Thursday, July 9, 2020

How Biden-Aligned Think Tankers Got Rich

The Prospect recently wrote about how Joe Biden's foreign policy team got rich, and it just so happens that most of the people mentioned in the piece are current or former think tankers.

Here are some excerpts:
They had been public servants their whole careers. But when Hillary Clinton lost the 2016 election, two departing Obama officials were anxious for work. Trump’s win had caught them by surprise.
Sergio Aguirre and Nitin Chadda had reached the most elite quarters of U.S. foreign policy. Aguirre had started out of school as a fellow in the White House and a decade later had become chief of staff to U.N. Ambassador Samantha Power. Chadda, who joined the Pentagon out of college as a speechwriter, had become a key adviser to Secretary of Defense Ash Carter in even less time. Now, Chadda had a long-shot idea.
They turned to an industry of power-brokering little known outside the capital: strategic consultancies.  Michèle Flournoy had served as undersecretary of defense for policy from 2009 to 2012. Both Aguirre and Chadda had known her well in the Obama administration. Since leaving office, she’d spent several years in consulting and was hitting her stride. With Flournoy as senior adviser, Boston Consulting Group’s defense contracts grew from $1.6 million in 2013 to $32 million in 2016. Before she joined, according to public records, BCG had not signed any contracts with the Defense Department.
Flournoy, while consulting, joining corporate boards, and serving as a senior fellow at Harvard’s Belfer Center, had also become CEO of the Center for a New American Security in 2014. The think tank had $48 million on hand, and defense contractors donated at least $3.8 million while she was CEO. By 2017, she was making $452,000 a year.

Others mentioned in the piece include Tony Blinken (former senior fellow at CSIS), Nicholas Burns (former visiting scholar at Wilson Center and on board of directors of Atlantic Council and CFR), Kurt Campbell (co-founder of CNAS and former scholar at CSIS), Tom Donilon (distinguished fellow at CFR), Wendy Sherman (on board of Atlantic Council), Julianne Smith (adjunct senior fellow at CNAS and formerly at CSIS and German Marshall Fund), Jake Sullivan (nonresident senior fellow at Carnegie Endowment for International Peace), Robert Work (former CEO of CNAS), Dan Shapiro (visiting fellow at Institute for National Security Studies), and Avril Haines (nonresident senior fellow at Brookings and on CNAS board of directors).

The article notes that Flournoy went on to form WestExec Advisors with Tony Blinken, and they partnered with Jigsaw, which is Google's in-house think tank.

Here is an Al-Monitor piece on some of Biden's foreign policy advisors.  Besides the above-mentioned Tony Blinken, Jake Sullivan, Julianne Smith, and Nicholas Burns, others advising Biden include Colin Kahl (former fellow at CFR and CNAS), Brian McKeon (on leave as Senior Director at Penn Biden Center), Jeffrety Prescott (Senior Fellow at Penn Biden Center), Ely Ratner (CNAS), and Elizabeth Rosenberg (CNAS).

It notes that many of Biden's foreign policy advisers come from four entities: Foreign Policy for America, National Security Action, Penn Biden Center for Diplomacy and Global Engagement, and WestExec Advisers.

Monday, July 6, 2020

Think Tanks Received Millions in PPP Loans

Today the US's Small Business Administration (SBA) released information on nearly 700,000 loans issued as part of the $660 billion Payroll Protection Program (PPP), and Think Tank Watch has been scouring SBA's database in search of think tanks that received money.

The database consists of small businesses and nonprofits that received at least $150,000.  Here are a few of the think tanks we found that received PPP funds:

  • Bipartisan Policy Center (BPC): $1-$2 million
  • Center for a New American Security (CNAS): $350,000 - $1 million 
  • Center for Security Policy (CSP): $150,000 - $350,000
  • Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments (CSBA): $350,000 - $1 million
  • Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS): $2-$5 million
  • Economic Policy Institute (EPI): $350,000 to $1 million
  • Institute for Policy Studies (IPS): $350,000 to $1 million
  • Institute for the Study of War (ISW): $150,000 to $350,000
  • Middle East Institute (MEI): $350,000 to $1 million
  • New America: $2-$5 million
  • Stimson Center: $350,000 to $1 million
  • Third Way: $350,000 to $1 million

As previously noted by Think Tank Watch, the Aspen Institute returned $8 million that it had received from the PPP.

The libertarian Cato Institute is one of the few think tanks that has promised not to take bailout money.

Thursday, July 2, 2020

Russia Jails Think Tanker for Selling Secrets to German Firm

Here is more from Reuters:

A Russian court jailed a Russian think-tank expert specializing in military affairs to seven years on Thursday after convicting him of treason for allegedly selling secrets to a German consulting firm.
The court in Saint Petersburg said Vladimir Neyelov had admitted to selling information linked to how the Federal Security Service, the successor agency to the Soviet-era KGB, trains and retrains its operational staff. But, it said, Neyelov did not consider the data classified.
The trial was held behind closed doors because of what the court said was its classified nature, and details of the case have not been made public. The court did not name the German consulting company. 
Prior to his arrest in 2018, Neyelov had written about private military contractors and worked for two think tanks including one called the Centre for the Study of Strategic Outlooks, Russia’s Kommersant newspaper said. 

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) said that Neyelov worked with Moscow's Center for Strategic Forecasting.

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

Think Tank Quickies (#381)

  • Senior Trump economic adviser Kevin Hassett will return to his posts as Distinguished Visiting Fellow at the Hoover Institution and VP/Managing Director of The Lindsey Group.
  • Nicol Turner Lee named as new director of Brookings Center for Technology Innovation. 
  • Julian Brave NoiseCat, VP of Policy & Strategy for the think tank Data for Progress, has been in touch with Biden's campaign about climate issues and is one of many progressives compiling a list of names for staffing a new executive branch.
  • Think tanks must abandon their saviour complex.
  • "Manpanels often held in rooms at think tanks I call Splainatoriums."
  • Rory Fleming: "Today I thought I should start a stink tank, a think tank that investigates and critiques other think tanks." 
  • Brookings has new "How We Rise" blog that offers policy solutions to upend structural racism and inequality. 
  • Event: US foundations and think tanks in world politics.
  • Asia Pacific Initiative: A Tokyo think tank which organizes exchanges between US and Japanese military officials.
  • Are think tanks too "pale, male, and Yale?"

