It was reported earlier this month that the conservative think tank giant Heritage Foundation had an unauthorized data breach in which donor information and emails were stolen.
However, an Internet security and privacy site specializing in data breaches is now saying that there was no hack attack. Rather, the think tank reportedly backed up an email archive to a public Amazon server.
That site, Databreaches.net, notes that the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) likely will not go after the think tank for unreasonable data security because that agency does not have the authority under Section 5 of the FTC Act to go after non-profits.
Meanwhile, reporters have been having a field day pouring through the vast amounts of juicy emails that have been acquired.
Lee Fang of The Intercept has just written a piece entitled "Emails Show Ties Between Heritage Foundation and Lockheed Martin," showing the intense lobbying that the defense contractor did of the think tank. Here is an excerpt:
When the Pentagon decided in 2009 to cut funding for Lockheed Martin’s F-22 Raptor fighter jet — a weapons system with cost overruns in the billions of dollars that has rarely seen combat — the Heritage Foundation fought tooth and nail to restore taxpayer money for the planes.
Heritage depicted its support for the F-22 as a matter of vital national security. But what the public didn’t know is that Lockheed Martin, a corporate donor to the conservative think tank, met with Heritage officials on nearly a monthly basis to discuss the F-22 and other defense industry priorities.
Internal emails leaked online show at least 15 meetings in 2008 and 2009 between officials at Heritage and Lockheed Martin, including one with Bill Inglee, who at the time served as a senior lobbyist at Lockheed Martin.
The emails also suggest that Heritage continued courting Lockheed Martin for donations, listing the company repeatedly in Excel spreadsheets used to collect pledges from past donors. Lockheed Martin gave $40,000 to Heritage in 2008, bringing its total contribution to $341,000, according to those documents.
Emails show that the Heritage Foundation’s fundraising staff worked closely with Mackenzie Eaglen, a researcher at the think tank who authored several reports calling for restoring F-22 funding. According to Heritage’s internal weekly calendar, Eaglen was scheduled to participate in “a Lockheed Martin think tank delegation to visit their fifth-generation fighter production facilities in Fort Worth, TX” in April 2009.
James Jay Carafano, the vice president of Heritage’s Institute for National Security and Foreign Policy, met several times with Lockheed Martin executives, even traveling to Marietta, Georgia, where the F-22 is produced, to participate in a “Lockheed Martin Tour of F-22 Programs.”
The website Gawker has also written a piece on the Heritage Foundation leak. Here are some excerpts from that:
The [Heritage Foundation] file, which has since been deleted, is a Microsoft Outlook backup folder that appears to have been associated with an assistant director at Heritage named Steve DeBuhr, who belongs to the foundation’s “major gifts team” and handles donor relations in the Midwest. In that capacity, he received regularly updated “call reports” containing detailed dossiers on current and potential donors as well as DeBuhr’s and other development officers’ various interactions with those donors throughout the country.
Between 2008 and 2009, Heritage raised approximately $135,000,000 in tax-deductible donations from private charities and individuals, according to publicly available tax filings. One of those individuals was a Pennsylvania businessman named Robert W. Ellis, who between 1994 and 2008 gave 40 gifts totaling nearly $250,000 to the foundation. DeBuhr’s records indicate Ellis’s development officer, a Heritage employee named Jeffrey Trimbath, met Ellis in person at least seven times between July 2008 and June 2009. In notes taken after those meetings, Trimbath characterized what he took to be Ellis’s views toward Muslims and liberals.
The Intercept article goes on note that corporations frequently donate to think tanks that share their policy agenda, and cites the example of Corinthian Colleges and Alpha Natural Resources. [Here is a recent Think Tank Watch piece on Exxon's donations to think tanks.]
The Heritage Foundation was ranked as the world's 17th best think tank by the most recent University of Pennsylvania think tank rankings. It was also ranked as the 9th best think tank in the United States, the world's 15 best transparency and good governance think tank, the world's 26th best managed think tank, and the world's 10th best think tank in terms of external relations and public engagement.
Oh, it was also ranked as the world's 10th best think tank in terms of best use of the Internet. Yup, we agree with that one.
Stay tuned for more...