Monday, December 31, 2018

Mysterious Russian Money Flowing to Think Tanks?

Here is more from the Washington Post:

...The party, then known as the National Front and now called the National Rally, was having difficulty securing credit from traditional French banks. Le Pen accused the banks of discrimination for refusing to offer a loan. 
In search of money from a non-French bank, party officials turned to Jean-Luc Schaffhauser, a member of the European Parliament elected as part of Le Pen’s party bloc.
Through what he described as work on a French-Russian development-bank project in 2004 or 2005, Schaffhauser said he met a Russian businessman and member of parliament named Alexander Babakov, who in 2012 became the Kremlin’s special envoy for Russian organizations abroad.
Schaffhauser, for his part, said he received 140,000 euros, or about $181,000 at the time, for brokering the loan. His fee was deposited in what he described as a family foundation. He said people close to Babakov, the Russian member of parliament and special envoy, also discussed investing in his think tank.

WaPo notes that the German Marshall Fund's Alliance for Securing Democracy has conducted a study of the loan along with Washington think tank C4ADS.

Friday, December 21, 2018

Think Tank Quickies (#338)

  • Chinese government arrests China analyst at International Crisis Group.
  • Chinese hackers eavesdropping on think tanks in Europe.
  • Mapping the Atlas Network.
  • Former Hudson Institute president Herbert London passes away.
  • Bruegel: How think tanks can make themselves heard in an information-rich world.
  • RAND partnering with WestEd, Council of Chief State School Officers, and Transforming Education on new US Dept. of Education project.
  • Japanese Embassy hosts Atlantic Council board dinner (cuisine made from embassy chef); outgoing Chairman James Jones gives remarks.
  • Roger Robinson, President and CEO of RWR Advisory Group, co-founded Prague Security Studies Institute (PSSI), a think tank dedicated to international security policy.
  • Harvard: How to moderate panel discussions. 
  • Twitter thread by Dany Bahar: Life in a think tank vs. academia.

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Chinese Tycoon Sought Influence From Washington Think Tanks

Here is more from the New York Times:

He struck billions of dollars’ worth of deals in Russia, Eastern Europe and Africa. He sought business with war-torn places like Chad and with international pariahs like North Korea.
Ye Jianming, a fast-rising Chinese oil tycoon, ventured to places only the most politically connected Chinese companies dared to go. But what he wanted was access to the corridors of power in Washington — and he set out to get it.
Soon, he was meeting with the family of Joseph R. Biden Jr., who was then the vice president. He dined with R. James Woolsey Jr., a former Central Intelligence Agency director and later a senior adviser to President Trump. He bestowed lavish funding on universities and think tanks with direct access to top Washington leaders, looking for the benefits access can bring. He asked one former American security official: If he bought oil fields in Syria, could the former official persuade the American military not to bomb them?
To build influence, Mr. Ye turned to Vuk Jeremic, a Serbian diplomat and former president of the United Nations General Assembly whom CEFC hired as a consultant, and Mr. Ho, a former Hong Kong official. CEFC also donated at least $350,000 to the Institute for the Analysis of Global Security, a politically connected think tank, according to court testimony. The think tank counts Robert C. McFarlane, the Reagan-era national security adviser, as its president and Mr. Woolsey, a Clinton-era C.I.A. director, as its co-chairman

A link to the Institute for the Analysis of Global Security (IAGS) can be found here.  IAGS projects include the United States Energy Security Council, the Global Forum on Energy Security, the Technology and Rare Earth Metals Center (TREM), the Set America Free Coalition, and the Mobility Choice Coalition.

In related news, it was recently reported that Huawei paid the Brookings Institution to write favorable reports.

A group of China specialists recently released a report saying that China is trying to influence US think tanks.

Sunday, December 16, 2018

Iran Targets US Think Tanks

Here is more from Associates Press:

As U.S. President Donald Trump re-imposed harsh economic sanctions on Iran last month, hackers scrambled to break into personal emails of American officials tasked with enforcing them, The Associated Press has found — another sign of how deeply cyberespionage is embedded into the fabric of US-Iranian relations.

The AP drew on data gathered by the London-based cybersecurity group Certfa to track how a hacking group often nicknamed Charming Kitten spent the past month trying to break into the private emails of more than a dozen U.S. Treasury officials. Also on the hackers’ hit list: high-profile defenders, detractors and enforcers of the nuclear deal struck between Washington and Tehran, as well as Arab atomic scientists, Iranian civil society figures and D.C. think tank employees.
[One] Charming Kitten target was an intern working for the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a Washington think tank that has been one of the Iran deal’s fiercest critics. How the intern — whose email isn’t public and whose name appears nowhere on the organization’s website — crossed the hackers’ radar is not clear.