Monday, June 29, 2020

Fact-Checker Scolds Biden on Think Tank Claim

The nonpartisan Fatcheck.org, a project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania, recently wrote a piece fact-checking Joe Biden's claim that "most of the conservative think tanks," including the Heritage Foundation, agree that tax cuts championed by President Donald Trump "generated virtually no growth at all."

Here is more:
There are many economists who might agree with Biden, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, that the tax cuts have not generated much, if any, economic growth, but most conservative think tanks, including the Heritage Foundation, are not among them.
Biden’s campaign cited three articles that it says came from conservative institutions: two from the American Enterprise Institute and one from the Tax Foundation. None of them support Biden’s claim, though.
As for Biden’s specific claim that “even places like the Heritage Foundation said that [TCJA] didn’t grow the economy,” the Biden campaign did not get back to us with backup for that. But the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, says that’s false.

Here is a recent Think Tank Watch piece on the think tankers that are advising Joe Biden.

Friday, June 26, 2020

Having More Think Tanks in Your City Correlated with Lower Crime?

According to a 2017 study by three New York University scholars, having more nonprofits (including think tanks) in a community is correlated with a stronger social fabric and lower crime.

Here is more:
Largely overlooked in the theoretical and empirical literature on the crime decline is a long tradition of research in criminology and urban sociology that considers how violence is regulated through informal sources of social control arising from residents and organizations internal to communities. In this article, we incorporate the “systemic” model of community life into debates on the U.S. crime drop, and we focus on the role that local nonprofit organizations played in the national decline of violence from the 1990s to the 2010s. Using longitudinal data and a strategy to account for the endogeneity of nonprofit formation, we estimate the causal effect on violent crime of nonprofits focused on reducing violence and building stronger communities. Drawing on a panel of 264 cities spanning more than 20 years, we estimate that every 10 additional organizations focusing on crime and community life in a city with 100,000 residents leads to a 9 percent reduction in the murder rate, a 6 percent reduction in the violent crime rate, and a 4 percent reduction in the property crime rate.

Here is the full study, and here is a review of it.

Thursday, June 25, 2020

New America's OTI Will No Longer Accept Facebook Funding

Here is a statement from New America's Open Technology Institute (OTI):

Last week, leadership at Facebook refused to take down a post from President Donald Trump threatening that "when the looting starts, the shooting starts" in reference to nationwide demonstrations against police brutality, as well as other posts from the President that promoted disinformation about mail-in voting. Civil rights groups sharply criticized the policy, and hundreds of Facebook employees staged a “virtual walkout” in protest of the company’s decision. Amid this outcry, Facebook’s leadership dismissed civil rights groups’ concerns and reiterated the company’s policy of non-intervention for harmful posts by public figures that would otherwise violate the platform's policies.
In reflection on Facebook’s years of struggles to implement content moderation policies that do not reinforce systems of racism, and in light of the failure of the company’s leaders to respond meaningfully to concerns raised against the backdrop of the past weeks’ deep turmoil, the Open Technology Institute has decided that, as of today, it will decline further funding from Facebook.

Recent New America donors and partners include: New York City Economic Development Corporation, Rockefeller Foundation, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Ford Foundation, US State Department, Aphorism Foundation, Eric and Wendy Schmidt, Omidyar Network, Skoll Global Threats Fund, Siemens Foundation, Ballmer Group, Reid Hoffman Foundation, Pivotal Ventures LLC, JPMorgan Chase, Craig Newmark Philanthropies, Florida International University, and William and Flora Hewlett Foundation.

Facebook funds and partners with a number of other think tanks, including Atlantic Council, Center for American Progress (CAP), Third Way, and American Enterprise Institute (AEI).

Here is a 2018 Think Tank Watch post entitled "Dark Clouds Linger Over Think Tank New America."  Here is another post from 2017, when a scholar from New America was fired for criticizing Google, one of its major donors.

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Think Tanks May Soon Have to File As Foreign Agents Under FARA

It it possible that think tanks that accept foreign funds may soon need to file as foreign agents under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA), a law requiring organizations advocating interests of foreign powers to disclose their relationship with those foreign governments.

In recent months, the Department of Justice (DOJ), which administers FARA, has taken an increasingly broad view of FARA's scope, making many organizations wonder whether their work may trigger FARA registration.

Here is more from Foreign Lobby Report:
The Department of Justice is sending shock waves across the advocacy community by treating certain grant-funded non-governmental organizations as agents of foreign governments.
The National Wildlife Federation (NWF) registered as a foreign agent of Norway earlier this month after being told that it was “obligated” to that country’s government because it had received money from the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation (NORAD). The Washington-based nonprofit is the recipient of a five-year, almost $6 million grant from the agency to combat deforestation in Indonesia and South America.
The new requirement has clearly rankled a widely respected nonprofit that prides itself on its independence, and other nonprofits could soon find themselves in similar straits.

Foreign Lobby also notes that lobbying firm Waxman Strategies registered as a foreign agent for Norwegian-funded projects with the Center for International Policy (CIP), a think tank based in Washington, DC.

Nearly every major US think tank receives money from foreign governments as well as foreign businesses.

In its "FARA Guide for the Perplexed," the law firm of Covington & Burling LPP notes that FARA is written so broadly that it could potentially require registration even for some routine business activities at think tanks.

A number of foreign governments hire US-based lobbying firm to do outreach to think tanks.  One example is DiNino Associates, LLC, which provides government relations assistance and outreach to think tanks on behalf of the Indian Embassy in the US.

