Thursday, May 31, 2018

Polish Think Tank Chief Refused Entry into Russia

Here is more from Radio Poland:

The Polish foreign ministry on Tuesday called in Moscow’s ambassador to Warsaw after the head of a Polish think tank was refused entry to Russia.
The Polish authorities have demanded an explanation from Russian ambassador Sergei Andreyev, Poland’s PAP news agency reported.
Polish foreign ministry spokesman Artur Lompart said Andreyev had “promised that such explanations would be furnished."
Lompart said the head of the government-funded Polish Institute of International Affairs, Sławomir Dębski, was not allowed into Russia on Monday.

Here is a link to the Polish Institute of International Affairs (PISM), which was established by an act of the Polish parliament in 1996.

The director of PISM is appointed by the prime minister for a five-year term, following consultation with the minister of foreign affairs.

Here is a link to the biography of Mr. Slawomir Debski.

Poland has recently been submitting proposals to welcome a permanent deployment of US troops to the country.  Those proposals have reportedly been sent to a few "main" US think tanks.

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Think Tank Quickies (#314)

  • $1.8 million in campaign budget to get sanctions lifted from a Russian gas firm earmarked for think tank experts.
  • Heritage Foundation holds largest gathering of think tanks in North America.
  • Aerospace Industries Association (AIA) co-produced defense supplier report with CSIS.
  • Marines tap Potomac Institute for Policy Studies to explore new warfare capabilities.
  • Artists and novelists invited to think tanks to help interpret research results? 
  • EPA's Scott Pruitt prioritizing giving speeches to certain think tanks; Pruitt's plan for climate change debates: ask conservative think tanks.
  • RAND experts discuss the challenges of trying to predict the future.
  • Think tankers make Politico Playbook Power List of Woman to Watch.
  • Center for American Progress and Aspen Institute are clients of Raben Group. 
  • Nassim Nicholas Taleb: A think tank fellow had the discipline to overcome my insults to his profession while reviewing my book.

When Think Tanking Becomes Illegal

When most people think of think tanks, they may picture soporific talks on the minutiae of energy policy or foreign affairs, men in suits pontificating about esoteric executive branch regulations, or 100-page policy proposals to update the Merchant Marine Act of 1920.

While all that exists, a much darker side lies just under the surface, one that involves PR gurus, lobbyists, foreign governments, spy agencies, embassies, corporations, trade associations, political hacks, shady consultants, and various categories of movers and shakers all trying to gather information and influence ideas and the thousands of scholars that live in and around Washington.

Here is a recent example from Reuters:

A Maryland man has pleaded guilty to charges that he failed to register as a foreign agent in connection with lobbying work he did for the Pakistani government in an effort to shape U.S. foreign policy, the Justice Department said on Monday.
The newly unsealed case against Nisar Ahmed Chaudhry, a Pakistani national and U.S. permanent resident, marks a rare instance in which the Justice Department has pursued a prosecution under the Foreign Agents Registration Act, which requires people who lobby on behalf of foreign governments or political parties to register with the United States.
In Chaudhry’s case, filed April 19 and unsealed on Monday, the government said he worked to influence U.S. officials on foreign policies toward Pakistan from 2012 through 2018 without disclosing it.
The Justice Department said he represented that his activities were merely educational and not affiliated with Pakistan’s government when he met with think tank scholars and current and former U.S. government officials, including U.S. Customs and Border Patrol agents who interviewed Chaudhry when he returned to the United States from travels to Pakistan. 

