Thursday, March 29, 2018

John Bolton's Little-Known Think Tank

While incoming National Security Adviser John Bolton has been affiliated with the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) for decades, few know that he is also the chairman of a think tank called the Gatestone Institute. 

Here is how The Intercept portrays that think tank:

But one role that has received relatively little scrutiny is his [John Bolton's] work as chair of the Gatestone Institute, a nonprofit that focuses largely on publishing original commentary and news related to the supposed threat that Islam poses to Western society. He has served in that role since 2013. (Bolton did not respond to an email seeking comment.)
A steady drum beat of vitriol is visible on the Gatestone website on almost any given day.
Just this week, the Gatestone Institute published stories claiming that the “mostly Muslim male migrants from Africa, Asia and the Middle East” in Germany are fueling a “migrant rape crisis” and that “Muslim mass-rape gangs” are transforming the United Kingdom into “an Islamist Colony.”
The website routinely portrays Muslim migrants and refugees as an existential threat to Europe and the United States, claiming that immigrants bring “highly infectious diseases,” genital mutilation practices, and terror to any nation that accepts them. The site spent years sharply criticizing the Obama administration for having a “traditional Muslim bias” against Christians.

Here is what The Intercept says about the think tank's funding:

As The Intercept previously reported, Gatestone is largely funded by Nina Rosenwald, the heir to the Sears, Rosebuck & Company department store fortune. Though the Rosenwald family was once a champion of Jewish refugees during World War II, Rosenwald has financed a number of efforts to vilify Muslims attempting to escape bloodshed in Africa and the Middle East.
Billionaire heiress Rebekah Mercer, a donor to various far-right causes as well as the Trump campaign, was listed as a Gatestone board member in April 2017, according to the foreign policy-focused website LobeLog. After LobeLog inquired about Mercer joining the board, Gatestone scrubbed any information about her from the site. Donor rolls obtained by LobeLog showed that the Mercer Family Foundation gave $150,000 total to Gatestone in 2014 and 2015.

Bolton is a Senior Fellow at AEI, a conservative think tank he has worked with since the early 1970s.  Here is AEI's press release on President Trump's intent to nominate Bolton as National Security Adviser.

Think Tanks Getting Serious About AI

Here is more from the New York Times:

There is little doubt that the Defense Department needs help from Silicon Valley’s biggest companies as it pursues work on artificial intelligence. The question is whether the people who work at those companies are willing to cooperate.
On Thursday, Robert O. Work, a former deputy secretary of defense, announced that he is teaming up with the Center for a New American Security, an influential Washington think tank that specializes in national security, to create a task force of former government officials, academics and representatives from private industry. Their goal is to explore how the federal government should embrace A.I. technology and work better with big tech companies and other organizations.
Mr. Work was the driving force behind the creation of Project Maven, the Defense Department’s sweeping effort to embrace artificial intelligence. His new task force will include Terah Lyons, the executive director of the Partnership on AI, an industry group that includes many of Silicon Valley’s biggest companies.
Mr. Work will lead the 18-member task force with Andrew Moore, the dean of computer science at Carnegie Mellon University. Mr. Moore has warned that too much of the country’s computer science talent is going to work at America’s largest internet companies.

Here is the CNAS press release.  Here is what TechCrunch has to say about the new task force.  Here is what Engadget has to say.

Paul Scharre and Gregory Allen of CNAS recently helped co-author a major AI report entitled "The Malicious Use of Artificial Intelligence: Forecasting, Prevention, and Mitigation."

A number of other think tanks are also focused on AI.  Brookings has talked about the topic for years, and in late July, a group of Brookings scholars will publish a book on the future of AI.

The Atlantic Council is another think tank that has been writing about AI, as is the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace (see here and here) and the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS).

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Veteran Economist Appointed to Top Chinese Think Tank

Here is more from the South China Morning Post:

A veteran economist has been appointed president of China’s top think-tank, the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS), amid an ongoing reshuffle of senior officials.
Xie Fuzhan, who has extensive experience in government think tanks, will return to Beijing from central Henan province, where he had spent five years first as governor and then as party boss, state media reported on Thursday. 
In the lead-up to the parliamentary gathering, the 64-year-old had been tipped as one of the main contenders to take over as governor of the central bank, but lost out to Yi Gang, the former deputy governor.
Xie will be the first economist to head the CASS in over three decades.
The last economist to take the role, Ma Hong, took over in 1982, not long after late paramount leader Deng Xiaoping set the country on course for economic modernisation with his “reform and opening up” policy. Ma was one of the leading advocates for China's market-oriented reforms at the time. 
Before Xie, the academy had been mostly led by Communist Party theorists or veteran politicians. Its outgoing president Wang Weiguang famously raised eyebrows in 2014 when he thundered in an op-ed that “class struggle can never be extinguished in China”.
In 2015, as part of the quest to boost its soft power, China rolled out a plan to develop “a new type of think tank with Chinese characteristics” adding that it intended to have “several wielding major global influence” by 2020.