Another example is Gotham Government Relations, which assists Libya's Government of National Accord (GNA) which outreach to think tanks.

Here is a previous Think Tank Watch piece about FARA entitled "When Think Tanking Becomes Illegal."

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Think Tankers "Hope They'll be Rescued" From Their Jobs

This is from the opening of a new piece on Brookings Institution scholar and former Trump Administration official Fiona Hill that was penned by New Yorker writer Adam Entous:

The Brookings Institution is one of many think tanks in Washington, D.C., where scholars and bureaucrats sit in quiet offices and wait by the phone. They write op-eds and books, give talks and convene seminars, hoping that, when reputations falter or Administrations shift, they will be rescued from the life of opining and contemplation and return to the adrenaline rush and consequence of government. Nearly always, the yearning is to be inside. Strobe Talbott, who became the president of Brookings in 2002, served in Bill Clinton’s Administration as his leading Russia expert, and he was rumored to be on the shortlist for Hillary Clinton’s Secretary of State. Others, too, may have expected a call. But, after Donald Trump was elected, only one prominent Brookings stalwart was summoned, and her story became emblematic of all those in Washington who entered the Administration full of trepidation but hoping to be a “normalizing” influence on a distinctly abnormal President.

Former managing director at Brookings, William Antholis, said he was "deeply offended" by the line about being "rescued" from life at a think tank.

Think Tank Watch's favorite line from the New Yorker piece:  "After Trump’s victory, the mood at Brookings was funereal."

After her stint within the Trump Administration, Hill returned to Brookings where she is currently a Senior Fellow in the Center for on the United States and Europe in the Foreign Policy Program.

Here is a previous Think Tank Watch piece about Hill.

Monday, June 22, 2020

Think Tank Quickies (#380)

  • American Institute for Economic Research (AIER) accused of "pushing the thus-far-unfounded claim that SARS-CoV-2 originated in a Chinese lab."
  • USTR Robert Lighthizer bashes PIIE study on US-China trade in Senate Finance hearing.
  • Wellcome Trust, a $33 billion UK foundation which has ties to think tanks, gave early coronavirus warning that woke up Wall Street.
  • Pic: Think tank cartoon for the times.
  • MacroPolo - a think tank run by the Paulson Institute, which promotes constructive ties between the US and China.
  • French think tank Obliquum wants edge in African affairs.
  • Heritage Action has hired Ryan Walker, currently deputy chief of staff and legislative director for Rep. Mark Walker (R-NC), as director of government relations. 
  • Laura Rodriguez, formerly chief of staff to Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell (D-FL) and a Bill Nelson and State Dept. alum, is now VP for government affairs at CAP.
  • Wendy Edelberg, former chief economist for the CBO, is replacing Jay Shambaugh as director of the Hamilton Project at Brookings.
  • John Cusey, who most recently served as director of policy at HHS' Office of Refugee Resettlement, will rejoin AEI as VP of Communications.

Friday, June 19, 2020

"Think Tank" With Qatari Ties Registers as Foreign Agent

Here is more from Foreign Lobby Report:

A Washington nonprofit that describes itself as an “independent research institute” has registered as a foreign agent of Qatar after coming under scrutiny from the Department of Justice.
The Qatar-America Institute (QAI) registered under the Foreign Agents Registration Act in late May, according to a lobbying filing made public this afternoon. In the 51-page filing, the institute reveals that it received a $5.2 million pledge from the Qatari Embassy in Washington, plus another $1 million from the embassy, the Qatar National Tourism Council and the Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy through March 2019.
The institute was formed in September 2017 to promote US ties with Qatar after rival Gulf states Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates cut diplomatic ties with Doha and launched multi-million-dollar US public relations campaigns against the country. Those countries’ attempts to influence US policy via think-tanks have also come under scrutiny.

Here is QAI's hompepage.  Qatar is considered a top funder to US think tanks, with a recent study showing that it gave US think tanks at least $8.5 million from 2014-2018.

Update: Qatar-funded think tank moves to drop "lobbyist" label.

Thursday, June 18, 2020

New Piece Sheds Light on Taiwan's Funding of US Think Tanks

Eli Clifton has a new piece on Taiwan's funding of US think tanks entitled "Taiwan Funding of Think Tanks: Omnipresent and Rarely Disclosed."  It was co-published by The American Prospect and Responsible Statecraft, a publication of the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft.

Here are some excerpts:

Pushing back on bellicose statements from both parties requires credible policy advice from experts, many of whom are based at Washington research institutes. But five of the capital’s most prominent think tanks have been producing policy papers urging closer U.S. ties with Taiwan — a territory locked in an uncertain legal status that threatens to be a flashpoint between Beijing and Washington. These seemingly impartial research institutions are pushing for expanded arms sales and trade agreements with Taiwan without widely disclosing their high-level funding from the Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office (TECRO), Taiwan’s equivalent to an embassy.
The five think tanks — the Brookings Institution, the Center for American Progress, the Center for a New American Security, the Center for Strategic and International Studies, and the Hudson Institute — all disclose their funding from TECRO but bury it deep on their websites or annual reports.
None of their researchers disclose the potential conflict of interest between Taiwanese funding and advocating for more security guarantees for and trade with Taiwan.

Some think tanks have already pushed back at the piece, as if often the case with investigative reporting on foreign funding of think tanks.

The author, Eli Clifton, said that the first thing the spokesperson for the Center for American Progress (CAP) told him when asked about CAP's Taiwan funding was "I'd like to know if you plan to note in the story that you are a former CAP staffer who left ThinkProgress, since that is a clear conflict of interest."

At the end of the piece, Clinton notes that he and Ben Armbruster, the managing editor of Responsible Statecraft, are former employees of CAP.

