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.