Here is what the US Justice Department said:
Chaudhry interacted on a routine basis with representatives of the Government of Pakistan, at their Embassy in Washington, D.C. and consular office in New York City.  Chaudhry also interacted with numerous institutes, foundations and organizations operating in and around Washington, D.C., commonly referred to as "think tanks," that played a role in shaping and influencing U.S. foreign policy.  Chaudhry organized roundtable discussions in Washington, D.C. and Maryland metropolitan areas between his American government and think tank contacts and visiting Pakistan government officials to influence United States foreign policy in a direction favorable to Pakistan’s interests.   Chaudhry cultivated contacts within these entities and the U.S. government in order to obtain in-depth information regarding the U.S. government's policies towards Pakistan.  Chaudhry then sought to neutralize unfavorable views of Pakistan held by current and former U.S. government officials by employing certain methods of discussion with these individuals during personal interactions with them and/or by controlling and manipulating discussion at the roundtable events he organized or attended.
In order to be more effective in obtaining information of interest to Pakistan, and to gain a strategic advantage in acquiring information that might not otherwise be divulged to official representatives of the Government of Pakistan, Chaudhry falsely represented that his activities were solely educational in nature and not affiliated with the Pakistan government.  These representations were made not only to American think tank scholars, but also to current and former U.S. government officials, including U.S. Customs and Border Patrol agents who interviewed Chaudhry upon entry into the United States from his travels to Pakistan.
According to his plea agreement, Chaudhry regularly traveled to Pakistan to brief high-level Pakistan government officials on information obtained from his American government and think tank contacts.

It has not been publicly disclosed which think tanks Chaudhry frequented, but a link from the Embassy of Pakistan shows that the government of Pakistan has embraced a number of think tanks, including the Heritage Foundation, United States Institute of Peace (USIP), Atlantic Council, Wilson Center, New America, Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), and Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

Even with all of those interactions, US-Pakistan relations have taken a nosedive in recent months.  Most recently, the US and Pakistani governments formally imposed mutual curbs on the travel and movements of each other's diplomats.  Now, Pakistani diplomats and their families cannot travel more than 25 miles from Washington without prior permission.  In other words, they are essentially stuck riding the think tank circuit in DC and nearby environs.  The good news?  There are about 500 think tanks to choose from.

Here is a recent Think Tank Watch piece about fake think tanking.

Friday, May 25, 2018

Bloomberg & Chinese Think Tank Launch Rival to Davos

Here is more from the Washington Post:

This year, former New York City mayor and financial media billionaire Michael Bloomberg is debuting a conference to rival the Davos conference, one he and his partners say will focus on the changing global economy and the need for greater understanding between the United States and China.
Enter: The New Economy Forum.
The Forum will bring 400 world and business leaders to Beijing for two days in November to address topics such as technology, global governance and urbanization. Bloomberg is partnering with the China Center for International Economic Exchanges, a Beijing-based “think tank with Chinese characteristics” and which is led by former state vice premier, Zeng Peiyan, who will co-chair the forum’s advisory board.
Bloomberg also tapped former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, as well as former U.S. Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson, to drive the Forum’s content and design. Advisory board members include former Secretary-General of the U.N. Ban Ki-moon, President Trump’s former top economic adviser Gary Cohn and Janet Yellen, former chair of the U.S. Federal Reserve Board of Governors. Leaders of eleven other corporations and institutions have signed on as partners.

Here is a link to the China Center for International Economic Exchanges (CCIEE), which notes that the forum will take place Nov. 6-8 in Beijing.

On May 15-16, the 10th US-China CEO and Former Senior Officials' Dialogue was held in Beijing by CCIEE and the US Chamber of Commerce.

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Will Trump Ban Chinese Think Tankers in the US?

Here is more from The New York Times, in a piece entitled "White House Considers Restricting Chinese Researchers Over Espionage Fears."

The Trump administration, concerned about China’s growing technological prowess, is considering strict measures to block Chinese citizens from performing sensitive research at American universities and research institutes over fears they may be acquiring intellectual secrets, according to people familiar with the deliberations.
The White House is discussing whether to limit the access of Chinese citizens to the United States, including restricting certain types of visas available to them and greatly expanding rules pertaining to Chinese researchers who work on projects with military or intelligence value at American companies and universities. The exact types of projects that would be subject to restrictions are unclear, but the measures could clamp down on collaboration in advanced materials, software and other technologies at the heart of Beijing’s plan to dominate cutting-edge technologies like advanced microchips, artificial intelligence and electric cars, known as Made in China 2025.
The details are still under discussion and it is not known how many people could be affected, but restrictions would probably fall most heavily on graduate students, postdoctoral researchers and employees of technology companies in the United States on temporary visas. More than one million foreign students study in the United States each year, with roughly one-third coming from China.

