Monday, January 29, 2018

Think Tank Quickies (#298)

  • Two-part series in The Wire on US think tanks in India.
  • The crisis of African think tanks. 
  • Chinese hackers target think tanks to steal military strategic info; use more surgical strikes. 
  • Lenny Mendonca to chair New America board of directors.
  • WaPo's Anna Fifield: This is where we're at - a military strike on North Korea is now listed under "mainstream policy options" in papers out of Washington think tanks.
  • Duncan Weldon: When people worry your think tank output is so bad that they start to question if you are paid by a foreign power, you kind of have a problem.
  • Konrad Yakabuski: Canadian think tanks have a problem with transparency.
  • Chevy and National Millennium Community lead mobile think tanks for aspiring entrepreneurs. 
  • Raisina Dialogue: Why do women need to be better represented in leadership positions in think tanks?
  • Stephen Gordon: Guess who's got more credibility - professors, think tanks, or the CBC?
  • La France compte 53 think tanks.

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Trump Outsources Brain to Heritage Foundation

One think tank essentially controls nearly all the major thinking of the Trump Administration: Heritage Foundation.  Here is more from The Washington Examiner:

President Trump entered the Oval Office as a populist question mark. But after a year, the conservative Heritage Foundation now trumpets that Trump has a more conservative track record than Ronald Reagan at least according to their standards.
Trump adopted two-thirds, or about 64 percent, of the Heritage agenda, meaning that the administration copied and pasted 334 of the think tank’s unique policy proposals. By comparison, the New York Times reports, Reagan adopted just 49 percent of the Heritage agenda making 2017 a banner year for Heritage.

Here are some examples of Heritage's most notable policy recommendations and their adoption or implementation by the Trump Administration.

To be sure, the conservative think tank and Trump don't always see eye to eye.  For example, Heritage is calling Trump's immigration proposal a "nonstarter."

Moreover, Heritage, along with other conservative think tanks like R Street Institute, have voiced opposition to Trump's new tariffs on solar panel imports.

Dozens of scholars from the Heritage Foundation have advised the Trump team or have actually gone on to work in the administration.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

China Targeted US Think Tanks Doing Military Research

China seems to be stepping up efforts to target think tankers who work on defense and military affairs.  Here is more from CrowdStrike:

In late October and early November, 2017, CrowdStrike® Falcon Intelligence™ observed People’s Republic of China (PRC)-based actors conducting espionage-driven targeted attacks against at least four Western think tanks and an additional two non-governmental organizations (NGOs). This marks a significant increase in China-based activity from months prior, as the majority of observed activity in Q3 was predominantly focused on Southeast and East Asia. The previous “smash-and-grab” type of cyber operations, which typically characterized a majority of pre-2016 PRC espionage cases, appear to have ceased in favor of much more targeted intrusions focused on specific outcomes.
Previous operations targeting think tanks resembled the digital equivalents of so-called smash-and-grab robberies: the attackers indiscriminately exfiltrated data, vacuuming up whatever information was available. However, in these most recent incidents, adversaries specifically targeted the communications of foreign personnel involved in Chinese economic policy research and the Chinese economy, as well as users with noted expertise in defense, international finance, U.S.-Sino relations, cyber governance, and democratic elections.
An interesting case study was observed by both CrowdStrike Services and the Falcon OverWatch™ managed hunting team in late October 2017, when a China-based adversary attempted to compromise the web server of a think tank. The specific target appeared to be related to an ongoing military research project. As with many of the currently observed Chinese targeted intrusions, the adversary attempted to use China Chopper for reconnaissance and lateral movement after logging in via an account compromised by spear phishing. As is prevalent among CrowdStrike customers, webshell blocking was enabled in the Falcon platform, which prevented the actor from using the webshell to run any commands.

A number of think tanks in the US conduct military research, including the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), Atlantic Council, RAND Corporation, Brookings Institution, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), Heritage Foundation, and Center for a New American Security (CNAS).

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Think Tank Quickies (#297)

  • Do think tank experts who do forecasting get it wrong all the time?
  • Gar Alperovitz: Centrist think tanks won't save our cities.
  • Trump nominates Kathleen Hartnett, formerly at conservative think tank Texas Public Policy Foundation, for top environmental post.
  • Rep. Will Hurd (R-TX), Lisa Monaco, and IBM President/CEO Ginni Rometty to chair Aspen Institute's Cyber Strategy Group.
  • National Law Review: Think tanks often look to FARA's "academic exemption" to avoid registration. 
  • Think tanker Shawn Brimley passes away.
  • Corry Bliss's super PAC's partner, a "nonprofit think tank" that he also runs, the American Action Network, provided $30 million in TV ads to push the GOP tax cuts. 
  • Stockholm-based "fact tank" Gapminder has a mission to show how economics, not geography, dictates lifestyle.
  • Full-page ad from R Street Institute in Wall Street Journal. 
  • Inside the offices of Jigsaw, an elite think tank created by Google where employees sample food from around the world and take naps in rooms named Narnia and Mordor.

