Monday, September 30, 2019

Head of McCain Institute Steps Down as Envoy to Ukraine

Here is more from the Arizona Republic:

Kurt Volker, executive director of the Arizona-based McCain Institute, resigned Friday as the Trump administration's special envoy to Ukraine amid questions over his dealings with the president's attorney and ahead of a congressional interview stemming from the impeachment inquiry.
Volker quit the unpaid position with the State Department, according to Arizona State University President Michael Crow, who told The Arizona Republic his staff discussed the matter with Volker.
Volker will remain with ASU's McCain Institute for International Leadership, said Luke Knittig, an institute spokesman.

Volker has headed the McCain Institute since its founding in 2012.  He has been a Senior Fellow at the Center for Transatlantic Relations at Johns Hopkins University and a Senior Advisor at the think tank Atlantic Council since 2009.

Here is his biography from the McCain Institute.

Thursday, September 26, 2019

The Largest Consumer of Think Tank Reports in the White House

Stephen Miller, a senior advisor for policy for President Donald Trump, may be the largest consumer of think tank reports in the entire White House.  Here is more from the Washington Post:

[Stephen] Miller often launches into pedantic arguments with others in the White House, citing lengthy, arcane statistics that he mentally stores like munitions.  He reads "every economic analysis, every think tank paper, every Wall Street Journal editorial on immigration," said a colleague.

That appears to be the opposite of President Trump, who is not the biggest fan of think tanks.

Monday, September 16, 2019

CFR Flags Fake Think Tanker

Here is what Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) scholar Robert Knake unearthed:

Despite what his profile says, Sean Brown does not work at the Council on Foreign Relations. I know this because I work there. But LinkedIn doesn’t actually know that either.
Sean Brown in fact appears not to exist. The photo does not match any existing photos that Google’s photo search picture could identify. Analysis by fotoforensics, if I’m interpreting the analysis correctly, suggests that the image has been heavily photoshopped. Sean Brown is likely one of the accounts created by foreign intelligence agencies for recruitment as documented recently in the New York Times.
I reported the account as fake about a week ago, as did CFR’s CIO. But Sean Brown’s profile is still up, and he is slowly building connections. Right now, a lot of people are likely suspicious of the request to connect given his low number of connections. But as a few at a time connect, his profile will soon seem very real.

The profile has now been removed, although many other fake profiles are out there.

Think Tank Watch has written extensively about fake think tanks and fake think tank scholars.

Friday, September 13, 2019

Think Tank Quickies (#359)

  • Stock image sites don't know what a think tank is. 
  • WaPo: Women are mysteriously missing from DC think tanks' foreign policy panels.
  • CSIS finds new military technology being developed by North Korea.
  • Think tank warning from Pew: A majority of Americans (58%) say they trust scientific findings less if they know the research was funded by industry groups.
  • Japanese think tank estimate of cost of Fukushima disaster drastically different from government estimate.
  • Name a job that you can completely suck at and still keep your job.  Max Blumenthal: Beltway think tank senior fellow.
  • Dr. James McGann releasing new think tank book: "Think Tanks: The New Knowledge and Policy Brokers in Asia."
  • Bernie Sanders slams think tanks again.
  • Some people not happy at think tank jobs.
  • Eleanor Barkhorn observation: Many fitness trainers in DC work as think tankers.

Thursday, September 12, 2019

BBC Updates Editorial Guidelines to Improve Scrutiny of Think Tanks

Here is more from DeSmog UK:

The BBC has altered its editorial guidelines after persistent calls for the organisation to improve transparency around the commentators to which it gives a platform.
The broadcaster has now added “think tanks” to a list of groups that it says presenters and producers should “not automatically assume … are unbiased”.  “Appropriate information about their affiliations, funding and particular viewpoints should be made available to the audience, when relevant to the context,” the guidelines say.
The change could have significant ramifications for representatives of anti-regulation, pro-Brexit think tanks and campaign groups based in and around offices at 55 Tufton Street, including the UK's principal climate science denial campaign group the Global Warming Policy Foundation, on which DeSmog has extensively reported.
This follows pressure from journalists including the Observer’s Carole Cadwalladr. She has long fought for the funding and ideology of groups including Vote Leave, Leave.EU, the Institute of Economic Affairs, Taxpayers’ Alliance, and other Tufton Street groups to be made clear when they appear on the BBC’s programmes.

BBC's guidelines concerning impartiality, including those related to think tanks, can be found here.

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Think Tank Quickies (#358)

  • Inside a Trump-era purge of military scientists at a legendary think tank (Jason).
  • How a trio of conservative think tanks rewired American political thought.
  • Therapist: What mental goals do you set for yourself?  Me: I start every day out by unsubscribing from at least three think tank email lists.
  • Knight Foundation invests $6 million in three think tanks to support research on the future of US technology policy.
  • FBI Director: Need help of think tanks to raise US's resilience. 
  • Thread from Justin Logan (formerly of Cato) about think tank ethics.
  • Jessica Trisko-Darden, former model and beauty queen who is a fellow at AEI, joins GWU Program on Extremism.
  • CGSS: The role of think tanks in nation-building.
  • JPMorgan Chase Institute brings think tankers together for second annual Conference on Economic Research.