As Think Tank Watch has reported numerous times in the past, think tanks are hotbeds for spying activity.  The above-mentioned piece cites a Defense Department study which found that nearly a quarter of all efforts to obtain sensitive or classified information in 2014 were routed through academic institutions.

Think Tank Quickies (#313)

  • Heritage Action co-founder Mike Needham to become Sen. Marco Rubio's (R-FL) chief of staff. 
  • Skadden Arps' Greg Craig, who authored a report that's been entangled in Mueller's investigation into Paul Manafort, and who served as Obama White House counsel, is joining Truman National Security Project as a senior adviser.
  • Splinter reporter looking for gossip on think tanks and other Washington institutions.
  • Tyler Cowen on the intellectual thinkers of the day.
  • Brookings continues to embrace marijuana with new docu-short on weed.
  • Research center dedicated to assessing and supporting the development of think tanks unveiled at Tsinghua University.
  • Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) meets with Heritage Foundation president and other conservative leaders.
  • RAND Corp. analyzed nearly 23 million Russian language tweets.  Here is what they found.
  • General Atomics scores win after think tank funding.
  • Niskanen Center says major donation not behind involvement in Boulder climate lawsuit.
  • Japan's strong ties to the Hudson Institute.
  • CFR's Eli Ratner returning to CNAS.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Meet the Tiny Think Tank That Destroyed the Iran Nuclear Deal

This is from the New York Times:

While many hands gripped the sword that undercut the Iran nuclear deal, no one outside the Trump administration was a more persistent or effective critic than Mark Dubowitz, the chief executive of a hawkish Washington think tank [Foundation for Defense of Democracies, of FDD].
But rather than publicly celebrate President Trump’s decision Tuesday to jettison the accord, he is mourning its demise, saying he genuinely wanted to fix the agreement and worries that its unraveling could be dangerous.
That lament, though, has enraged the pact’s supporters, who never saw a fix as remotely palatable to Mr. Trump and blame Mr. Dubowitz above all others for providing the intellectual foundation for its passing. They now say he is trying to distance himself from the potentially catastrophic results.
During the congressional debate on the deal, he and his foundation colleagues testified in opposition to the deal 17 times over an 18-month period. By contrast, officials from the American Enterprise Institute and the Heritage Foundation, more established conservative think tanks, testified only once.
More recently, Mr. Dubowitz was the only nongovernmental official routinely consulted by both European and American negotiators in a monthslong back-and-forth over a possible side agreement to the deal, and he sometimes reviewed secret drafts. He wrote, according to two administration officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity, parts of a report on Iran that Brian H. Hook, the chief American negotiator in the recent talks, took to White House meetings — a highly unusual step. He advised many of the deal’s most prominent critics on Capitol Hill.
But he is far from the usual tweedy think-tanker. Raised in Canada, trained as a lawyer and having worked in venture capital, Mr. Dubowitz wears tailored French suits and keeps his curly hair just so. In 2016, he received $560,221 in compensation as the foundation’s chief executive.
Top officials in the Obama administration often dismissed Washington’s foreign policy think tanks as paid agents of Israel, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, countries that annually invest tens of millions in the Washington influence game.