Every major US think tank has faced various cyber attacks and hacking attempts from foreign government entities.  Many non-US think tanks have also been targeted by state actors.

Thursday, December 13, 2018

Atlas Network Offering New Course on Think Tanks

Virginia-headquartered Atlas Network has just started offering "Think Tank Basics," a new two-hour online course that covers "the fundamental principles and concepts you need to understand before diving into the day-to-day work of a think tank."

According to Atlas, here is what you'll learn:
  • The important role of think tanks in society
  • The concept of the Overton Window and the role think tanks play in moving that window
  • The difference between mission and vision statements
  • The principles that guide the work we do at Atlas Network

The course is part of Atlas's Leadership Academy (ALA), which offers a number of courses related to think tanks.

ALA also offers "Think Tank MBA," a 10-day strategic planning program for leaders within new and established think tanks.

Atlas Network, founded in 1981, promotes free-market economic policies around the world.

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Did Google Buy Off Two Think Tanks?

Here is more from Wired:

In February, The New York Times Magazine published a cover story urging regulators to break up Google because the company abuses its dominance in search to crush promising competitors. The next day, representatives from two conservative think tanks published blog posts defending Google and attacking the article’s call for antitrust enforcement. Both think tanks have received funding from Google. Both blog posts referenced studies by a professor who has received funding from Google. In one post, the study referenced was published in a quarterly journal owned by third think tank, which has also received funding from Google.
In a company-wide meeting a couple of weeks later, on March 1, Google’s public policy team described the blog posts as the fruit of Google’s efforts to build deeper relationships with conservatives, according to an audio recording of the meeting reviewed by WIRED.
“Just to give you an example, last weekend The New York Times Magazine cover story was all about breaking up Google,” [Adam] Kovacevich [Google's US Director of Public Policy] said. “Among the people who wrote op-eds and blog posts rebutting that Times piece were two conservative think-tank officials who we work with closely—one from the American Enterprise Institute and one from the Competitive Enterprise Institute, who both attended [Goog'e invite-only reception at CPAC].”

It should also be noted that more liberal-leaning think tanks, such as the Brookings Institution (which has been running into numerous issues of scholarly independence lately), receive hundreds of thousands of dollars from Google.

Last year, a scholar was fired from think tank New America (which takes Google money) for being critical of Google.

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Huawei Paid Brookings to Write Favorable Reports

The Brookings Institution just can't seem to catch a break these days.  In recent years, numerous media outlets have exposed questionable practices at the top think tank, including pay-to-play schemes, conflicts of interest, and accepting money from "unsavory" foreign entities.

Here is the latest from Isaac Stone Fish, a contributing columnist for Washington Post's Global Opinions:
In October 2017, the Brookings Institution, one of Washington’s most prestigious think tanks, published a report entitled “Benefits and Best Practices of Safe City Innovation.” The report included a case study praising the Kenyan capital Nairobi and the Chinese city of Lijiang for implementing new technology in policing.
What the report failed to mention is that the controversial Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei provided the technology for both cities, or that Huawei is one of the world’s leading sellers of Safe City equipment, which the company describes as “cutting-edge” security to improve policing and oversight. The Brookings report did, at least, disclose who provided support for the research: “Support for this publication was generously provided by Huawei.” In other words, Brookings praised Huawei’s technology in a report sponsored by Huawei.
Brookings has a conflict of interest problem with Huawei — the world’s second-largest smartphone maker, behind Samsung and ahead of Apple, and a company long seen as a threat to the United States.
Between July 2016 and June 2018, Huawei gave at least $300,000 to Brookings, via FutureWei Technologies, Inc., a U.S.-based subsidiary of the company, according to Brookings' annual reports. 
The person who wrote the Safe Cities report (along with a former Brookings intern) is Darrell M. West, Brookings vice president and founding director of its Center for Technology Innovation. Formerly a professor at Brown University, West has written 19 books, according to his LinkedIn page, and is a respected commentator on issues involving technology policy, privacy and security. Yet West’s relationship with Huawei raises questions about the independence of his scholarship — and represents a worrying example of China’s influence on one of America’s leading think tanks.

Most recently, Brookings was bashed for accepting money from Saudi Arabia, leading it to terminate certain connections to that government.

Several days ago, a group of China experts from think tanks and universities released a report saying that Beijing is trying to influence US think tanks.

Earlier this year, an Australian think tank report criticized Huawei for sponsoring overseas trips for Australian politicians.