Bonnie Glaser, a Senior Adviser for Asia and Director of the China Power Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), had a back-and-forth with Clifton on Twitter, with Glaser saying that all reports her program has published that were funded by Taiwan have included a statement on funding sources.  Clifton notes, however, that other pieces CSIS has published have not disclosed Taiwan funding.

Clifton has written other pieces about think tank funding in the past, including this 2013 piece about Taiwan's funding of American Enterprise Institute (AEI).

Here is a previous Think Tank Watch piece about Taiwanese think tanks setting up shop in Washington, DC.

Update: In response to the piece, China's foreign minister said that US think tank should be fair and objective.

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

Think Tankers Advising Joe Biden on Economy

The New York Times (NYT) recently had a piece on who presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden is turning to for advice on the economy, and a handful of think tankers and those with close ties to think tanks were named.

NYT says that his regular briefings are by a small group of liberal economists and other with roots in the Obama White House and Hillary Clinton's 2016 presidential campaign.  Here is more:

Mr. Biden is now seeking input from more than 100 left-leaning economists and other researchers, but there is little clarity on who has true influence. The Biden campaign recently formed an economic policy committee, which includes these outside experts, and imposed strict rules to ensure their public silence. 
Conversations with policy experts close to the Biden campaign suggest that Mr. Biden has thus far leaned on a core group of advisers who roughly match his own ideological standing within a Democratic Party that has steadily moved left since Barack Obama won the White House in 2008. Mr. Biden appears to have widened that group to include some of the young and sharply progressive thinkers who drove the policy debate leftward during much of the 2020 Democratic primary campaign.
Campaign officials refused multiple requests to detail Mr. Biden’s economic brain trust. They did confirm that Mr. Biden receives regular briefings from a group of advisers that includes at least three liberal economists who are firmly rooted in the party’s Washington establishment: Jared Bernstein and Ben Harris, two former chief economists for Mr. Biden from his time in the White House, and Heather Boushey, who was the top economist for Mrs. Clinton’s transition team when she was the Democratic nominee in 2016.

Jared Bernstein is a Senior Fellow at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP), Ben Harris served as a Senior Research Associate with the Urban Institute and Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center after leaving the Obama Administration, and Heather Boushey is President, CEO, and Co-founder of the Washington Center for Equitable Growth.

Another person giving Biden advice on economic issues, Lawrence Summers, chairs the board of the Center for Global Development (CGD).  He is also an advisor to The Hamilton Project (an economic initiative of the Brookings Institution), The Hutchins Center on Fiscal & Monetary Policy (also at Brookings), and the Peterson Institute for International Economics (PIIE).  He is also a Distinguished Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress (CAP).

Byron Auguste, another person mentioned in the article, is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) and a board member of the Washington Center for Equitable Growth.  Indivar Dutta-Gupta was a Senior Policy Advisor at CBPP and was a Bill Emerson National Hunger Fellow and then a consultant to the Poverty Task Force at CAP.

Jake Sullivan, who reportedly joins in on some of the economic talks, used to work for former Brookings Institution President Strobe Talbott at the Yale Center for the Study of Globalization.

Although not mentioned in the article, Anthony Blinken, a top foreign policy advisor to Biden, previously served as a Senior Fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS).

Joe Biden himself has two think tank-like entities that are housed within universities: the Biden Institute at the University of Delaware and the Penn Biden Center for Diplomacy & Engagement at the University of Pennsylvania.  Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) has called for an investigation of the latter, citing concerns about accusations of undisclosed donations from Chinese sources.

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Twitter Worked With Think Tank to Delete Accounts Tied to Chinese Gov't

Here is more from CNN:

Twitter announced Thursday that it had shut down more than 170,000 accounts tied to the Chinese government. Experts working with Twitter who reviewed the accounts said they pushed deceptive narratives around the Hong Kong protests, COVID-19, and other topics.
The company said the accounts were "spreading geopolitical narratives favorable to the Communist Party of China" and were removed for violating its platform manipulation policies.
Twitter is officially blocked in China, though many people in the country are able to access it using a VPN. Among the targets of the Chinese campaign were overseas Chinese "in an effort to exploit their capacity to extend the party-state's influence," according to the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, a group Twitter worked with to analyze the accounts. Twitter said the accounts tweeted "predominantly in Chinese languages."

On June 12, the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) issued a report analyzing what is says is a "persistent, large-scale influence campaign linked to Chinese state actors" on Twitter and Facebook.

At the end of the report, it notes that ASPI's work is supported by defense contractors Lockheed Martin, Thales, and Naval Group (although it is unclear if those were the entities that supported this specific research).

Other ASPI donors include Northrop Grumman, Jacobs, MBDA, SAAB, Raytheon Australia, and Austal.  It also receives money from the US State Department.

Sponsors to the think tank's International Cyber Policy Centre (ICPC) include Microsoft, Amazon, Google, National Archives of Australia (NAA), and the Cyber Security Cooperative Research Centre (CSCRC).

A larger list of funders, which include the Embassy of Japan and Taipei Economic and Cultural Office (TECRO), can be found in its most recent annual report here.

The Global Times, published by the People's Daily, the official newspaper of China's ruling Communist Party, recently slammed ASPI for "hyping up anti-China issues."

In March, ASPI said it has one of the largest concentrations of Chinese-language speakers in any think tank in Australia.

In February, the Australian Financial Review said ASPI has "become a flashpoint in the breakdown of consensus in Beijing."

Canberra-headquartered ASPI was founded in 2001 and has a staff of 55 in full-time, part-time, and "casual" positions.

Monday, June 15, 2020

Police Think Tank Gets Flooded With Cash

It is a good time to be a think tank focusing on police reform.

Last year, the New York-based Center for Policing Equity (CPE) said it would get $30 million from The Audacious Project to expand its COMPSTAT for Justice project, a data tool that tracks police behavior to help law enforcement agencies reduce racial disparities in policing.