The article wrongly notes that CASS is the top ranked Chinese think tank in the University of Pennsylvania's annual think tank rankings, saying that CASS fell from the 17th best international think tank in 2012 to the 39th best in 2017.

Actually, CASS is currently ranked as the 23rd best non-US think tank, and the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations (CICIR) is ranked higher (9th best in the world).  In the category of best US and non-US think tanks, each of those is ranked lower, but CICIR is still ahead.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Think Tank Quickies (#306)

  • Elsa Kania, an adjunct fellow at CNAS, helped translate China's AI manifesto; group of AI researchers and policymakers (including think tankers) release major AI report.
  • Steven Pinker: "Never believe a study from an organization that has a donate button on its website."
  • Erick Erickson: "A most vile attack against the NRA comes from a lefty think tank."
  • Heritage President interview with NPR: Where the conservative movement is headed. 
  • Brookings uses PR agency Beveridge Seay. 
  • Major think tank names cutoff date for Generation Y. 
  • For an interview, Jonah Goldberg proposed having cigars on AEI's rooftop. 
  • Frontier Research Center, "a kind of advanced-technology think tank."
  • Robert Zoellick to join Carnegie Endowment board of trustees. 
  • Boris Johnson let a pro-Brexit think tank launch at the Foreign Office without paying a hire fee.

Monday, March 26, 2018

Mueller Probe Witness Linked to Shady Think Tank Payments

Foreign money flowing to think tanks is alive and well.  While some US think tanks have policies of refusing to accept foreign funds, that overseas money often ends up at the think tank anyway via secretive shell companies and other tactics.

Here is more from the New York Times, showing how a top fundraiser for President Donald Trump received millions of dollars from a political adviser to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) to push an anti-Qatar agenda, in part by using think tanks:

Mr. [George] Nader did, however, provide a $2.7 million payment to Mr. [Elliott] Broidy for "consulting, marketing and other advisory services rendered," apparently to help pay for the cost of conferences at two Washington think tanks, the Hudson Institute and the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, that featured heavy criticism of Qatar and the Muslim Brotherhood.
Hudson Institute policies prohibit donations from foreign governments that are not democracies, and the Foundation for Defense of Democracies bars donations from all foreign governments, so Mr. Nader's role as an adviser to the U.A.E. may have raised concerns had he donated directly.
Documents show Mr. Nader's payment was made by an Emirati-based company he controlled, GS Investments, to an obscure firm based in Vancouver, British Columbia, controlled by Mr. Broidy, Xieman International.  A person close to Mr. Broidy said the money was passed through the Canadian company at Mr. Nader's request, and the reason for its circuitous path could not be determined.

Here is a link to the above-mentioned Hudson event, which took place on October 23, 2017.  Here is a link to the May 23, 2017 FDD event, co-hosted by Hudson and George Washington University's Center for Cyber & Homeland Security.

These latest revelations come on the heels of a new poll which shows that only 20 percent of Americans trust think tanks.

Salary Boom at Think Tanks

This new chart is from Hans Gutbrod of Transparify:


Wednesday, March 21, 2018

New Poll: Americans Don't Trust Think Tanks (If They Even Know What One Is)

A new poll found that although there are close to 2,000 think tanks in the United States, only one in two Americans (50%) actually knows what a think tank is, and only 46% know what a think tank does.

The poll found that of those who do know about think tanks, only 36 percent think that they do positive work, whereas 73 percent of policy insiders think they do positive work.  The poll found that only one-fifth (20%) of Americans trust think tanks, while 56 percent don't know whether to trust them or not.

The poll of adults aged 18+ was conducted by We are Flint, a UK-based communications firm whose clients have included at least one think tank (Stimson Center).  It should be noted that this was an online poll, which are not known to be very accurate.  Nevertheless, it is one of the few polls that has been conducted about think tanks in recent memory.