In 2017/2018, the think tank Chatham House received between $62,000 to $125,000 from Huawei.

Monday, December 10, 2018

Inside the UN's Littlle-Known Think Tank

Here is more from Devex:

On the 12th floor of a pyramid-shaped, 14-story building in Tokyo’s energetic Shibuya district, sit the headquarters of the United Nations University. Just a few floors down, researchers are busy at Japan’s Institute for the Advanced Study of Sustainability. The two organizations are linked by more than shared office space, although the ties might not be obvious to the general public. In fact, UNU’s structure and activities aren’t overtly evident to those outside its walls.
The inner workings of the university — comprised of Japan’s IAS and 14 other research entities in 14 countries — have long been obscure, especially when compared to many more globally visible U.N. agencies, said Hillary McBride, who took over UNU communications nearly two years ago.
The U.N.’s research arm serves as a bridge between the international academic community and the U.N. system and was never meant to launch large communications campaigns to promote its projects, McBride told Devex. Still, the term “university” no longer captures the full scope of work of the institution without a traditional campus, set up in the early ‘70s to power collaborative research on the world’s most pressing problems.

A number of large institution's have internal "think tanks," including the World Bank, US Congress, and US Department of Defense.

Sunday, December 9, 2018

Canceled Think Tank Event Led to Bannon-Guo Partnership

Trump's former strategist Stephen Bannon and fugitive Chinese billionaire Guo Wengui (also known as Miles Kwok) met after a think tank event was canceled last year.

Here is more from the New York Times:
They met only after Mr. Bannon was forced out of the White House. Mr. Bannon says he received a call from Bill Gertz, a Washington journalist who has long been critical of China. Mr. Gertz told him that Mr. Guo was scheduled to give a talk in Washington at the Hudson Institute, a conservative think tank. The talk was canceled at the last minute.
Over lunch, Mr. Guo and Mr. Bannon discussed China’s military capabilities, as well as the financial implications of Beijing’s rule, including what impact the country’s mounting corporate debt might have on its economy. A friendship emerged.

As Think Tank Watch previously reported, in the days leading up to that canceled Hudson event, the Chinese Embassy reportedly had been calling the think tank and warning them not to host Guo.

The two have now formed a partnership and plan to set up a $100 million fund to investigate corruption and aid people they deem victims of Chinese government persecution.

Friday, December 7, 2018

Serious Spearphishing Campaign Against Think Tanks

Here is more from Politico:

A spearphishing campaign that targeted nonprofit groups and think tanks in Washington, D.C., drew Microsoft’s attention because it had “characteristics of previously observed nation-state attacks,” the tech giant said Monday. Because of the people being targeted and the specifics of the spearphishing messages, “Microsoft took the step of notifying thousands of individual recipients in hundreds of targeted organizations,” the company explained in a blog post that shared the technical specifics of the attack. Cyber firm FireEye first publicized the campaign last month, and MC and Reuters subsequently added details.
“Our sensors revealed that the campaign primarily targeted public sector institutions and non-governmental organizations like think tanks and research centers, but also included educational institutions and private-sector corporations in the oil and gas, chemical, and hospitality industries,” Microsoft’s research and threat intelligence teams said in the blog post. The company acknowledged that other firms had attributed the campaign to APT 29, the Russian intelligence service also known as Cozy Bear, but it said it “does not yet believe that enough evidence exists to attribute this campaign” to that group.

Think tanks are a major target of foreign governments, with many of them facing cyber attacks on a daily basis.

Thursday, December 6, 2018

Think Tank Lowy Institute Hit by Chinese Hackers

Here is what the Australian press in reporting:

Australia’s leading foreign affairs think tank has been the subject of at least two cyber attacks from China, in an apparent effort to view its dealings with the federal government and foreign dignitaries.
The attacks on the Lowy Institute mirrored a Chinese campaign against think tanks in the United States, in which hackers tried to view correspondence as well as information of people visiting its website.
The think tank has boosted its security controls considerably since the first attack, Fairfax Media reported on Tuesday.
The Lowy Institute was founded in April 2003 by Frank Lowy “to conduct original, policy-relevant research about international political, strategic and economic issues from an Australian perspective”, its website says.  It is based in Sydney.

Several US think tankers are affiliated with Lowy, including Dr. Michael Green and Bonnie Glaser of the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), and Thomas Wright of the Brookings Institution.

Jake Sullivan, who served as senior policy adviser on Hillary Clinton's 2016 presidential campaign and, during the Obama Administration, as national security adviser to Vice President Joe Biden, is listed as a 2017 Telstra Distinguished International Fellow at Lowy.