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Former House Speaker Paul Ryan to Join AEI

Politico is reporting that former House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) is joining the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) as a Distinguished Visiting Fellow in the practice of public policy.

There had been many rumors that Ryan would become president of the conservative think tank after Arthur Brooks left, but instead, Robert Doar was tapped for that position.

It was recently reported that Ryan is leaving his home of Janesville, Wisconsin to rent a house in the Maryland suburbs of Washington, DC.  Politico also noted that Ryan has some type of new think tank-like entity called the American Idea Foundation that will remain in Wisconsin.

Update: Here is a press release from AEI.

Monday, September 9, 2019

CFR Used to Promote Dubious Philanthropy?

Think tanks are often used by companies and other entities to promote an idea, proposal, or philosophy.  Other times, they are used for more nefarious reasons.  Here is more from the New York Times:

In 2014, Ghislaine Maxwell spoke at a Council on Foreign Relations event in Washington, D.C. She was there in her capacity as the founder of the TerraMar Project, an oceanic conservation group she started in 2012, according to a C.F.R. spokeswoman.
The C.F.R. is one of the world’s most prestigious nonprofit think tanks. Among its officers and directors then were David Rockefeller, one of the modern era’s most revered philanthropists; Colin Powell; and Robert Rubin, the secretary of the Treasury under Bill Clinton.
The TerraMar Project was an organization with an opaque website and a founder who happened to be the ex-girlfriend of Jeffrey Epstein, the mysterious money manager who — in addition to being one of the C.F.R.’s “Chairman’s Circle” donors for at least six years — had pleaded guilty in 2008 to state charges of soliciting prostitution from a minor.

The article goes on to note that in 2013, Ms. Maxwell went to Iceland for a conference about the Arctic Circle, an event attended by Scott Borgerson, a onetime CFR fellow.  He reportedly appeared with Ms. Maxwell at the 2014 talk at CFR and became her boyfriend.

Update: The Washington Post has reported that in his 15 years as a member of CFR, Epstein attended only two events but had given the think tank $350,000 in the group's top-level donor category, the Chairman's Circle.

Thursday, September 5, 2019

Iran Sanctions Think Tank FDD and US Think Tankers Fight Back

In a rare move, Iran has sanctioned a little-known US think tank that has played an outsized role in imposing US sanctions on Iran.  Here is more:

Iran has blacklisted the US-based think tank Foundation for Defense of Democracies and its chief Mark Dubowitz on accusations of being behind “economic terrorism” against the Islamic Republic.
The Iranian foreign ministry said in a statement issued late Saturday that it had “added the so-called Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD) and its director to the sanctions list.”
“The American institution with the deceitful name” and Dubowitz were accused of being involved in “designing, imposing and intensifying the impacts of economic terrorism against Iran,” it said, without detailing the specific alleged actions.

Here is a statement on the sanctions from Iran's Tasnim News Agency.

In response, 70 think tank scholars have come out in support of FDD.  All the signatories can be found here.

How did a small think tank get so famous in Iran?

Here is a previous Think Tank Watch post on how FDD sank the Iran nuclear deal.

Here is WaPo's Jason Rezaian in a piece entitled "Death to think tanks?  The latest in Iran's pointless campaign."

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) and its ambassador to the US, Yousef al-Otaiba, have close ties to FDD.

In related news, Negar Razavi writes that there is a systematic problem of Iran expertise in Washington think tanks.

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Think Tank Quickies (#357)

  • Is Washington more of a college town than a think tank town?
  • Prospect think tank awards have arrived.
  • How Tope Folarin of Institute for Policy Studies (IPS) went from policy wonk to novelist.
  • New CNAS study: China's military power close to parity with US.
  • Alice Rivlin spent much of her career bouncing back and forth between Brookings and top government posts. 
  • What does a libertarian think tank art show look like?
  • Why crowded think tank conferences make you so tired.
  • Victoria Nuland, former US Assistant Secretary of State, joins Brookings, and so does former prime minister of Italy, Paolo Gentiloni.
  • Carnegie Endowment launches new cybersecurity tool; Hewlett Foundation gives Carnegie $2 million for work on international cyber policy.
  • Richard Fontaine becomes executive director of Trilateral Commission.

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

Think Tank Unirule Cracks Under Chinese Pressure

Here is more from Bloomberg:

One of China’s most prominent independent think tanks will cease operations after years of attempts by government officials to silence it.
The Unirule Institute of Economics, which advocated free-market economic theories and is well known in U.S. academic circles, has decided to shut down after district officials in Beijing declared that it was operating without authorization, the organization said in a statement dated Aug. 26. Although Unirule said it intends to fight the government determinations, it will nonetheless halt its activities and stop updating its website apart from notices relevant to the winding-down process.
The end of Unirule closes down one of the last venues for open debate on economic issues in China. Founded in the early 1990s by a pair of celebrated Chinese economists, Mao Yushi and Sheng Hong, Unirule once enjoyed a broad following in business and political circles, producing widely read analyses of government policies and financial issues. But that changed dramatically under President Xi Jinping, who has implemented a broad crackdown on dissent since taking power in 2012.

Here is how the Wall Street Journal reported on Unirule's closing, and here is what The Economist had to say.