Think Tank Tweet of the Week: Trump & Think Tanks

The tweet of the week comes from Stephen Taylor, a former fellow at the Manning Centre in Canada.


Thursday, January 11, 2018

Think Tank Quickies (#296)

  • Tax think tanks are having a moment.
  • Vice President Mike Pence gives remarks at Hudson Institute's Herman Kahn Award Dinner.
  • Victor Cha of CSIS finally nominated to be US Ambassador to South Korea.
  • FAIR: Think tank-addicted media turn to regime change enthusiasts for Iran protest commentary.
  • Debate in Vegas convened by Brookings and the Charles Koch Institute.
  • Police report says former Putin aide who came to DC to attend Wilson Center fundraiser drank heavily before his body was found.
  • Aspen Institute selects Dan Portenfield, the president of Franklin & Marshall College, as its new leader to replace Walter Isaacson.
  • On Jan. 8, Charles Murray will celebrate his 75th birthday and retire as W.H. Brady Scholar, shifting to an emeritus role at AEI.
  •  Well-respected China hawk Randall Schriver, who runs a think tank called Project 2049 Institute, to become assistant secretary of defense for Asian and Pacific affairs.

Think Tank GMF Gathers All-Star Team to Fight Russia

The Washington, DC-based German Marshall Fund (GMF) is housing an initiative that consists of an all-star team of national security experts and former government officials that is working to help defend against what it says are Russian attempts to undermine democracy.

Here is more about the effort from GMF:

The Alliance for Securing Democracy, a bipartisan, transatlantic initiative housed at The German Marshall Fund of the United States (GMF), will develop comprehensive strategies to defend against, deter, and raise the costs on Russian and other state actors’ efforts to undermine democracy and democratic institutions. The Alliance will work to publicly document and expose Vladimir Putin’s ongoing efforts to subvert democracy in the United States and Europe.
The Alliance will forge partnerships across the Atlantic with political leaders, policymakers, like-minded institutions, and technical experts to address the urgent need to secure our democracies, create a common understanding of the techniques used to undermine democracies, and share lessons learned about effective defensive and deterrent strategies. Enlisting leading transatlantic experts on cyber security, disinformation, illicit finance, Russian influence operations, and other relevant areas, the Alliance will develop strategies for making democracies more resilient against future meddling and better able to counter Russian efforts to use the subversion of democracy as a weapon. The Alliance will bring together experts across these areas and work with the private sector and civil society to develop and employ strategies to strengthen and secure our democracies.
Finally, it will analyze emerging technological and societal trends to identify areas of vulnerability to the eventual challenge from other state and nongovernmental actors who may attempt to replicate these tactics. By analyzing what Russia is doing today, the project will develop a shared playbook with recommendations for democratic leaders about how democracy can be better safeguarded tomorrow.

GMF says that the Alliance for Securing Democracy is currently funded by a group of American private individuals and small family foundations from across the political spectrum, but it does not list any specific funding sources.

The Advisory Council is an all-star team that includes:

  • Michael Chertoff
  • Toomas Ilves
  • David Kramer
  • Bill Kristol
  • Michael Morell 
  • Michael McFaul
  • Mike Rogers
  • Kori Schake
  • Julie Smith
  • Jim Stavridis
  • Jake Sullivan
  • Nicole Wong

Laura Rosenberger is the director of the Alliance for Securing Democracy as well as a senior fellow at GMF.  Before joining the think tank she was a foreign policy advisor for Hillary for America.  Other staffers include Jamie Fly, David Salvo, Bret Schafer, and Brittany Beaulieu.

The Alliance for Security Democracy's blog can be found here.  Its "Disinformation Dashboards" can be found here.

Advisory Council members recently wrote a piece for The Washington Post entitled "Russian Cyberattacks Never Stopped," in which they cite the work of Alliance for Securing Democracy.

