Friday, June 28, 2019

Major US Think Tank Websites Blocked in China

Access to a number of US think tank websites is blocked in China, according to an analysis done by Think Tank Watch using the Comparitech database.

Think tanks that are blocked in China include: Brookings Institution, Wilson Center, Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), Cato Institute, and the Hudson Institute.

Ones that are accessible in China include the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Heritage Foundation, Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), Hoover Institution, Stimson Center, American Enterprise Institute (AEI), Center for Global Development (CGD), and the German Marshall Fund (GMF).

US Vice President Mike Pence postponed a speech planned for June 24 at the Wilson Center (one of the think tanks blocked in China) that was reportedly going to focus on criticizing China's human rights record.  The speech had already been postponed from June 4, the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre.

The Hudson Institute, another think tank blocked in China, has been a popular anti-China platform in the Trump Administration.  As Think Tank Watch has previously noted, renegade Chinese billionaire Guo Wengui met President Donald Trump's former strategist Stephen Bannon after a Hudson event.

The Center for Global Development was among the think tanks recently chided by China for spreading what it says are "false accusations" against its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), but one can still view CGD's website in China.

Although the US does not block any Chinese think tank websites, it has been blocking Chinese scholars from visiting the US over spying fears.

China has established a think tank presence in the US, helps fund a number of think tanks there, and has various other formal relations with US think tanks.

Thursday, June 27, 2019

Minn. Think Tank Official Suspended Over Comments About Somali Refugees

Here is more from the Star Tribune:

Kim Crockett, vice president of a Minnesota think tank, has been placed on an unpaid 30-day disciplinary suspension for comments she made about Somali-Americans in a recent New York Times story examining the resistance to refugee resettlement in St. Cloud.
The article, published Thursday under the headline “ ‘These People Aren’t Coming From Norway’: Refugees in a Minnesota City Face a Backlash,” quoted several anti-immigration activists who are advocating for an increasingly explicit anti-Muslim agenda. Sources sounded off on their fears that the influx of Somali immigrants to the predominantly white region is fundamentally changing the culture.
Crockett, of the Center of the American Experiment, told the reporter that she plans to challenge the resettlement program in court.
On Thursday, the center issued a statement condemning Crockett’s controversial comments.

The Center of the American Experiment is a conservative think tank established in 1990.

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Think Tank Quickies (#352)

  • Canadian think tank Mowat Centre soon closing. 
  • Ways the Economist uses to describe workers at think tanks.
  • 21 directors and senior fellows at European think tanks call on Washington to reconsider its approach to JCPOA with Iran.
  • Brendan Duke: "Greatest strength as a think tank staffer: I diligently print out every paper I should read.  Something to improve on: Actually reading those papers."
  • Vox: In the summer of 2006, a conservative think tank held a discussion with government officials, researchers, and...the producers behind 24.
  • Neera Agrawal of cryptocurrency policy think tank Coin Center: My tombstone will read "think tanks are not trade associations." 
  • Researchers at think tank C4ADS have noticed a funny thing happens when Vladimir Putin gets close to a harbor: The GPS of ships moored there go haywire, placing them many miles away on the runways of nearby airports.
  • Republicans' estimates that the Green New Deal would cost $93 trillion are based on a think tank study that doesn't endorse that total.
  • There is an emergent sanctions-industrial complex - a network of government agencies, law firms, technology providers, and think tanks with a vested interest in the unceasing expansion of sanctions programs.
  • Chinese, Russian think tanks establish joint Arctic Research Center.

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

New Poll: Less Than 4% of UK Public Can Name a Think Tank

Here is more from London-based communications consultancy We Are Flint, which conducted the survey in partnership with research agency Delineate:

New research shows less than 4% (3.74%) of the UK public can name a think tank. The same research revealed that just 60% of the public say they know what a think tank is, but cannot name one. The Adam Smith Institute (1.44%) is the only think tank that more than 1% of the population can name, followed by the Fabian Society (0.85%), and the Bow Group (0.50%).

In 2018, We Are Flint released a poll showing that only one in two Americans actually knows what a think tank is.  Think Tank Watch should note that both polls were conducted online, a method that some say cannot always be trusted.

