundraising told me, that’s because it was centrist and liberal outfits that had been caught out.) While a visitor to Brookings’ website can today peruse annual reports that identify top donors, the American Enterprise Institute says it doesn’t provide that information as a matter of course.

 

Of course, the various proposals floating around Congress may never become law, and even if something passes, certain loopholes may be be included in any final package.

Tuesday, October 25, 2022

Think Tank Quickies (#455)

  • Republican lawmaker calls on CIA director to address his strong ties to CCP while at helm of think tank.
  • Johns Hopkins, a school attended by many think tankers, has a long history with student-spies. 
  • Amazon's behind-the-scenes campaign against Canada's competition law reforms involves hardball tactics and spending on think tanks.
  • Sentinel Action Fund, the new Heritage-linked super PAC, will spend $3.5 million on TV ads and $1.5 million on voter outreach to bolster Arizona GOP Senate nominee Blake Masters.
  • Hal Harvey, CEO of the San Francisco-based think tank Energy Innovation, has written a new book, The Big Fix.
  • Gordon Hempton: "Quiet is a think tank of the soul."
  • Peter Kelley: "A think tank is an arrangement in which voluntary corporations, govt’s, or eccentric mega-rich give millions of dollars to support people who spend most of their time trying to get their names into print.”
  • Thread: Coldplay lyrics as think tank report titles. 
  • Pic: The death of the think tank meal is greatly exaggerated.
  • Pic: Only at a think tank could registration be this complicated.

Friday, October 21, 2022

Richard Haass Stepping Down as President of CFR

After nearly 20 years at the helm of one of the most influential foreign policy think tanks, Richard Haass has decided to leave his post as president of the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR).

The New York Times broke the news this week.  Among other things, NYT notes that President Biden's national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, once interned for Mr. Haass's predecessor at the think tank, Leslie Gelb.

Some have already speculated that Sullivan could be in the running to be the next CFR president.

Haass, whose annually salary tops $1.7 million, is expected to depart in June and no replacement has yet been named.

Thursday, October 20, 2022

US Threatened to Charge Cato Institute & Mercatus Employees with Treason

Here is more from The Dispatch:

In March 2020, a maritime shipping advisory panel offered a simple suggestion to the government: Charge all past and current members of two libertarian think tanks [Cato Institute and Mercatus Center] with treason.

It is certainly not the first time a bunch of libertarians angered members of a bureaucratic panel. But this backlash stemmed from criticism of the Jones Act, a century‐​old law that imposes requirements for shipping between American ports.

 

Cato scholars Colin Grabow and Scott Lincicome have more details here, and call the situation "deeply troubling."

It also appears that the Maritime Transportation System National Advisory Committee's (MTSNAC) International Shipping Subcommittee wanted the US president to inform the Heritage Foundation that he will personally disavow them if they continue to advocate against the Jones Act.

Wednesday, October 19, 2022

Where Young Conservative Think Tankers Meet in DC

Here is more from The Dispatch:

The Cicero Society is an institution you’ve probably never heard of if you’re not of a certain age and living in the District of Columbia. The society is a “parliamentary debate society committed to developing excellence, preserving the Western intellectual tradition, and forming young leaders,” and its intellectual nature has made it quite popular with young, politically active adults in D.C. Cicero hosts a debate once a month at the City Tavern Club—a private social club in Georgetown—for its members and anyone willing to shell out $25, with a strict business casual dress code, an open bar, and, as of late, a list of attendees that includes a real who’s-who of D.C.-based new right.

[Among those in attendance at a recent meeting at the Dumbarton House include] Saurabh Sharma, co-founder of American Moment. Sharma was joined by figures affiliated with The American Conservative, The American Mind, The American Compass, and a number of other populist right think tanks, publications, and advocacy groups whose founders were able to think of names that didn’t start with “The American.” Congressional staffers are a dime a dozen—possibly even cheaper and more numerous.

Another fixture in this world is a friend of Sharma’s and perhaps the most prominent public face of the young new right—the left-wing media’s go-to voice for insight into this crowd, Nate Hochman. (Hochman interned for The Dispatch in 2020.) Hochman describes the Cicero Society as “particularly decadent” and an “over-the-top, silver-spoon” club. He can be found at the meetings fairly regularly, and says he was planning on going to the spring cocktail party until a conflict arose.

Hochman is now a Claremont Institute fellow and an Intercollegiate Studies Institute fellow, the latter of which got him a yearlong spot at National Review starting last August.

 

Here is a link to Cicero Society's website.