The Free Beacon notes that the New York Times had to issue multiple corrections to the story.  NewsBuster details the corrections.  Following are the corrections, as outlined by NYT:
An earlier version of this article referred imprecisely to the salary of Mark Dubowitz, the chief executive of Foundation for Defense of Democracies, when compared with those of leaders of other Washington think tanks. Mr. Dubowitz’s $560,221 compensation in 2016 was determined by the foundation’s board of directors and is commensurate with the average annual salary of other think tank leaders in Washington in recent years. It is not nearly twice as much as the salaries of his counterparts. The article also inaccurately linked the foundation to Israel’s Likud party. While the think tank does align with some of Likud’s positions, it is not directly involved with the party. The article also referred imprecisely to the funding of conferences held by the foundation and the Hudson Institute. While Elliott Broidy provided $2.7 million in funds for consulting, marketing and other services, the foundation says it received only $360,000 from Mr. Broidy for one conference.

Here is a previous Think Tank Watch piece about FDD and how it punches above its weight.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

DC Think Tank Using Fake Twitter Accounts and "Shady" Expert

Here is more from Craig Silverman of BuzzFeed:

Earlier this year, leaders from the Marine Corps, the Department of Homeland Security, NASA, the NSA, the White House, and the FBI gathered at a Ritz-Carlton in Virginia to discuss the latest in cybersecurity and information warfare.
The event was organized by the Institute for Critical Infrastructure Technology, a nonprofit think tank founded just a few years ago that quickly established itself as a convener of well-attended cybersecurity events, a facilitator of Capitol Hill briefings, and the beneficiary of hundreds of thousands of dollars in sponsorships from top private sector security vendors.
The day’s closing session featured James Scott, ICIT’s senior fellow and cofounder, discussing Russian cyberinfluence operations and his new book about information warfare. What audience members from intelligence and law enforcement agencies didn’t know is that Scott and ICIT have been running their own deceptive information operation.
BuzzFeed News identified a network of at least 45 fake Twitter accounts being used to amplify ICIT content and Scott’s book, as well as a group of fake YouTube accounts that upload and like ICIT videos and frequently post adoring comments about Scott on content featuring him.
Reporting by BuzzFeed News has also established that Scott, ICIT’s top expert, previously sold spammy and fake social media engagement services, has a history of manufacturing flattering articles about himself and his ventures using dubious SEO techniques, and ran companies that are magnets for online complaints about dishonest business practices. His background in information security also primarily consists of self-published books on the topic that he only began publishing in 2013.

ICIT will be holding its annual forum on June 18 at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Washington, DC.  Sponsors of that event include McAfee, Micro Focus Government Solutions, Centrify, Skybox Security, Cylance, Garrison, and KPMG.  Epoch Times is a "partner" for the event.

Here is a Think Tank piece from 2015 about a fake think tank apparently set up by Russia to project its power.

Here is a 2017 Think Tank Watch story about a fake think tank that had been uncovered. Here is another 2017 piece about fake think tanks.

Also in 2017, Russians dumped real documents hacked from the Bradley Foundation (which funds a number of think tanks), and added a forged letter indicating that the foundation had made an illegal $150 million donation to the Clinton campaign.

Welcome to the new world of fake think tanking.

Monday, May 21, 2018

Wall Street Journal Offers New Guidelines for Citing Think Tanks

Here is more from the Wall Street Journal's Standards & Ethics team:

We should seek quality, balance and variety in the think tanks, advocacy groups and consultancies we cite as sources of analysis and opinion. We should quote them judiciously. In our coverage over time, they should be scattered across the political spectrum. We shouldn’t repeatedly quote the same voices.
Generally, we should cite the experience and views of the individual expert rather than those of the think tank itself. That should be the emphasis especially when the think tank’s practice is to employ scholars of diverse views and to refrain from taking institutional positions on policy issues. The Journal has sometimes referred to such think tanks as nonpartisan or centrist, to distinguish them from those that are openly partisan. With the exception of independent polling and survey organizations, we should avoid those neutral-sounding labels. The reader is better served with a few words about the individual expert doing the opining—something an additional question to the expert we’re interviewing could provide.
Other think tanks openly advocate a particular worldview, and we should make note of that orientation—for example: liberal, conservative, libertarian—when relevant. Generally, however, it is more useful simply to cite that entity’s current or past position on the particular issue we are writing about.
Some entities we cite are more accurately referred to as advocacy groups; they exist to advance a precise set of causes, such as those related to the environment or human rights. When citing an advocacy group, we should identify it as such and make clear what the group advocates. We should generally avoid quoting advocacy groups as sources of facts that are obtainable from neutral sources.
Most readers understand that think tanks, advocacy groups and foundations are nonprofit, and consultancies are for-profit. Generally, we can avoid those labels.
If an organization’s funding is overwhelmingly from one source, that should be noted when appropriate.
When quoting an expert, we should check whether that person has ties to other entities, such as corporations or lobbying groups, that could influence his or her position or give such an appearance.