Launched in April 2018 and housed at TED, The Audacious Project pools philanthropic support from a leading group of individuals and organizations and gives it to social entrepreneurs and nonprofits with bold ideas.  CPE was one of eight projects funded in 2019 from a field of 1,500 applications.

In May 2020, Google's YouTube said it would donate $1 million to CPE, and in early June, Netflix CEO Reed Hastings said he had donated $1 million to the think tank.  Luggage company Away and Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi have also said they will be donating to CPE.

Here is CPE's five-step policy action plan for policing in America.

Friday, June 12, 2020

Atlantic Council Promoting D-10 Alliance Alongside UK

It has recently been reported that the United Kingdom (UK) is lobbying aggressively to form an alliance of ten democracies with the goal of avoiding reliance on Chinese technology such as 5G.  The so-called "D-10" grouping would include the G-7 countries as well as Australia, India, and South Korea.

That idea has actually been promoted for years by US think tank Atlantic Council, which initiated a D-10 Strategy Forum in 2014.  The think tank coordinates annual D-10 meetings that are hosted by the foreign ministries of participating D-10 countries.  Last year's meeting was held in Berlin, and this year's meeting will be held virtually.

Separately, the Atlantic Council also convenes the D-10 Ambassadors Roundtable, which brings together Washington, DC-based ambassadors for a regular series of consultations on global challenges.

It is important to note that the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) gave more than $1 million to Atlantic Council in 2018, the latest year for which contribution data is available.

A spokesman for the think tank said that the grant from the UK is for its work on disinformation via its Digital Forensic Research Laboratory.  Atlantic Council also received $3,000 from the FCO in 2019 to support its work for the UK-hosted NATO policy planning talks.

Here is more from Foreign Policy:
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has been actively considering the right idea: consolidating a new D-10 group of 10 leading democracies (the current G-7 members, plus South Korea, India, and Australia) for addressing both 5G mobile communications and vulnerable supply chains. While the idea behind a D-10 is not a novel one—a group organized by the Atlantic Council think tank in Washington has been promoting it for years with regular working-level meetings between officials—it has a new impetus amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Ash Jain, a Senior Fellow with the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security, oversees the Atlantic Council's Democratic Order Initiative and D-10 Strategy Forum.

Atlantic Council notes that the D-10 construct has its origins in a US State Department policy planning staff initiative launched in 2008.

Thursday, June 11, 2020

Think Tanks Could Get Boost from Pledge by Top Foundations

While many think tanks have lost significant funding revenue amid the coronavirus pandemic and subsequent economic downturn, some policy shops may actually benefit from a move by several major foundations to redouble efforts to fund nonprofits.

Here is more from the New York Times:

The Ford Foundation plans to announce on Thursday that it will borrow $1 billion so that it can substantially increase the amount of money it distributes. To raise the money, the foundation — one of the country’s most well-known and oldest charitable organizations — is preparing to issue a combination of 30- and 50-year bonds, a financial maneuver common among governments and companies but extremely rare among nonprofit groups.
Four other leading charitable foundations will pledge on Thursday that they will join with Ford and increase their giving by at least $725 million.
The decision by the five influential foundations — major sponsors of social justice organizations, museums and the arts and environmental causes — could shatter the charitable world’s deeply entrenched tradition of fiscal restraint during periods of economic hardship. That conservatism has provoked anger that foundations, which benefit from generous federal tax breaks, are hoarding billions of dollars during a national emergency, more interested in safeguarding their endowments than in helping those in need.
The four other foundations are among America’s most storied: the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation; the W.K. Kellogg Foundation; the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation; and the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation. The MacArthur and Doris Duke foundations plan to issue bonds. Mellon and Kellogg are still working out their financing plans.

All five of those foundations contribute generously to think tanks.  For example, the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation has recently given grants to the Aspen Institute, East-West Center, and World Resources Institute (WRI).

The MacArthur Foundation has given to nearly every major US think tank, including the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), Aspen Institute, Atlantic Council, Bipartisan Policy Center (BPC), Brookings Institution, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Cato Institute, Center for American Progress (CAP), Center for Global Development (CGD), Center for National Policy (CNP), Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments (CSBA), Center for a New American Security (CNAS), Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP), Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), Economic Policy Institute (EPI), Hudson Institute, Institute for Policy Studies (IPS), Middle East Institute (MEI), Migration Policy Institute (MPI), New America, R Street Institute, Resources for the Future (RFF), Stimson Center, Truman Center for National Policy, US Institute of Peace (USIP), Urban Institute, Wilson Center, and World Resources Institute (WRI).

Think Tank Watch should also point at that think tanks are starting to consider raiding their endowments at a faster pace.

Wednesday, June 10, 2020

Think Tank Quickies (#379)

  • Think tank scholars attended Mike Pompeo's "Madison dinners." 
  • Absent influencers?  Women in European think tanks. 
  • Middle East Institute (MEI) opens up think tank to support DC protestors.
  • Public Citizen: Hudson Institute opposes affordable vaccines, took $300k from industry.
  • Flashback: John Goodman launches first-of-its-kind virtual think tank (Goodman Institute).
  • US think tank seeks to repeal secret deal and delist Chinese stocks.
  • 18 states fight conservative think tank effort to freeze fuel efficiency standards. 
  • German think tank guide (SWP is the "Mercedes Benz" of European think tanks). 
  • Appraising the epistemic performance of social systems: The case of think tank evaluations.
  • Build a better blob full of think tankers.

Tuesday, June 9, 2020

Defense Think Tank on Verge of Collapse?