Monday, October 17, 2022

Think Tank Quickies (#454)

  • Jeromin Zettelmeyer has started as director of Bruegel, taking over from Guntram Wolff.
  • Shayna Strom named interim president and CEO of the Washington Center for Equitable Growth.
  • Tess McEnergy is the Project on Middle East Democracy's new executive director.
  • Brigham McCown is now senior fellow and director of the Hudson Institute's Initiative on American Energy Security.  He's also chair and CEO of consulting firm Nouveau and most recently was CEO of Alyeska, the operator of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System.
  • Heritage Foundation lobbyist Tommy Binion joins OnMessage Public Strategies. 
  • President Biden has nominated Roger Zakheim as a member of USIP.
  • Emma Ashford is now a senior fellow at the Stimson Center.
  • Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY) headlines AEI's annual Constitution Day Lecture.
  • Grover Norquist is looking to work with think tanks to build an argument that only Congress can relieve student debt.

Thursday, October 6, 2022

China Wants Hudson Inst. to Stop Its YouTube Videos on China

Here is more from Politico:

The Chinese Embassy in Washington D.C. wants the Hudson Institute to stop distributing a series of short YouTube videos critical of the ruling Chinese Communist Party featuring former Secretary of State MIKE POMPEO. 

The videos “made groundless accusations against the Communist Party of China,” the embassy said in letter that Pompeo shared on Twitter on Tuesday.

“We have written to the Hudson Institute to express our concern and clarify the facts,” Chinese embassy spokesperson LIU PENGYU told China Watcher. Pompeo clearly enjoys the attention. “The CCP wants me to stop speaking the truth. Ain’t gonna happen,” Pompeo tweeted.

 

Hudson Institute is hosting the new videos at its new China Center, where Pompeo serves as chair of its advisory board.  Pompeo is also a distinguished fellow at Hudson.

China's Global Times has said that the China Center has "evil intentions" and was established to "collude with anti-China figures and concoct and disseminate anti-China rhetoric."

Wednesday, October 5, 2022

Sen. Warren Continues to Target Brookings Over Foreign Funding

Here is more from Politico:

Sen. ELIZABETH WARREN (D-Mass.) sent a letter to the Brookings Institution’s interim president, AMY LIU, to ask how the think tank ensures intellectual independence after it receives foreign funds.

“I remain concerned that these foreign governments — as well as the many private sector corporations and wealthy individuals that are listed as Brookings contributors — can use Brookings and other think tanks to covertly peddle their influence before Congress and the administration,” she wrote.

Warren’s interest in Brookings was piqued following news that the former president, retired Gen. JOHN ALLEN, was under investigation by the Justice Department for violating lobbying laws by advocating for Qatar — a charge he firmly denies. Warren first sent a letter to Brookings in July following that revelation.

 

The publication Mother Jones also notes that Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) is among those taking aim at Brookings. 

Meanwhile, The Washington Free Beacon notes that Rep. Jack Bergman (R-MI) and Sen. Charles Grassley (R-IA) are spearheading the Think Tank Transparency Act of 2022, which would force nonprofit groups that seek to influence public policy and Congress to publicly report all foreign funding, as well as contracts or agreements they strike with foreign entities.

Tuesday, October 4, 2022

More China Positions Needed at US Think Tanks to Help Prevent War?

In a blog post on Effective Altruism entitled "War Between the US and China: A case study for epistemic challenges around China-related catastrophic risk," Jordan Schneider and Pradyumna Prasad say that there should be more direct funding for early career China-related positions at think tanks in order to help prevent future war.

Here is more about what they have to say about the dearth of US-based China scholars:

There are maybe two dozen fellows at the most influential Mass Avenue think tanks, another two dozen at American staff colleges, perhaps 250 academics, and a few dozen other Americans employed in China-focused roles in the private sector. This number pales in comparison with other directly policy-relevant research fields like macroeconomics.

There are perhaps fifteen senior fellows and another two dozen research assistants in their 20s with at least passable Mandarin in the most influential Mass Avenue think tanks (Brookings, CSIS, CNAS, AEI, CAP…). Federally Funded Research and Development Organizations (FFRDCs) like RAND and the Institute for Defense Analyses perhaps employ fifty more, while American military universities employ perhaps another hundred China-focused researchers.

To ballpark the number of other global academics outside the PRC contributing to China-relevant research that feeds up into DC thinking, perhaps the total number is around 700. With an average salary of $100,000, that would add up to $70m spent per year on China-related studies. Keep in mind though that almost all of this spending is very poorly optimized for research that would feed into strategies to reduce catastrophic risk.

 

Among other things, they discuss why the Center for Security and Emerging Technologies (CSET) has some of the best China-related research around, and why philanthropists should try to emulate them as a "model framework to areas of particular neglected China-adjacent interest."