Harvard also has a very useful guide to citing think tanks.

Here is a previous Think Tank Watch piece about citing think tanks.

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Think Tank Quickies (#312)

  • Trump has made Washington hostile to experts like think tankers.
  • Matthew Walther: "It is almost sad now to think of the millions of words of Heritage Foundation PowerPoints still gathering virtual dust on Jeb Bush's website."
  • Spies on campus pose threat to academia.
  • Transparify: Think tank New America has become 5-star transparent.
  • From Spark Tank to Think Tank: A conversation with Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson (an AEI event).
  • Financier Peter G. Peterson, a huge donor to think tanks, passes away.
  • Jay Solomon, former chief correspondent for the Wall Street Journal who was fired last year for what the paper considered an unethical relationship with a source, is now a senior director at APCO Worldwide and remains a visiting fellow at WINEP.
  • Members of the Biden Institute Policy Advisory Board include think tankers.
  • Brigid Hasson, formerly in the coalition relations department at the Heritage Foundation, has joined Rational 360.

Saturday, May 19, 2018

FBI Informant Who Monitored Trump Campaign Has Deep Ties to Think Tank Land

Several news agencies have identified the name of the apparent informant who monitored the Trump campaign: Stefan Halper.

Here is what the New York Times is reporting about Mr. Halper:
The informant, an American academic who teaches in Britain [at Cambridge University], made contact late that summer with one campaign adviser, George Papadopoulos, according to people familiar with the matter. He also met repeatedly in the ensuing months with the other aide, Carter Page, who was also under F.B.I. scrutiny for his ties to Russia.
The informant is well known in Washington circles, having served in previous Republican administrations and as a source of information for the C.I.A. in past years, according to one person familiar with the source’s work.

Here is what NBC is reporting:
The professor who met with both Page and Papadopoulos is Stefan Halper, a former official in the Nixon, Ford and Reagan administrations who has been a paid consultant to an internal Pentagon think tank known as the Office of Net Assessment, consulting on Russia and China issues, according to public records.

This is from Wikipedia:
Halper has worked as a senior foreign policy advisor to various think-tanks and research institutions, including the Center for Strategic and International Studies, The Center for the National Interest, where he is a Distinguished Fellow, and The Institute of World Politics where he is a Research Professor. He has served on the Advisory Board of Directors of the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies and contributed to various magazines, journals, newspapers and media outlets.

Here is more about Halper's work for the Office of Net Assessment.

Friday, May 18, 2018

Atlantic Council Working With Facebook to Fight Election Disinformation

Here is more from an Atlantic Council press release:

The Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab (@DFRLab) today announced a partnership with Facebook to independently monitor disinformation and other vulnerabilities in elections around the world. The effort is part of an initiative to help provide credible research about the role of social media in elections, as well as democracy more generally. 
The Atlantic Council and Facebook’s partnership will promote and supplement @DFRLab’s existing #ElectionWatch efforts and allow for greater capacity building with journalists and civil society to incorporate similar methods into their own work.

The @DFRLab is at the forefront of open source research with a focus on governance, technology, security, and where each intersect. By publishing what it can prove, or disprove, in real-time, the @DFRLab is creating a new model of research and education adapted for impact, as well as building a global network of #DigitalSherlocks. The @DFRLab remains committed to identifying, exposing, and explaining disinformation where and when it exists. 