Here is more from Forbes:

A few days ago, the cash-strapped non-partisan Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments (CSBA), a “premier institution for understanding the future of international competition and conflict,” announced the appointment of a new Senior Fellow, Dr. Chris Bassler. A former Chief Strategy Officer for the F-35 Lightning II Joint Program Office, Bassler will need to hit the ground running because CSBA, despite this new appointment, is steadily losing money, people and influence.
According to tax documents filed by the think tank, CSBA’s balance sheet is in dire straits, and, over the past few months, many researchers, including a number of maritime researchers that made CSBA a buzz-worthy center of innovation in maritime strategy, have departed for more secure, albeit more ideologically charged institutions.
CSBA’s troubles put a number of efforts to facilitate engagement between Washington’s national security stakeholders at risk. While it will be unfortunate for the Department of Defense if CSBA is unable to right the ship, CSBA’s slow-motion collapse is an opportunity for other institutions to move forward and seize a prestigious D.C. niche in the non-partisan engagement and influencing of key Washington national security stakeholders.
To obscure the departure of senior researchers, CSBA has taken something of a page from the gig economy, bulking up their shrinking staff page with 11 Uber-like “Non-Resident Senior Fellows.” CSBA’s big cadre of Non-Resident Senior Fellows appear to only be loosely associated with the think-tank, and, in the main, Non-Resident Senior Fellows are either in the process of departing CSBA or have full-time jobs elsewhere, supporting CSBA on the side. Ironically, one of the five Senior Fellows listed on CSBA’s website (as of early June), is a non-resident, living near Monterey, California

The author of the piece, Craig Hooper, suggests that the US Navy has leaned heavily on CSBA to amplify its work and may have to rethink its think tank strategy.  Among other things, he suggests that the "center of Washington's technical maritime debate" could move to the Hudson Institute.

Others that could benefit from CSBA's decline include the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) and the US Naval Institute.

Here is a previous Think Tank Watch piece about a major CSBA shakeup that took place in 2015.

Monday, June 8, 2020

Cato Institute Vandalized in DC Protests

Think tanks were already struggling with the COVID-19 crisis, and now they are facing even more problems amid the protests in Washington, DC.

Here are some pictures of the Cato Institute, including one with tanks outside the libertarian think tank:


Another showing a broken window at Cato after the protests:

Another showing Cato boarded up:


More coming later...

Tuesday, June 2, 2020

The End of In-Person Think Tank Events?

The era of in-person think tank events may be over, or at least paused for a very long time.  That lovely shrimp buffet at American Enterprise Institute (AEI) or swanky cocktail reception at the Brookings Institution?  Sorry, not happening anytime soon.

Every major US think tank has halted public, in-person think tank events, which often draw dozens and sometimes even hundreds of people.  Instead, think tanks have moved events almost entirely online, leaving those who depend on think tank lunches for sustenance in a very dire place.

Right now, think tanks are drawing up plans for how they can eventually return to normal, but it is still too early for most think tanks to even begin to plan when they'll hold their next public event.  Instead, most think tanks continue to grapple with how and when to bring their own employees back to work.

In the meantime, think tanks are struggling with how to attract and maintain audiences.  With everyone doing online conferences (corporations, universities, consulting firms, trade associations, embassies, think tanks, etc.), supply may be outpacing demand.  Moreover, "Zoom fatigue" appears to be another problem facing think tank events, as the relative novelty of online video conferencing fades with the increased use of such tools and services.

It is one thing to attend a think tank event in person and meet the speakers and guests and network (and dine on filet mignon and crab cakes), but it is another to sit inside your house and watch speakers drone on for hours and hours, particularly now that the competition for content and interesting speakers is so robust.

The new normal raises a number of questions.  Have think tanks become less important or influential in the coronavirus-era?  Will the crowds that once thronged think tank conference rooms ever return to their pre-coronavirus levels?  Does it make sense for think tanks to even have a physical presence, or can they exist solely online? Will any major think tank collapse due to the global economic crisis?  Will any think tanks think outside the box and do some type of unique pivot to become a dominant force?

While Think Tank Watch continues to ponder these questions and many others, we really are only sure of one thing right now: that lovely lobster dinner on Think Tank Row will instead be taking place in pajamas on a sofa for the foreseeable future.

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Think Tank Quickies (#378)

  • During the last economic crisis, most major US think tanks took a 3 year hit.
  • Chinese Embassy in Canada attacks Macdonald-Laurier Institute. 
  • Amid pandemic, think tanks extend public reach. 
  • Think tanks need to take COVID-19 as an opportunity to evolve.
  • AOC: "If you'd like to learn more about how this austerity class of mostly dudes at vague, esteemed-seeming DC think tanks launder harmful policies..."
  • Think tanks including The Breakthrough Institute, New America, Niskanen Center, Sante Fe Institute, and Third Way jointly sponsor "Roadmap to Pandemic Resilience."
  • Hoover Institution fellow fuels "fake" news story about California herd immunity?
  • Pic: Waiting for think tanks who spent years obsessing over Russian propaganda to do a study on Chinese disinformation networks.
  • Chinese Embassy in Sweden enraged after Gunnar Hokmark, Chairman of Stockholm Free World Forum, wrote an article calling for China to apologize about COVID-19.
  • Politika: A think tank for young people; and one for those 18+.

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Think Tank President Has COVID-19

In a May 23 tweet, Center for American Progress (CAP) President and CEO Neera Tanden said that she has the coronavirus.



Tanden is a former Clinton advisor as served in the Obama Administration.

Thursday, May 21, 2020

Think Tank Warns Coronavirus Cutting Off US-China Back Channels

Here is more from Politico:

The global pandemic and a dramatic rise in U.S.-China tensions have further eroded the unofficial talks that have so often underpinned relations since the two sides restored diplomatic ties decades ago.
“The pandemic has cut off personal meetings. That is very bad,” said Wang Huiyao, director with the Centre for China and Globalisation, a Beijing-based think tank that includes former Chinese officials and prominent Chinese scholars. “Many messages can only be conveyed indirectly by spokespersons and media, which could compromise the effectiveness of the communication and easily lead to misunderstanding.”

Here is a link to the Center for China and Globalization (CCG), which was founded by Dr. Wang Huiyao and Dr. Miao Lu in 2008.