A link to the think tank poll can be found here.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Think Tank Quickies (#305)

  • In new "credibility crisis" report, On Think Tanks says it gets funding from Hewlett Foundation ($222,000), Konrad Adenauer Stiftung ($20,000), and Foundation Open Society Institute ($10,000).
  • Hedge funds using think tanks to get their way in Washington?
  • AEI chief heads to India.
  • PIIE scholar blocks Cato scholar on Twitter.
  • 7 FPRI scholars explain why think tanks matter more than ever.
  • Advice for history PhDs seeking employment at think tanks. 
  • Donald Abelson evaluates think tank influence.
  • 3 of the top think tanks (Brookings, CSIS, Heritage) have former high-ranking CIA officers running their Korea programs.
  • Paul Craig Roberts in Russia Insider: American think tanks are hired peddlers of fake news.
  • "Scrolling through Twitter at times like these is surreal: think tank paper, Valentine's Day joke, horrific school shooting, blockchain..."
  • Sacha Saeen: Why we need more female think tank economists.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

New FARA Bill to Force Think Tanks to Register as Foreign Agents?

Here is more from Foreign Policy:

A new draft proposal in the House of Representatives seeks to require China’s cultural outposts in the United States, the Confucius Institutes, to register as foreign agents.
The effort, spearheaded by U.S. Rep. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.), targets any foreign funding at U.S. universities that aims to promote the agenda of a foreign government.
The draft bill does not single out Confucius Institutes by name, but according to Wilson it will apply to the Chinese government-run programs, which offer language and culture classes on more than 100 American college and university campuses. The institutes have come under increasing scrutiny in recent months due to their sometimes heavy-handed attempts to censor discussion of topics that the Chinese Communist Party deems off-limits, leading to growing concerns about academic freedom.
Wilson’s initiative would clarify language in the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA), a Nazi-era law intended to combat foreign propaganda. FARA requires organizations and individuals engaged in lobbying or public discourse on behalf of a foreign government to register with the Department of Justice, and to disclose their funding and the scope of their activities. FARA does not prohibit such funding or activities but rather seeks to provide transparency about the true source of the messaging.
As currently written, FARA includes an exemption for “bona fide” academic and scholastic pursuits, but what is meant by “bona fide” is not clearly spelled out. The draft proposal would redefine what is meant by a bona fide academic pursuit to exclude any foreign-funded endeavor that promotes the agenda of a foreign government. If enacted, the legislation would, in turn, trigger mandatory registration for the institutes, though it would not interfere with their activities.

As some have noted, think tanks and universities often look to FARA's academic exemption to avoid registration.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

AEI President Arthur Brooks Stepping Down in 2019

Here is more from Politico:
American Enterprise Institute head Arthur Brooks said Wednesday he plans to step down in the summer of 2019 after more than ten years leading the conservative think tank.
“Succession plans work best precisely when an organization is at maximum strength,” Brooks wrote in an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal. “I believe social enterprises generally thrive best when chief executives don’t stay much longer than a decade, because it’s important to refresh the organizational vision periodically and avoid becoming uniquely associated with one person.”
Before taking the helm of AEI, which is generally viewed as less political than some of its think tank counterparts, in 2009, Brooks taught economics and social entrepreneurship at Syracuse University. He also spent 12 years as a classical musician in the United States and Spain.
Tully Friedman and Daniel D’Aniello, co-chairs of AEI’s board of trustees, said a search committee will be formed in the coming weeks to find a successor.

Here is AEI's press release on the Brooks announcement.  Here is what the Washington Examiner has to say.

Here is what Jonah Goldberg has to say about "the coming end of the Arthur Brooks era."

There has been major turnover of leadership at a number of top US think tanks the past year, including at the Brookings Institution and Heritage Foundation.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Heritage President Blocked From White House Post by Omarosa

Here is more from Politico:

Heritage Foundation President Kay Coles James says she was “blocked” from serving in President Donald Trump’s administration by Omarosa Manigault Newman, the former White House aide and reality television star.
“It was Omarosa,” James said in an interview with POLITICO’s Women Rule podcast, discussing how she has not managed to land a job in the administration despite her conservative bona fides.
James, the first African-American female president of Heritage, led Trump’s transition team for several offices in the White House. Following the inauguration, James — a longtime conservative who served under Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush and later as George W. Bush’s Office of Personnel Management director — said she had been excited for a possible spot in the administration.

By being blocked from a White House post, Kay Coles James is arguably in a better position, particularly with her think tank salary, which is likely around four to five times what she would have been making in the Trump Administration.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Chart: Think Tank CEO Salaries

This is from Hans Gutbrod of Transparify:


Here is Think Tank Watch's salary guide to think tanks.