Daily Caller headline: George Soros-linked think tank partnership with Facebook.

Common Dreams headline: "Alarming:" Facebook teams up with think tank funded by Saudi Arabia and military contractors to "protect" democracy.

Google's Jigsaw has also announced that it will help political campaigns thwart cyberattacks.

Here is a previous Think Tank Watch piece about how Atlantic Council is working to secure future US elections.

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Sen. Orrin Hatch to Start His Own Think Tank

Here is more from ABC News:

Signed boxing gloves from Muhammad Ali, documents from the Bill Clinton impeachment and 3,000 boxes of other papers and memorabilia from a 42-year career in Washington, D.C., will be part of a library and think tank being named for retiring U.S. Sen. Orrin Hatch on Wednesday.
The Orrin G. Hatch Center is partnering with the University of Utah with the goal of "leading a movement" toward bipartisanship and civility in politics.
The center that's envisioned as a columned granite building will also house a full-sized replica of Hatch's Senate office for him to write his memoirs and meet with students.
Groundbreaking for the structure located along a row of stately Salt Lake City buildings like the governor's mansion could be as soon as this summer.
Tax filings show Hatch's foundation raised nearly $6 million by 2016, the most recent year documents are available. Donations have come from places like Visa, the NFL, the tobacco manufacturer Altria and the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, according to federal disclosure forms.
Similar centers include the Edward M. Kennedy Institute in Boston and the McCain Institute at Arizona State University.

The Salt Lake Tribune, which says that Hatch is looking to eventually raise $100 million, notes that the entire funding picture of the new think tank may never be known.

A number of long-serving and well-connected lawmakers have gone on to establish their own think tanks, including the above-mentioned John McCain.

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Pro-Brexit Think Tank Founder Accused of Working for Russia

Here is more from Bloomberg:

The founder of one of the most influential pro-Brexit think tanks was suspected of working for the Kremlin, a member of Prime Minister Theresa May’s Conservative Party said.
[New Zealand-born billionaire] Christopher Chandler, chairman of investment group Legatum Global Holdings Ltd, has been an “object of interest” to French intelligence since 2002, “on suspicion of working for Russian intelligence services,” according to Bob Seely, a Conservative lawmaker who cited 2005 files of the Direction de la Surveillance du Territoire (DST).
The accusation, which is denied, is significant because Chandler has used some of his wealth to found the Legatum Institute, which has worked with those in May’s Conservative Party who want a harder break from the European Union. Until recently its director of economic policy was Shanker Singham, who argued that Britain’s interests would be best served by leaving the EU’s customs union. The institute’s “senior fellows” include Matthew Elliott, who ran the campaign for Brexit.

The London-based Legatum Institute was founded in 2007 by the Legatum Foundation, the philanthropic arm of the Dubai-based investment firm Legatum Group.

Here is more about the think tank from openDemocracy:
Legatum was not always well disposed towards Brexit. Before the June 2016 referendum, it widely seen as a liberal, pro-EU outfit. Among those employed from its Mayfair offices were US author [and Washington Post columnist] Anne Applebaum and Soviet-born British journalist Peter Pomerantsev.
That changed in the wake of Brexit. Applebaum left after Philippa Stroud was appointed as CEO, in September 2016. The eurosceptic Baroness Stroud co-founded the Centre for Social Justice think-tank and was a special adviser to Brexiteer Iain Duncan Smith.

In March, the think tank parted ways with Shanker Singham, a high-profile advocate of a "hard" Brexit, whose access to cabinet ministers such as Boris Johnson and Liam Fox led to a wave of negative publicity for Legatum.

Singham and three members of his team moved to the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA), a right-wing think tank in Westminster.

Legatum, which was "relatively unknown" before the Brexit vote, reportedly has an annual income of around $5.8 million.