Every major think tank in the United States has been hit with cyber attacks over the past few years, and many major think tanks outside of the US have also been targets.

Here is more on the attacks.

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Microsoft Looking for Someone to Build Relations with Think Tanks

The Microsoft government affairs team is looking for a corporate affairs manager who will act as a liaison with think tanks.  Here is more:

The Microsoft US Government Affairs team (USGA) is seeking an experienced professional to serve as Manager for external affairs and constituency outreach, based in Washington, DC. The USGA team advocates for Microsoft’s public policy position before policymakers and other stakeholders in Washington, DC and in local communities. This position reports to the Senior Director of External Affairs and is responsible for building and maintaining strong external relations with identified audiences to include think tanks, trade groups, political and policy advocacy organizations at the national and state levels and Microsoft’s technology partners.

A number of corporations have similar positions that involve engaging with think tanks.

By the way, Microsoft recently released an analysis of cyber attacks on US think tanks.

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Meet Trump's Go-To China Scholar

Here is more from Politico:

A day before President Donald Trump departed for the G-20 summit in Buenos Aires, several top officials gathered in the Oval Office to strategize about Trump’s highly anticipated meeting there with China’s president.
Seated around Trump’s Resolute Desk were Vice President Mike Pence, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer. On couches a few feet away were White House chief of staff John Kelly, Trump’s son in law and senior adviser Jared Kushner, Pence’s chief of staff, Nick Ayers, and Matt Pottinger, the National Security Council’s top Asia hand. White House trade adviser Peter Navarro joined by speakerphone.
Before the discussion ended, Pence stepped out to fetch an outsider for a final briefing about Trump’s Saturday dinner with Chinese president Xi Xinping, which could determine whether the U.S. and China plunge deeper into a potentially disastrous trade war.
That outsider was Michael Pillsbury, a starchy academic at Washington’s conservative Hudson Institute enjoying a remarkable, and unlikely, influence. He has caught the ear of Trump, who during a November press conference proclaimed him “probably the leading authority on China.”
The former Reagan and George H.W. Bush Pentagon official has spent decades in the cold, dismissed by critics as a mix of conspiratorial and self-promoting. But now, current and former Trump officials say he is among the most important voices shaping a confrontational U.S. turn towards China which some analysts fear could trigger a new global cold war.
In addition to occasionally conferring with Pillsbury directly, Trump also catches and approves of his frequent television appearances, in which the China hand often lavishes praise on the president.
Pillsbury — a fluent Mandarin speaker who makes regular visits to China — has sometimes acted as a middle man between the White House and China’s government.
In October, the Wall Street Journal reported that he had discussed Trump’s trade policies — which have recently included mounting tariffs on Chinese goods — with Wang Huiyao, the head of a Beijing think tank with ties to China’s communist leadership. During a September visit to Hudson, Wang publicly unveiled proposals to tamp down the trade fight, which Pillsbury relayed to the Trump White House.
A persistent misconception is that his wealth — reflected in his posh Georgetown home — comes from the Pillsbury flour fortune of “doughboy” fame. 

The New York Times also wrote a piece about Pillsbury which adds some interesting tidbits, including the fact that he plays tennis with Peter Navarro and his house in Georgetown is worth $7.5 million.

A 2005 Wall Street Journal article says that he is a member of the Pillsbury flour family.  It also says that in the 1980s, he lost and regained his security clearance amid allegations of leaking secret information to the press.

When he was 27 years old, Pillsbury joined the RAND Corporation as a China scholar.  At that think tank, he did classified work for the US government.

A few weeks ago, Vice President Mike Pence gave an aggressive at the Hudson Institute that caused Beijing to lash out at the Trump Administration.

Here is a recent Think Tank Watch piece about how the Hudson Institute has become a major anti-China platform.

Monday, December 3, 2018

Think Tank Quickies (#337)

  • New York Times publishes pro-Saudi writers from think tanks that have deep autocratic ties.
  • Robin Niblett: Rediscovering a sense of purpose - the challenge for Western think tanks. 
  • Top Saudi think tank studying possible effects of a breakup of OPEC.
  • IPPA hosts panel on think tank discourse and political change.
  • Healthcare lobbyists use think tanks to battle "Medicare for all?"
  • New GMF report: Why Trumpism will not prevail.
  • New think tank to focus on Cuban heritage. 
  • Hudson Institute brings on NATO Cyber Security Expert Merle Maigre. 
  • Food Tank: The think tank for food.
  • Tory think tank (Adam Smith Institute) unwittingly invited pedophile onto boat with underage guests.