They also note that most recent "somewhat rigorous" projection of the economic impact of a US-China conflict was last published in 2016 by the RAND Corporation.

Thursday, September 29, 2022

Think Tank Quickies (#453)

  • Think tankers join letter telling the US to arm Ukraine. 
  • Iranian operatives reportedly spying on members of US "think tank" UANI.
  • RAND Corp.'s new CEO Jason Matheny is a "Apocaloptimist."
  • Peer review is in trouble.
  • CDG: How might think tanks make real things happen? Lessons from the creation of the DFC.
  • Max Primorac will lead the Heritage Foundation's Sarah Allison Center for Foreign Policy.
  • Eilish Zembilci is now a consultant policy analyst for the World Food Program USA and staying on with CSIS's global food security program. 
  • US-based think tank appoints two Nigerian priests as research fellows.
  • Nathan Iyer of the Rocky Mountain Institute worked with US lawmakers to help craft a package of supply chain incentives for the massive Inflation Reduction Act.
  • The idea of diversified portfolios, a key insight of modern financial theory, was formalized by Harry Markowitz of the RAND Corp. in the early 1950s.

Wednesday, September 28, 2022

Congressional Candidate Started a Think Tank Arguing Against Women's Right to Vote

Here is more from CNN:

A Michigan candidate for the US House backed by former President Donald Trump once railed against giving women the right to vote, arguing that America has “suffered” since women’s suffrage.

John Gibbs, who defeated in the primary an incumbent Republican who had voted to impeach Trump, also made comments in the early 2000s praising an organization trying to repeal the 19th Amendment which also argued that women’s suffrage had made the United States into a “totalitarian state.”

As a student at Stanford University in the early 2000s, Gibbs founded a self-described “think tank” called the Society for the Critique of Feminism that argued women did not “posess (sic) the characteristics necessary to govern,” and said men were smarter than women because they are more likely to “think logically about broad and abstract ideas in order to deduce a suitable conclusion, without relying upon emotional reasoning.”

 

CNN notes that Gibbs requested the website for the think tank be removed from the Internet Archive's Wayback Machine in 2016, but CNN apparently accessed the old website through a different web tool.

Tuesday, September 27, 2022

US: Russia Funneling Political Donations Worldwide Through Think Tanks

Here is more from the New York Times:

Russia has covertly given at least $300 million to political parties, officials and politicians in more than two dozen countries since 2014, and plans to transfer hundreds of millions more, with the goal of exerting political influence and swaying elections, according to a State Department summary of a recent U.S. intelligence review.

The Russians pay in cash, cryptocurrency, electronic funds transfers and lavish gifts, the document said. They move the money through a wide range of institutions to shield the origins of the financing, a practice called using cutouts. Those institutions include foundations, think tanks, organized crime groups, political consultancies, shell companies and Russian state-owned enterprises.

As of last year, the document said, a Russian business figure was trying to use pro-Russian think tanks in Europe to support far-right nationalist parties.

 

In related news, Russia sanctioned 25 US citizens, including think tank analysts.  One of those on the new list is Daniel Vajdich, a Nonresident Senior Fellow at the Atlantic Council.  

Victoria Clement, a former Wilson Center scholar, was also sanctioned.

Monday, September 26, 2022

Biden Consulting with Think Tankers Amid Democracy Crisis

Think tank experts often provide advise to the US executive branch, but very few are actually called by the US president himself to provide direct advice.  

President Joe Biden, however, has been more receptive to outside voices, and he sometimes convenes leading think tank scholars to help guide his thinking and decisions.

Here is more from the Washington Post:

President Biden paused last week, during one of the busiest stretches of his presidency, for a nearly two-hour private history lesson from a group of academics who raised alarms about the dire condition of democracy at home and abroad.

The conversation during a ferocious lightning storm on Aug. 4 unfolded as a sort of Socratic dialogue between the commander in chief and a select group of scholars, who painted the current moment as among the most perilous in modern history for democratic governance, according to multiple people familiar with the discussions who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe a private meeting.

Michael McFaul, a former U.S. ambassador to Russia under President Barack Obama, briefed Biden with other experts before the Russian invasion of Ukraine and before the president’s 2021 meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Geneva.

McFaul was among a socially distanced group that met to discuss Ukraine in the East Room earlier this year, along with former diplomat Richard Haass, journalist Fareed Zakaria, analyst Ian Bremmer, former National Security Council adviser Fiona Hill and retired Adm. James G. Stavridis, a former Supreme Allied Commander of NATO.

 

Amb. McFaul is the Director of the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies at Stanford University and is also a Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution.