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

CNAS Names Victoria Nuland as New CEO

The Center for a New American Security (CNAS) has new leadership.  Here is more from the defense-oriented think tank:

The Center for a New American Security (CNAS) Board of Directors has selected Victoria Nuland, the former U.S. Ambassador to NATO and former Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs, as the Center’s new Chief Executive Officer. In addition, Robert O. Work, former Deputy Secretary of Defense and former CNAS CEO, will rejoin CNAS as Senior Counselor for Defense.
As CEO, Ambassador Nuland will lead CNAS’ efforts to develop bold, innovative, and bipartisan solutions to the most pressing national security and defense issues. She succeeds Michèle Flournoy, who will join the Center’s board of directors and co-direct CNAS’ Next Generation National Security Leaders Fellowship. She will work with Richard Fontaine, who remains the organization’s president.

Victoria Nuland also used to be a Non-Resident Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution.  Her husband, Robert Kagan, is a Senior Fellow with the Project on International Order and Strategy in the Foreign Policy Program at Brookings.

Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA) praised the Nuland news, saying she is a "top-notch diplomat and foreign policy leader" and looks forward to her leadership at the think tank.  Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) said he has known Nuland for years and she is an "excellent" choice to lead the think tank.

The Nuland announcement comes after Michele Flournoy, a co-founder of CNAS, stepped down as CEO to form a new strategic advisory firm.

Monday, January 8, 2018

Meet the One-Man Think Tank on North Korea

While most North Korea experts are housed within multimillion-dollar think tank buildings or universities with hundreds of millions of dollars in endowment funds, there is a one-man "think tank" who gets just as much attention (if not more) than the top Korea scholars at those institutions.  Here is more from Anna Fifield of The Washington Post:

But Michael Madden has become, as he puts it, an “accidental expert” on the men, and the occasional woman, who run the world’s most isolated country. From his couch in a dark basement here, Madden operates the website North Korea Leadership Watch, documenting the appearances — and the telling absences — of Kim and the people around him.
“This regime is the longest-lasting totalitarian system for a reason,” said Madden, an idiosyncratic 37-year-old who has an encyclopedic knowledge of the North Korean elite.
He’s prone to rattling off their family trees or minutiae about their educations or jobs — such as the previous positions held by the current director of the agricultural affairs department of the ruling Workers’ Party of Korea.
“Sure, there is a powerful strongman around which the system vests its attention and affection, but the strongman still needs subordinates who ensure that the trains launch on time,” he said. “So it is important we know some things about these subordinates, however expendable they might be.”
Through his website, which is now hosted by the U.S.-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins University, and through his work for government agencies and contractors, Madden has been keeping tabs on the people at the top of the Kim regime for almost a decade.

Loyal readers of Think Tank Watch may recall that Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) was once called a "one-man think tank" by Politico.

We have previously reported that North Korea has been reaching out to US think tanks to understand President Donald Trump.  Moreover, some think tankers have been trying to secretly broker a peace deal with North Korea.

Saturday, January 6, 2018

Co-Founder of Liberal Think Tank IPS Dies

Marcus Raskin, the co-founder of liberal think tank Institute for Policy Studies (IPS) has died.  Here is more from the New York Times.

Marcus Raskin, who channeled his discontent as a young aide in the Kennedy administration into helping found the Institute for Policy Studies, a progressive think tank that became an abundant source of research about nuclear disarmament, the Vietnam War, economic inequality, civil rights and national security, died on Dec. 24 in Washington.  He was 83.
Mr. Raskin and Richard J. Barnet started the institute in 1963, fiercely devoted to maintaining its independence by refusing to accept government funding.  "We also had extraordinary conceit," Mr. Raskin told The New York Times in 1983.  "We were going to speak truth to power."
With its seminars and research, the institute tapped into a changing national mood: The optimism of President John F. Kennedy's New Frontier had yielded to an increasing disillusionment over the government's conduct of the Vietnam War.  Mr. Raskin helped position the institute at the center of the growing antiwar movement.
In 1967, he and Arthur Waskow, a senior fellow at the institute, wrote a "A Call to Resist Illegitimate Authority," a manifesto that urged young men to refuse to participate in war.

The obituary goes on to note that Mr. Raskin played a role in the revelation of the Pentagon Papers, the classified study that unmasked the decision making that had led the US into the Vietnam War.

It says that in 1970, Daniel Ellsberg, the "disillusioned analyst for the RAND Corporation who had drafted the study," gave Mr. Raskin and Mr. Barnet a copy of a part of it.  They then passed it on to the New York Times, which later contacted Ellsberg and received the full report.

The article also quotes Sidney Blumenthal, who said that the Heritage Foundation was "modeled directly on IPS."