US think tanks house lots of former spies, foreign spies seek to gain access to think tanks, and spies attend various think tank events.
Spies tend to frequent foreign affairs and security events, although not exclusively. Talks (and think tanks) related to or dealing with China, Iran, Russia, security, and nuclear weapons, among other topics, are attractive to many spies.
As was reported in 2010, a member from a Russian spy ring had applied to jobs at the New America Foundation (NAF) and Carnegie Endowment for International Peace (CEIP).
James Robbins, a senior fellow at the American Foreign Policy Council (AFPC), described in a Washington Times article how he was targeted by the same spy. Here is how Mr. Robbins describes his encounter:
On June 9, I spoke on a panel on Iran at an event hosted by the DC World Affairs Council. At the reception afterward, I spoke to a number of people, including Mr. Semenko. He said he was interested in seeing if there were any opportunities working with the American Foreign Policy Council, the organization I was representing at the event. He said he was from the Russian Far East and spoke Chinese in addition to English and his native tongue. He had recently started writing a blog on China's economy. Because AFPC has a special interest in Russia and China policy, I said I would pass his card along to the higher-ups in the organization and if there were any positions, they would be in touch. From Mr. Semenko's point of view, it was mission accomplished - he had an in.At the end of the article, Mr. Robbins asks: "More interesting is the question of how many other foreign covert operatives are active in Washington and what impact they are having on national policy, both outside and within government."
That same spy was reportedly an intern for four months at the World Affairs Council.
Here is Steve Clemons' (New America Foundation) account of meeting the Russian spy.
A different Russian spy, Cynthia Murphy, apparently got very "close" to a US Cabinet member.
She is different from Anna Chapman, who was considered the "honeypot" of that spy ring. (Photos here.)
Here is also a video of a recent photo shoot she had in Moscow.
Back it 2008, a former Russian spy claimed that Strobe Talbott (who runs Brookings) was a source of intelligence information and classified him as a "special unofficial contact."
It late 2011 it was reported that a Russian spy was attending various think tank events in the UK, including events at the Chatham House and the International Institute of Strategic Studies (IISS). UK's Security Service apparently warned that "think tanks such as IISS would be attended by many people of interest to the Russian intelligence service."
Rand Corporation, the #5 think tank in the US, has plenty of former spies, although I have not seen an official count.
The global risk firm Stratfor, which has been described as the "Mini-CIA" and "Shadow CIA," is often described in the media as a "geopolitical think tank" or a "security think tank," but I think that description is used to attract readers and not for its accuracy.
Here is an interesting article in the Washington Times about the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations (CICIR), a think tank which is said to be the "spy arm" of China.
Also, here is a very interesting (and unclassified) profile of CICIR from the Director of National Intelligence's (DNI) Open Source Center.