Richard Haass in the President of the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), and Fiona Hill is a Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution.

Stavridis once led the US Navy's premier operational think tank for innovation, Deep Blue.

Thursday, September 22, 2022

Think Tank Quickies (#452)

  • In new book, CFR President Richard Haass says US's biggest threat is from within.
  • The Lilly Endowment backs think tanks lobbying against price controls on insulin.
  • Pic: Regulation Journal, 1st published by AEI in 1977 and acquired by the Cato Institute in 1989, is still being sold in bookstores in the US.
  • China's consul general in Belfast bashes ASPI and CSIS, saying they are "not really independent and nonpartisan as they claim."
  • Trump alums Victoria Coates and Erin Walsh joining Heritage Foundation as senior fellow.
  • Former Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) is a fellow at the Sanders Institute.
  • New report from Institute for Policy Studies (IPS) shows megaphilanthropy crowding out individual donations.
  • SKDK founding partner Anita Dunn, now a senior advisor at the White House, did consulting work for the lobbying arm of the Center for American Progress (CAP).
  • Computer and Communications Industry Association (CCIA) launching a new research center.
  • Asia Group and Observer Research launch "India Innovates" platform and roundtable series.

Wednesday, September 21, 2022

Think Tanks Advising Congress Funded by Weapons Industry

Here are the latest details from Stephen Semler, co-founder of the Security Policy Reform Institute (SPRI):

Think tanks are said to be free from the ugly forces that bias in-house policy planning—namely, all the lobbying and campaign cash that encourage members of Congress to make decisions based on parochial interests and not the public’s. The problem is that establishment think tanks are corrupted by the same monied interests members of Congress are. In this case, we’re talking about the arms industry.

Every think tank represented in a House Armed Services Committee hearing to provide expert testimony from January 1, 2020 through September 16, 2022 that disclosed its donors received funding from military contractors (the one that didn’t disclose its donors was the hawkish American Enterprise Institute).

 

As Ben Freeman of the Quincy Institute has pointed out, AEI has taken money from the military industry by way of its board chair, Daniel D'Aniello, co-founder of the Carlyle Group, which owns several defense contractors.

Tuesday, September 20, 2022

Is the Lobbying Arm of the Heritage Foundation Destroying the Think Tank?

The Dispatch has an important piece on the latest happenings at the Heritage Foundation:

With the Heritage Foundation’s 50th anniversary approaching, some former employees believe Dr. Kevin Roberts, president of the Heritage Foundation since December 2021, and other senior leaders have lost sight of the think tank’s original mission. Where it used to function as a haven for conservative intellectuals to shape the Republican Party’s agenda, many worry that the institution is attaching itself to a faction of the conservative movement that prioritizes partisanship over policy.

Interviews with more than a dozen current and former employees reveal restrictive workplace practices to keep scholars in line with positions favored by Heritage’s lobbying arm. With Heritage Action’s growing influence has come a wave of staff turnover from the rank-and-file to senior leadership. Fifty-one employees have departed the Heritage Foundation and 73 new employees have joined since January 1, a Heritage spokesperson confirmed. There are 275 staff members on the foundation’s payroll and 30 at Heritage Action as of Tuesday.

Several former employees cited Heritage’s departure from its foundational commitments—without the knowledge or consent of the scholars hired to translate them into policy positions—as their reason for leaving. Others pointed to one-on-one confrontations with the members of the leadership team over the organization’s ideological trajectory. 

Fights over who sets Heritage’s “one-voice policy”—which requires that all staff be publicly aligned on any given issue—have caused much of the friction.

 

Meanwhile, Josh Rogin, a columnist at the Washington Post has a new piece on the Heritage Foundation entitled "A Conservative Think Tank Turns Away From Reagan and Toward Trump."

Here is a response to Rogin's piece from Blaise Malley, an Associate Editor at The National Interest.

Update: Dan Drezner is now calling Heritage "the Newsweek of think tank."

Thursday, September 15, 2022

Indian Think Tank Raided Over Taxes

Here is more from DNA:

[India's] Income Tax Department is conducting searches at the Delhi-based think-tank Centre of Policy Research. The think tank was once headed by academician Pratap Bhanu Mehta, a prominent critic of the BJP government.

Presently, its governing board is chaired by Meenakshi Gopinath, a political scientist who taught at Jawaharlal Nehru University and was the principal of Lady Shri Ram College in New Delhi. The think tank states it is recognised as a 'not-for-profit society' by the Government of India, and contributions to it are 'tax exempt', according to CPR's website. 

 

The think tank is known to examine government policy with a critical eye.

Some in India's Congress have slammed the move, saying it was raided at the behest of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah.