Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Think Tanker from Niskanen Center Fired Over Tweet

Here is more from Fox News (this happened back in January):

A contributing opinion writer for The New York Times was fired from his think tank job Thursday over a tweet that jokingly suggested former Vice President Mike Pence be lynched in order to unify the country. 

Now-former Niskanen Center Vice President for Research Will Wilkinson raised eyebrows Wednesday night when he offered some tongue-in-cheek advice for President Biden following his inaugural address call for unity.

"If Biden really wanted unity, he'd lynch Mike Pence," Wilkinson tweeted.  On Thursday, Wilkinson deleted the tweet and issued an apology. 

The apology was not good enough for the Niskanen Center, which said in a statement that it "appreciates and encourages interesting and provocative online discourse."

"However, we draw the line at statements that are, or can in any way be interpreted as condoning or promoting violence. As such, the Niskanen Center has, with a heavy heart, parted ways with Will Wilkinson. We thank him for his valuable contributions to the organization and wish him success in his future endeavors."


Here is a piece from Reason entitled "Cancel Culture Comes for Will Wilkinson."

Monday, March 29, 2021

Tiny Belgium Think Tank Making Waves

It may not have the name recognition of the Heritage Foundation and Brookings Institution, or the foreign policy chops of a think tank like Atlantic Council, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, or Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), but a tiny Belgium policy shop could be the most important think tank of March 2021.

The Knowledge Center for Maneuvering in Shallow and Confined Water, a think tank housed within Belgium's Ghent University, has received outsized attention in the wake of the Ever Given container ship being stuck in the Suez Canal.

The think tank was established to "fix, extend, and provide scientific know-how on the behavior of vessels in shallow or confined navigation areas."  Its URL is https://www.shallowwater.be.  And as far as Think Tank Watch knows, it is the only think tank with its own towing tank.

Twitter is abuzz with delight.  One commentator says it was a missed opportunity that they didn't choose the name "Licensed to Keel."  Another said it is more like a "sink tank" than a think tank.  Another said that its motto should be "we don't have deep thoughts."  Another said, "it's not a think tank it's a think tanker."

We're just glad that the think tank is making waves because a rising tide lifts all boats.

Heritage Foundation Turns Down 6-Figure Donations After Taking 7-Figure Donation

 Here is more from Axios:

Flagship conservative think tank the Heritage Foundation turned down a pair of six-figure contributions last year from tech giants Google and Facebook, Axios has learned.

What's new: Outgoing Heritage president Kay Coles James wrote pointed letters to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Google CEO Sundar Pichai in late October turning down their contributions.

  • The letters, which Heritage provided to Axios, formally rejected a $225,000 contribution from Google and noted that it would be returning a $150,000 donation from Facebook.
  • "We cannot in good conscience take money from a company that repeatedly, and blatantly, suppresses conservative speech on your platforms," said the letter to Pichai, language closely mirrored in the note to Zuckerberg.
  • Heritage accused Facebook of blocking referral traffic to the foundation's news and opinion website, and Google of censoring its YouTube videos, including by appending a disclaimer on one pre-election video "meant to cast doubt on the credibility of our well-sourced claims about the risks of voting by mail."
  • The Zuckerberg letter also noted Facebook's decision to temporarily limit the reach of New York Post story on the contents of Hunter Biden's laptop just weeks before the election.

Flashback: According to a Heritage spokesperson, Google had previously donated a total of $1.55 million to the group. Facebook had contributed $275,000.

  • Contributions to Heritage in 2019 alone totaled more than $87 million, according to its financial statements for the year.


In other words, the Heritage Foundation is keeping roughly 85% of the money that Google has given the think tank and it is returning around 15%.

Last week, it was announced that Heritage's president and EVP would be stepping down from the think tank.

Thursday, March 25, 2021

The Collapse of Liberty University's Think Tank?

 Here is more from the New York Times:

When the Falkirk Center think tank was established at Liberty University in Virginia in 2019, it quickly became the de facto headquarters of evangelical Trumpism on a campus that had risen to national prominence.

Past and present fellows have included Sebastian Gorka, the radio host Eric Metaxas, and the former Trump lawyer Jenna Ellis. Mr. Rudy Giuliani, the former president's lawyer, appeared on a podcast episode titled “Is the Election Really Over?” that aired the week after the election.

Now, less than two years later, Falkirk’s high-profile founders are gone, and Liberty is rethinking the center’s future in a post-Trump world.

The university quietly opted last fall not to renew the contract of Charlie Kirk, the combative young conservative activist who started the Falkirk Center with Jerry Falwell Jr., the son of Liberty’s founder. Mr. Falwell resigned as university president in August in the wake of a multipronged scandal that included allegations of sexual impropriety.

Liberty refers to the Falkirk Center as a “think tank,” although it has produced no traditional scholarship or academic research. Instead, it produces a podcast and videos on hot-button political and cultural topics, and is known for its aggressive social media presence.

The center, which is funded and owned by the university, also placed at least $50,000 worth of political ads on Facebook promoting Mr. Trump and other Republican candidates in the run-up to the election last fall, according to Politico.

Its rotating assortment of “fellows” do not have consistently defined responsibilities.


Here is a previous Think Tank Watch piece about the launch of the Falkirk Center, and here is a post about how the think tank supported the Trump campaign.