Friday, June 21, 2019

Bernie Sanders Blasts Third Way Think Tank

Here is more from MarketWatch:

Bernie Sanders is blasting what he calls “the corporate wing of the Democratic Party,” as centrists are reportedly growing more comfortable with Elizabeth Warren and the Massachusetts senator leads her Vermont counterpart in at least one presidential poll.
Linking to a Politico story titled “Warren emerges as potential compromise nominee,” Sanders tweeted, “The cat is out of the bag. The corporate wing of the Democratic Party is publicly ‘anybody but Bernie.’” Sanders said his agenda including Medicare for All and breaking up big banks “is the real threat to the billionaire class.”
The Politico article quotes a co-founder of centrist think tank Third Way, who is critical of “socialist” narratives in the campaign. “We really like the idea of using government to rectify market failure. And that’s what [Warren’s] about,” said the group’s Matt Bennett. 

Here is what above-mentioned Politico story says about Third Day:
Third Way, which isn’t backing a candidate, famously torpedoed Warren in a widely read 2013 op-ed that exposed the party’s ideological fissures on entitlements. “Nothing would be more disastrous for Democrats” than to adhere to Warren’s brand of economic populism, wrote two of the think tank’s leaders in a piece that drew condemnation from progressives.
Today, however, Third Way is learning to live with Warren even as it embarks on a mission to ensure the Democratic nominee doesn’t stray too far to the left.

Time reported that officials from Third Way were among those at a two-day strategy session about the 2020 elections, debating how to keep Sanders from defining the Democratic Party.

Sanders has also been sparring with other think tanks recently, including the Center for American Progress and Foreign Policy for America.

Thursday, June 20, 2019

Could VP's Upcoming Wilson Center Speech Sink a US-China Deal?

Here is more from Bloomberg:

Vice President Mike Pence gave a speech last year that sounded a lot like a new Cold War with China and quickly became one of the most important on Sino-U.S. relations by an American official in recent years. Next Monday, June 24, he’s giving another at the Wilson Center, a talk originally planned for June 4, the 30th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre. There’s a risk that an overly hawkish tone just days before the G-20 could cause Beijing to recoil and jeopardize any hope of a substantive leaders’ meeting.

The speech referred to above was given by Pence in October 2018 at the Hudson Institute, a think tank that has become a major anti-China platform.

Update: The speech has been postponed again.

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Think Tank Quickies (#351)

  • Hunter Biden has served on the board of a number of think tanks.
  • NATO accepting project proposals from think tanks.
  • New America China scholar Samm Sacks declines invitation due to all-male panel; directory of 500 female China scholars.
  • NYU event: Working in NGOs and think tanks with Nate Schenkkan of Freedom House. 
  • Overheard at a think tank event: "What's your philosophy on where to sit at these events."
  • Speed dating between students and European think tanks. 
  • RAND Corp. ran 4,944 simulations on Pittsburgh's future to help plan for climate change. 
  • Rep. Katie Hill (D-CA) attacks Chris Edwards of the Cato Institute.
  • Dr. Lyall Swim: Can think tanks create the inevitable?
  • Deutser Clarity Institute: "A think tank, idea accelerator, and learning lab."

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Renegade Chinese Billionaire Waging Battle That Touches Pair of Think Tanks

Here is more from Politico:

A billionaire at the center of U.S.-China tensions is waging a mysterious legal battle against two D.C. conservatives over a private espionage deal gone bad. The fight touches on a pair of think tanks, a senator’s widow and the capital’s tight-knit group of China hardliners, adding a new chapter to an international saga that has divided the Trump administration and the president’s external allies.
It began when a firm tied to the billionaire, real estate magnate Guo Wengui [who goes by Miles Kwok in the US], allegedly hired a private intelligence firm to dig up dirt on Chinese nationals — including their bank records, porn habits and any illegitimate children — then sued, saying the firm failed to deliver.
In early 2018, the Guo-linked firm hired Strategic Vision, an obscure company led by Washington-area executive French Wallop, to dig up information on several targets, whom the suit does not name.
In addition to Wallop, J. Michael Waller acted as a representative of Strategic Vision, according to a letter the firm submitted to the court. Waller is a vice president at the far-right Center for Security Policy, a think tank founded by Frank Gaffney, a national security activist known for his conspiratorial hostility to Islam
Guo was introduced to Strategic Vision by Lianchao Han, a dissident activist and visiting fellow at the conservative Hudson Institute.