Friday, March 9, 2018

New Study: At least 125 Trump Staffers Came from Think Tanks

A new study by ProPublica found that at least 125 Trump Administration cabinet members, staffers, and political appointees have come from think tanks and other policy-focused nonprofits.  Here is a breakdown of the more well-known think tanks and number of staffers who now work for Trump:

  • Heritage Foundation: 25
  • American Enterprise Institute (AEI): 11
  • Hudson Institute: 4
  • Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI): 3
  • Hoover Institution: 3
  • Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS): 3
  • Bipartisan Policy Center (BPC): 3
  • Brookings Institution: 2
  • Manhattan Institute: 2
  • Cato Institute: 1
  • R Street Institute: 1
  • Carnegie Endowment for International Peace: 1
  • Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments (CSBA): 1

Think Tank Watch keeps its own internal list which shows that there are even more think tankers than the ones listed who have helped the Trump team.  ["Only" around 60 people total have come from more well-known, "traditional" think tanks, based on our analysis of ProPublica's count.]

In January, the Heritage Foundation said that approximately 70 of its former employees have worked for the Trump transition team or as part of the administration.

Here is a previous Think Tank Watch piece about the influence of the Heritage Foundation on President Trump, whose administration has adopted 64 percent of the think tank's recommended agenda.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Think Tank Quickies (#304)

  • Musician will.i.am has "exclusive" think tank.
  • Heritage scholar goes after "non-partisan" think tanker at Third Way.
  • Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and Sen. Ben Sasse do AEI.
  • View from RAND Corp. HQ in Santa Monica, California.
  • Johns Hopkins holds career night with think tanks.
  • The greatest AEI event ever?
  • Sterling Municipal Library has a think tank.
  • Suresh Prabhu has meetings with think tankers at Davos.
  • Rosa Balfour: Reinventing the role of think tanks.
  • What distinguishes think tank work from academic work?
  • Irony: Wilson Center holds panel on why think tanks matter in era of digital disruption but fails to use a hashtag to unify online discussion of the event.

Friday, March 2, 2018

McMaster Shopping Himself to Think Tank Land

White House National Security Adviser Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, who is rumored to be leaving that position soon, may be returning to the think tank he once belonged to.  Here is more from CNN:

Two sources with knowledge of the matter said McMaster has talked to senior leadership at the Hoover Institution about a position there once he finishes at the White House. But another source emphasized that "no deal or arrangement has been finalized."

From 2002-2003, McMaster was a Visiting fellow at the Hoover Institution, and he has also been affiliated with other think tanks, as Think Tank Watch has previously reported.

During the summer, conservatives attacked McMaster for his affiliation with the UK-based think tank International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS).

Obama Allies Start "Non-Think Tank" to Target Trump Foreign Policy

Here is more from Politico:

Former Obama administration officials unveiled a new advocacy group Tuesday aimed at pushing back on President Donald Trump's foreign policy initiatives.
The push is led by former deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes and former White House deputy assistant Jake Sullivan, who both served under President Barack Obama. Rhodes and Sullivan, who also worked as senior policy adviser to Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton in 2016, will co-chair the new National Security Action organization.
“We’re committed to organizing an effective, strategic, relentless, and national response to this administration’s dangerous approach to national security," Sullivan said in a news release. "This is not a new think tank or policy shop. Our role is to help shape the public debate on foreign policy and national security, holding Trump accountable and lifting up an alternative, affirmative vision."

Mr. Sullivan already works at a well-known think tank, the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, where he is a Senior Fellow in the Geoeconomics and Strategy Program.

Mr. Rhodes said that around 500 former officials and campaign veterans have agreed to help National Security Action "act as speakers, writers, or on-call experts for candidates, think tanks, or advocacy organizations."

In other words, a number of think tanks will continue to be influenced by advocacy and lobbying organizations.

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Think Tank Quickies (#303)

  • US spy agency partnering with NGOs and think tanks to track North Korea. 
  • AEI head Arthur Brooks in HBR: How a Think Tank Measures the Impact of Ideas.
  • Think tank Century Foundation sues Education Dept. over public records request on college accrediting bodies. 
  • CAP releases "Medicare Extra For All" proposal.
  • $750k gift from Korea Foundation establishes chair in Korea Policy Studies at RAND; in August 2017, a $3 million gift established the Tang Chair in China Studies at the think tank.
  • Alex Chance: Think tanks and tax status - a note on the 501(c)(3) and 501(c)(4) tax categories.
  • Ellen Laipson: Think tanks step up in a polarized Washington where gov't trust is eroding.
  • Carrie (of Showtime's Homeland) applied for a job at Brookings.
  • New York Times journalists trying to quote more female think tank experts.
  • Brookings does wonky Valentine's cards.