Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Think Tankers Paid to Spy for Foreign Governments?

A private platform that scores of think tankers use to earn extra cash is reportedly being investigated by Special Counsel Robert Mueller.  While the platform promoted itself as an "expert network," reporting indicates that it was also involved in intelligence collection.

Here is more from the Daily Beast:

In the fall of 2016, Donald Trump Jr. and other key aides to the future president reportedly met in Trump Tower with Joel Zamel, the founder of a company called Wikistrat.
Wikistrat bills itself as a “crowdsourced” geopolitical analysis firm based in Washington, D.C. But interviews with current and former employees and documents reviewed by The Daily Beast tell a different story: that the vast majority of Wikistrat’s clients were foreign governments; that Wikistrat is, for all intents and purposes, an Israeli firm; and that the company’s work was not just limited to analysis. It also engaged in intelligence collection.
Robert Mueller’s office is investigating Wikistrat and Zamel, according to The Wall Street Journal, as the special counsel’s probe expands into Middle Eastern governments’ attempts to influence American politics.
Publicly, Wikistrat touts its crowdsourcing interface it has described as “Wikipedia meets Facebook” to develop reports for clients. The documents also highlight Wikistrat’s heavy reliance on “gamification”—applying game design features to encourage user engagement—to solicit information from sources. Former Wikistrat employees say its founder viewed himself as the Mark Zuckerberg of the national-security world.
But despite the firm’s purported commitment to “transparent, open-source methodologies,” the documents provided to The Daily Beast show something different: that the company exploits “in country… informants” as sources
Wikistrat’s “About” page includes mention of “on-the-ground collection.”
And according to internal Wikistrat documents marked “highly confidential and sensitive material,” 74 percent of the firm’s revenue came from clients that were foreign governments.

A list of "experts" that use the platform to earn extra cash (including academics and think tankers) can be found here.  Wikistrat currently says that it has more than 5,000 subject-matter experts using the platform.

Here is Think Tank Watch's previous story about Wikistrat.

Here is a recent Think Tank Watch story about an annual think tank event that attracts a large number of spies.

Here is our recent story entitled "When Think Tanking Becomes Illegal."