As Think Tank Watch previously reported, President Donald Trump's former strategist Stephen Bannon met Guo Wengui after a Hudson Institute event was cancelled last year.

Monday, June 17, 2019

Trump Hotel to Host Climate-Denial Think Tank Conference

Here is more from ThinkProgress:

In late July, climate science deniers will descend upon the Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C. — located right across the street from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) — to attend the Heartland Institute’s annual climate conference. The theme this year is “Best Science, Winning Energy Policies.
When Trump announced in June 2016 that the United States would withdraw from the Paris climate deal, representatives from longtime anti-climate action groups like Koch-funded think tanks the American Energy Alliance, the Competitive Enterprise Institute, and the Heritage Foundation were all present in the Rose Garden.
Many of these same think tanks will be attending Heartland‘s conference next month, where speakers will offer up policy ideas “to lead a post-alarmist world in climate realism” as well as discussing “the benefits of ending the Democrats’ war on fossil fuels.”
Heartland’s conference comes as the head of the group, former Republican Kansas Rep. Tim Huelskamp, abruptly stepped down last week, just two years after taking the position, while offering no explanation. The think tank has in recent years faced funding uncertainties, with even ExxonMobil no longer donating to the organization. As head of Heartland, Heulskamp focused on energy policy and promoting coal at the state level as opposed to vocal attacks on climate science as his predecessor Joseph Bast did.
The news of Huelskamp leaving his post comes shortly after another Koch-funded libertarian think tank, the Cato Institute, quietly announced it was disbanding its climate denial program, the Center for the Study of Science. A Cato spokesperson at the time, however, said this didn’t change the organization’s stance on human-caused climate change.

Heartland has been working for years to unravel environmental rules. The think tank has also played a major role in staffing various EPA posts within the Trump Administration.

Friday, June 14, 2019

New Trend: Deepfake Think Tank Scholars

As if the think tank industry didn't already have enough to worry about, now comes a new concern that is sending shivers down the spine of the scholarly world: foreign spies using AI-generated images and posing as think tankers to lure targets.

Here is more from the Associated Press:

Katie Jones sure seemed plugged into Washington’s political scene. The 30-something redhead boasted a job at a top think tank and a who’s-who network of pundits and experts, from the centrist Brookings Institution to the right-wing Heritage Foundation. She was connected to a deputy assistant secretary of state, a senior aide to a senator and the economist Paul Winfree, who is being considered for a seat on the Federal Reserve.
But Katie Jones doesn’t exist, The Associated Press has determined. Instead, the persona was part of a vast army of phantom profiles lurking on the professional networking site LinkedIn. And several experts contacted by the AP said Jones’ profile picture appeared to have been created by a computer program.
Experts who reviewed the Jones profile’s LinkedIn activity say it’s typical of espionage efforts on the professional networking site, whose role as a global Rolodex has made it a powerful magnet for spies.
The Jones profile was first flagged by Keir Giles, a Russia specialist with London’s Chatham House think tank. Giles was recently caught up in an entirely separate espionage operation targeting critics of the Russian antivirus firm Kaspersky Lab. So when he received an invitation from Katie Jones on LinkedIn he was suspicious.
She claimed to have been working for years as a “Russia and Eurasia fellow” at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, but Giles said that, if that were true, “I ought to have heard of her.”
CSIS spokesman Andrew Schwartz told the AP that “no one named Katie Jones works for us.”

Here is a Think Tank Watch piece from 2015 about fake think tanks.  In November 2018, Think Tank Watch noted that hackers had been impersonating US State Department officials in order to attack think tanks.  We also reported on fake Chinese think tank accounts used for spying.  There have also been several instances of people impersonating think tank scholars online.

Here is a 2017 Think Tank Watch story about another 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.

Was the White House's internal think tank a fake think tank?

Other problems that think tanks recently have had to deal with include: a serious spearphishing campaign, Chinese hackers, 2020 presidential candidates plagiarizing their work, China blocking US think tank scholars from entering the country, Russian hackers, pressure over funding sources, the leaking of emails, being targeted by Iran, gender inequality problems, illegal think tanking, and deceptive information operations.