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

New Think Tank to Take On Private Equity, Hedge Funds

Here is more from Politico:

A new conservative think-tank in Washington is launching its first campaign Wednesday with what could be a long-shot goal — persuading pro-business Republicans that they should cast a more skeptical eye on Wall Street’s private equity firms and hedge funds,” Bloomberg News’ Robert Schmidt and Sabrina Willmer report. “American Compass, the brainchild of former Mitt Romney campaign staffer Oren Cass, wants to re-direct Republican policies to support businesses that make things and contribute to the real economy.” The think tank, unsurprisingly, doesn’t plan to identify its donors. It has ties to Sens. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) and Romney.

Here is a previous Think Tank Watch piece on American Compass.

Washington Post columnist Henry Olsen recently penned a piece on American Compass entitled "This New Think Tank Wants to Reform Conservatism.  Republicans Ignore it at Their Peril."

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Think Tank Quickies (#377)

  • Think tanks warn of coronavirus "budgetary gluttony" in states. 
  • Reimagining think tanks in times of pandemic.
  • RUSI report: UK spies will need artificial intelligence.
  • UK data think tanks clash over the use of contact-tracing apps.
  • How the coronavirus affected the 2020 intern class at Brookings.
  • Chiraag Bains of Demos named as co-chair of Joe Biden's "unity task force."
  • Anthony Ruggiero, formerly a scholar at FDD, playing a role in US's coronavirus response. 
  • Danish think tank says the US ambassador banned a Trump critic (Stanely Sloan of Atlantic Council) from an event.
  • Over 265 fake local news sites in 65+ countries managed by Indian stakeholders with ties to large network of think tanks.
  • Tucker Carlson: "There are no libertarians outside of think tanks."

Friday, May 15, 2020

Hackers Target WHO by Posing as Think Tank

Here is more from Bloomberg:

The messages began arriving in World Health Organization employees’ inboxes in early April, seemingly innocuous emails about the coronavirus from news organizations and researchers.
But a close examination revealed that they contained malicious links, and some security experts have traced the emails to a hacking group in Iran believed to be sponsored by the government.
The hacking effort, which began on April 3, was an attempt to steal passwords and possibly install malware on WHO computers, according to three people familiar with the matter, who requested anonymity because they aren’t authorized to talk to the news media. The incident was one of several suspected state-sponsored hacks targeting WHO officials in recent weeks, the people said.
Two of the messages sent to the WHO, which were reviewed by Bloomberg News, were designed to look like coronavirus newsletters from the British Broadcasting Corporation. A third message was tailored to look like an interview request from the American Foreign Policy Council, a conservative think tank based in Washington. It encouraged recipients to click on what looked to be a shortened Google link, which diverted to a malicious domain.
The email sent to the WHO impersonating the American Foreign Policy Council purported to be from Ilan Berman, the think tank’s senior vice president. The message had the subject “AFPC Online Interview” and contained a link to what the email claimed were interview questions. But the link diverted to a malicious domain, probably intended to steal passwords and two-factor authentication codes for WHO employee email accounts, according to Zaidenberg.

In the past few years, foreign governments and others have been attempting very sophisticated cyber attacks that involve impersonating think tanks and their scholars.

Thursday, May 14, 2020

Aspen Institute Returns $8 million Loan After Being Shamed

Here is more from the Washington Post: 

The Aspen Institute think tank announced it would return $8 million in federal small-business funds after a Thursday meeting of its board of trustees.
The decision marked an about-face for the nonprofit organization, which had argued Wednesday that the funds were necessary to keep its 430-person staff on payroll despite a $115 million endowment and several billionaires among its trustees.
The decision comes one day after The Washington Post revealed the institute had received the loan. The D.C.-based group joins a series of public companies, the Los Angeles Lakers and other larger employers that applied and received money from the Small Business Administration fund, only to later give it back.
The group’s many conferences and forums, the bread-and-butter of its operations, have been canceled. A 98-room conference center it owns in Aspen is closed and forecasting substantial losses. Overall, the D.C.-based nonprofit organization is projecting a loss of between $14 million and $17 million for 2020.
In defending the initial decision to keep the loan Wednesday, Aspen said it had already received board approval to tap into its endowment for $7.5 million but that about 80 percent of its endowment funds were restricted and could not be used for operating purposes.
Aspen had an endowment of more than $115 million at the end of 2018, according to its most recently available tax filing. Its board includes former Disney Chairman Michael Eisner and Chairman James S. Crown, a member of one of America’s wealthiest families.

Here is the original WaPo piece about the Aspen Institute receiving the $8 million loan.

Think Tank Watch is aware of other large think tanks that have received Payroll Protection Program (PPP) loans, and it is likely that many will be pressured to return those funds once that news becomes public.

The libertarian Cato Institute is one of the few think tanks that has promised not to take bailout money.

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Chinese Think Tank Report: China Faces Tiananmen-like Global Backlash Over Virus

Here is more from Reuters:

An internal Chinese report warns that Beijing faces a rising wave of hostility in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak that could tip relations with the United States into confrontation, people familiar with the paper told Reuters. 
The report, presented early last month by the Ministry of State Security to top Beijing leaders including President Xi Jinping, concluded that global anti-China sentiment is at its highest since the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown, the sources said.
As a result, Beijing faces a wave of anti-China sentiment led by the United States in the aftermath of the pandemic and needs to be prepared in a worst-case scenario for armed confrontation between the two global powers, according to people familiar with the report’s content, who declined to be identified given the sensitivity of the matter.
The report was drawn up by the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations (CICIR), a think tank affiliated with the Ministry of State Security, China’s top intelligence body.
CICIR, an influential think tank that until 1980 was within the Ministry of State Security and advises the Chinese government on foreign and security policy, did not reply to a request for comment. 

In related US coronavirus news, the Washington Post notes that Kevin Hassett, a former scholar at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), led an internal White House team to build an economic model to guide response to the pandemic.

