Monday, February 6, 2017

Fake Think Tank Raises Alarm for Think Tank Scholars

A new nuisance is emerging for think tanks and think tank scholars that has the potential to severely damage their brands and reputation: fake think tanks touting fake news.

Brian Mefford, a Senior Nonresident Fellow at the Eurasia Center of the Atlantic Council recently wrote a blog post on a "think tank" that, among other things, appears to be posting fake articles and publishing them using bylines of real think tank scholars, without permission.

Here is more from Mr Mefford:
A few weeks ago, a colleague asked why I was a part of an organization called the Center for Global Strategic Monitoring (also known as the CGS Monitor). Despite working in foreign policy for seventeen years, I had never heard of this organization. Imagine my surprise when I discovered my photograph and biography listed on the CGS Monitor website as one of their “experts.”

I immediately began searching the website for contact information to request that my name be removed. However, it became clear that there was something fishy about this website. Not only was no mailing address given; the only email contact to be found was a ubiquitous “info@” address. My email requesting that my name be removed has never been answered and the website continues to list me as one of their experts.
The Center for Global Strategic Monitoring website appears to be an impressive and thoughtful news and opinion site at first glance. However, one does not have to dig deep to discover that the organization is phony. Here’s how they do it: First, the website re-publishes analysis and opinion pieces from real, respectable research institutions (apparently without permission). Then these legitimate pieces are mixed with “news” from Russian-controlled sources without attribution. Worse yet, the website even posts some fake articles under the names of distinguished think tank scholars. As a result, the website contains an assortment of good analysis from actual think tanks, pseudo intellectual drivel produced by propaganda outlets and conspiracy theorists, and fake opinion pieces camouflaged as the handiwork of foreign policy experts.

The website for the Center for Global Strategic Monitoring (CGS) can be found here.  The site says that CGS is a "nonprofit and nonpartisan research and analysis institution dedicated to providing insights of the think tank community publications."  In other words, it says it is a think tank promoting the work of other think tanks.

A number of US and non-US think tank scholars are listed on the site as "experts," including those from Chatham House, Brookings Institution, Cato Institute, Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), Institute for National Security Studies (INSS), Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Atlantic Council, and American Enterprise Institute (AEI).

Here is what Michael Isikoff has uncovered about CGS.

Think Tank Watch recently wrote that fake think tanks are quite fashionable these days.  Well, that is becoming the biggest think tank understatement of 2017.

Update: After Think Tank Watch's story, Vanessa Williamson and Norman Eisen of Brookings published a piece entitled "We Were the Victims of Fake News," which notes Brookings is exploring different options to address the "hijacking" of its scholar's reputations.