Here is a recent Brookings piece on AI and deepfakes.

On a lighter note, here is a parody video of think tankers from another "fake" think tank: The Institute for the Promotion of War.  However, we tend to prefer the work of the Center for Advanced Bullshit Studies.

Monday, June 10, 2019

Think Tank's Influential Media Unit Bleeding Money, Staff

Here is more from The Daily Beast:

ThinkProgress, the website that is a project of the Democratic Party’s primary think tank, is facing dire financial troubles and bleeding staff, according to primary-source documents viewed by The Daily Beast.
A budget document provided to ThinkProgress management and obtained by The Daily Beast showed that the website was expecting a roughly $3 million gulf between revenue and expenses for 2019. ThinkProgress has never been a revenue generator, and has often made up for its deficits through fundraising efforts and funds from its mothership entity, the Center for American Progress (CAP). But the current outlook is significantly worse than ever before.
According to the document, advertising revenue is projected to fall $350,000 short of what was budgeted this year, and online contributions are expected to fall short by nearly $180,000. The site is projected to have about $64,000 in grant revenue (money derived from donations to CAP and meant for coverage by ThinkProgress) in 2019. That’s roughly $60,000 short of what it had budgeted for the year and roughly $540,000 less than it received in 2018. 
In the face of these falling revenue streams, ThinkProgress has seen payroll drop by 12 percent from its peak level in 2019 and “salary growth” by 5 percent, according to the document. Among those leaving is the site’s managing editor, Tara Culp-Ressler, who announced her departure last week
The numbers paint a grim picture for one of the better-known, unapologetically progressive media platforms. And it has been exacerbated by what a source described as a failure of leadership at CAP to provide answers about “the short- and long-term future of the site.” ThinkProgress is editorially independent from CAP and the accompanying Center for American Progress Action Fund, but operates within its organizational umbrella.
ThinkProgress launched in 2005 and quickly made a name for itself as a liberal-minded blog and sharp critic of the George W. Bush administration. Along the way, it became a launching pad for prominent political and journalism careers. Its former editor in chief, Faiz Shakir, is Sen. Bernie Sanders’ (I-VT) 2020 campaign manager.

Talking of Sen. Sanders, he has been none too happy with CAP, particularly in recent months.

As Think Tank Watch previously noted, ThinkProgress staff unionized back in 2015.

Sunday, June 9, 2019

Think Tank Quickies (#350)

  • New USIP report on extremism in fragile states says war on terror has cost US $5.9 trillion.
  • Trump pulls plug on Fed pic Stephen Moore, a habituĂ© of conservative think tanks.
  • Silicon Valley-funded privacy think tanks fight in DC to unravel state-level consumer privacy protections. 
  • Russian think tanks and foreign policy-making.
  • 2019 ranking of free-market think tanks measured by social media impact.
  • Conservative think tank Hamilton Flourishing launched to help nudge Chattanooga area public policy toward right.
  • Bernie Sanders video: "Check out who funds the think tanks." 
  • Max Blumenthal: US military attack on Venezuela mulled by top Trump advisors and Latin American officials at private meeting at think tank CSIS (attendees list included).
  • The history of women at think tank Chatham House.
  • NYU event: Working at NGOs and think tanks. 
  • Conservative think tanks urge Republicans to oppose Sen. Lamar Alexander's "New Manhattan Project."

Saturday, June 8, 2019

2020 Democrats Lifting Material from Think Tanks

Here is more from Politico:

Twenty-four hours after Joe Biden’s campaign was taken to task for lifting portions of a climate change plan without citation, it’s clear that the former vice president has plenty of company.
A sampling of policy proposals from Biden’s leading rivals suggests the lifting of direct text from academic papers, think tanks or policy institutes — and the cribbing of facts without attribution — is fairly widespread on 2020 campaign websites.

Politicians often rely on think tanks specializing in certain issues for facts and legislative ideas.

People plagiarizing from think tanks and think tanks plagiarizing from others is quite prevalent.  Years ago, CNN's Fareed Zakaria was accused of plagiarizing from think tanks.  Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) was also accused of plagiarizing from various think tanks.

Even think tank CEOs have been accused of plagiarism.  Non-US think tanks have also been accused of plagiarism.