Friday, May 8, 2020

New Heritage Foundation Document Being Used to Reopen US Economy?

Here is more from Politico:
A blueprint released by The Heritage Foundation’s National Coronavirus Recovery Commission caught the attention of White House aides with its 47 suggestions for reopening the economy. Those include the White House not enforcing regulations for small businesses and making permanent some of the regulatory tweaks the federal government made during Covid-19 at the FDA, Department of Health and Human Services or the Environmental Protection Agency.

The Heritage Foundation has been one of the most influential think tanks during the Trump Administration.

Monday, April 27, 2020

Think Tank Quickies (#376)

  • BPC: COVID-19 could deplete social security as early as this decade.
  • ISPI launches #ThinkTanksReact campaign to show solidarity amid COVID-19. 
  • Can think tanks please ease up on the press releases?
  • Definitive guide to think tank podcasts.
  • US think tanks release annual counterspace and space threats studies.
  • 2020 ranking of free-market think tanks measured by social media impact.
  • Judge: Wisconsin Gov. can keep conservative think tank members out of media briefings.
  • China should be sued for $6.5 trillion for coronavirus damage says top UK think tank.
  • Global Times: "Ill-intentioned American think tank fellow maligns Chinese assistance in Middle East to sow discord."
  • Kent Calder on SAIS' Reischauer Center: "It is a problem-oriented think tank."

Sunday, April 26, 2020

Brothers From Opposing Think Tanks Fight Over Climate Policy

Here is more from E&E News:

It's brother versus brother in the climate wars.
Two of the primary think tanks fighting it out on climate policy are now led by brothers on opposing sides of the argument over human-caused global warming.
In one corner is Jerry Taylor, president of the Niskanen Center, which advocates for a carbon tax and other methods of mitigating climate change.
In the other is James Taylor, recently installed as president of the Heartland Institute, which seeks to undercut climate science and says that climate fears are overblown.
Jerry Taylor spent years battling climate regulations when he was a vice president at the libertarian Cato Institute, with the idea that humanity had decades to act on global warming. But as Taylor studied the science more closely, he became convinced his skepticism was misplaced.
He founded Niskanen to promote carbon pricing and has spent years conducting outreach with libertarians and conservatives who are concerned about climate change and open to policy solutions.

Here is a biography and recent writings of Jerry Taylor, and here is one for James Taylor.

Saturday, April 25, 2020

Think Tank Finds Whereabouts of Kim Jong Un?

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is apparently in ill health and hasn't be seen in public in weeks.  A Washington, DC-based think tank, however, may have found some evidence of his location.  Here is more from Reuters:

A special train possibly belonging to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un was spotted this week at a resort town in the country, according to satellite images reviewed by a Washington-based North Korea monitoring project, amid conflicting reports about Kim’s health and whereabouts.
The monitoring project, 38 North, said in its report on Saturday that the train was parked at the “leadership station” in Wonsan on April 21 and April 23. The station is reserved for the use of the Kim family, it said.
Though the group said it was probably Kim Jong Un’s train, Reuters has not been able to confirm that independently, or whether he was in Wonsan.

Here are more details from 38 North, which is now housed within the Stimson Center and managed by former US State Department official Joel Wit and managing editor Jenny Town.  Those two co-founded 38 North in 2010 at Johns Hopkins, where is was originally housed.

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Cato Institute Promises Not to Take Bailout Money

Here is more from Cato Institute's Peter Goettler and Robert Levy in a Wall Street Journal op-ed:

The libertarian think tank we lead qualifies as a small business that can apply for loans under the recently passed Cares Act—an acronym for Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security. But...we’re choosing to leave those dollars on the shelf.
We wouldn’t criticize others for taking aid. In our communities and across the nation, millions have lost jobs and paychecks, while vital needs persist. Small-business owners struggle to preserve their life’s work and to sustain their employees. And we can’t say these loans wouldn’t help us right now. We’re wholly funded by private donations, the overwhelming majority of which come from individuals who will suffer material losses from the pandemic. Financial pressures and difficult choices lie ahead.
Why, then, are we not applying for a Cares Act loan? Because doing so would undermine the principles that underlie the Cato Institute’s mission and animate its policy work. Central to this mission is our view that the scope and power of government should be limited. Our ability to make that case with credibility and integrity would be irreparably compromised if we accepted a loan right now. We’ve never taken money from any government.

Most think tanks are established as nonprofits, which are eligible to access funding from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.  In fact, Think Tank Watch is aware of several think tanks that have already received loans/grants.

New provisions to aid nonprofits, which could greatly benefit think tanks, are currently being discussed for the next round of stimulus money.

Thursday, April 9, 2020

White House Official (Now a Think Tanker) Had Warned Trump Admin. in 2019 of Devastating Pandemic

Here is more from the New York Times:

White House economists published a study last September that warned a pandemic disease could kill a half million Americans and devastate the economy.  It went unheeded inside the administration.
One of the authors of the study, who has since left the White House, now says it would make sense for the administration to effectively shut down most economic activity for two to eight months to slow the virus.
Outside economists have been pumping out analyses on the optimal length of a shutdown almost daily. One that has been shared with officials inside the White House comes from Anna Scherbina, an author of the 2019 study who is now an economist at Brandeis University and the American Enterprise Institute.

Anna Scherbina is a visiting scholar at AEI.  Here is her working paper on determining the optimal duration of the COVID-19 suppression policy.

Another AEI scholar, Dr. Scott Gottlieb, who was Commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the Trump Administration, has co-authored a new report on a national COVID-19 surveillance system.

Dr. Gottlieb has reportedly been talking with lawmakers about crafting legislation to put his surveillance system in place.

That paper was co-authored with Mark McClellan, another former FDA commissioner (under George W. Bush) who used to be a scholar at AEI as well as the Brookings Institution.

Here is a link to all of AEI's COVID-19 coverage, including its COVID-19 Action Tracker.