At a classified meeting at the Pentagon this week to discuss U.S. policy in Iraq, two seats were reserved for foreign diplomats: the ambassadors from the United Arab Emirates and Britain.
The ambassadors were invited to a portion of the two-day meeting by John J. Hamre, the chairman of the Defense Policy Board, which advises Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel on sensitive matters and gathers to discuss top-secret information.
Hamre also serves as president and chief executive of the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), an influential Washington think tank. The Emirati and British governments are donors to the center, and the high-level meeting at the Pentagon gave the ambassadors special access to U.S. officials trying to shape the Obama administration’s policy in Iraq and elsewhere in the Middle East.
In a brief interview Wednesday as he walked out of the Pentagon after the meeting ended, Hamre said there was nothing improper or unethical about inviting CSIS donors to appear at an official, closed-door Defense Department event.
“I was asked to help the secretary of defense, through the Defense Policy Board, think about a very serious issue of national significance,” he said. “And I brought together the best people I could.”
Outside the Pentagon, Hamre was reluctant to answer questions about the board, which he has led since 2007. He angrily jabbed his finger at a reporter, saying: “You’re acting like a little journalist. It’s time for you to be a real journalist.”
The story goes on to note that Hamre sent an email saying it was "preposterous" to suggest that the UAE's ambassador was invited to the meeting because his country donates to CSIS.
Besides the media going after think tanks, Congress has also gotten in on the action.
CSIS was recently ranked as the fourth best think tank in the world and the world's best defense and national security think tank by the University of Pennsylvania think tank rankings.