Wednesday, March 24, 2021

China Sanctions Europe's Leading Think Tank on China

On March 22, China announced that it sanctioned 10 European individuals and four entities, including a European think tank and several scholars, citing "severe harm to China's sovereignty and interests and the malicious spreading of lies and disinformation."

Berlin, Germany-based think tank Mercator Institute for China Studies (MERICS), one of the entities sanctioned, issued a statement saying it regrets China's decision and rejects all allegations.  MERICS was founded in 2013 by Stiftung Mercator, one of Germany's largest private foundations.

MERICS partners with numerous research institutions and consulting firms overseas, including the US-based Rhodium Group.

Together with the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), MERICS set up the China Security Project in 2017.  The project develops insights on China's defense and security policies, industries, global power projection capabilities, and implications for Europe and NATO.

MERICS has also supported the Center for a New American Security (CNAS) in launching the Technology Alliance Project.  And since 2018, MERICS has been a partner of the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in the Allied Economic Forum.

Mr. Simon Rabinovitch, a journalist for The Economist, said he was "stunned to see China's list of European sanctions include MERICS of all places: Europe's biggest think tank devoted to China."  MERICS calls itself "Europe's leading China think tank."

Here is a recent infographic that MERICS published on the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).

Here is MERICS' "Global China Inc. Tracker."

Last year, China threatened to sue German researcher Adrian Zenz (who was one of the individuals China just sanctioned) along with the think tank Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI).

China recently released a video warning about foreign think tanks.

Update: Here is a joint statement by European think tank directors on the sanctions.  CSIS scholars have also released a statement in support of MERICS.

Tuesday, March 23, 2021

Heritage Foundation President & EVP Stepping Down

Heritage Foundation President Kay Coles James along with the conservative think tank's EVP Kim Holmes announced their resignation on March 22.

A press release says that James will be staying on a president for up to six months until a replacement is found, after which she will become a Heritage distinguished visiting fellow.  She will also remain on the think tanks' board of trustees.

Here is the reason James said they were stepping down:

“When we came on board as the executive leadership team three years ago, we set several goals and told Heritage’s board of trustees that we would serve for three to five years to see them through,” said James. “We accomplished everything we set out to do. Now it’s time to let someone else take the reins.”

Mrs. James became president of Heritage on Jan. 1, 2018 and has been a trustee of Heritage's board since 2005.  Holmes, whose resignation is effective April 16, joined Heritage in 1985, left for a stint in the George W. Bush White House, and later returned to Heritage.

Here is what Reuters added:

James took the helm of the think tank after former President Jim DeMint was fired in 2018 after the organization’s leadership determined he had veered too far from its conservative principals and too close to then-President Donald Trump’s White House.

The foundation shapes policy in Republican administrations and congressional districts, and many members of the Trump White House were affiliates.

After Trump lost the 2020 election, former Vice President Mike Pence and Department of Homeland Security officials Chad Wolf, Ken Cuccinelli and Mark Morgan joined the think tank as visiting fellows.

In a March opinion article for the foundation, Pence warned of “significant voting irregularities” in the 2020 election, despite dozens of lawsuits alleging these irregularities being tossed by judges nationwide for lack of proof.


The Wall Street Journal Editorial Board praised Mrs. James and took a swipe at former Heritage president Jim DeMint, who it said "downplayed ideas in favor of transforming Heritage into a political action committee."

Here is a Real Clear Politics piece which mentions some possible replacements for James, and here is a piece from former Heritage lawyer Andrew Kloster with lots of juicy gossip.

Here is a previous Think Tank Watch piece from 2017 about reaction to to the announcement that Kay Coles James would become president of Heritage.

James will be one of a number of think tank leaders resigning this year at major US think tanks.

Heritage Foundation, founded in 1973, calls itself the US's most broadly supported think tank, with more than 500,000 members.

Monday, March 22, 2021

Think Tank Quickies (#404)

  • Expert directory: 600 female voices on Greater China. 
  • Think tankers abound on American Leadership Initiative board.
  • Colin Kahl, Biden's nominee for Under Secretary of Defense for Policy, and a former Senior Fellow at CNAS and CFR, comes under fire from Republicans over past tweets.
  • Aggregator of EU think tank reports.
  • More than one-third of US nonprofits are in jeopardy of closing within two years because of the financial harm inflicted by the pandemic, says Candid and the Center for Disaster Philanthropy.
  • Tokyo is planning to establish a new think tank to apply commercial technologies, such as quantum technology and AI, to the national security field in FY 2021.
  • Think tanks in politically embedded knowledge regimes: does the "revolving door" matter in China?
  • US Mission in Nepal soliciting proposals for grants or cooperative agreements from think tanks.
  • Nate Schenkkan of Freedom House: "The problem with website metrics for think tanks is at least half of the clicks are the report authors looking it up to email to someone."
  • Robert Blackwill, a former national security aide to George W. Bush, co-authored a new paper for CFR, "The United States, China and Taiwan: A Strategy to Prevent War."

Sunday, March 21, 2021

Heritage Foundation Mocked for Defending British Monarchy

 Here is more from Newsweek:

One of the U.S.'s most powerful conservative think tanks is being mocked for its plans to host a March 25 event that defends the British monarchy and blasts the "radical left" for undermining American democracy.

Confused critics and left-leaning Americans are questioning the underlying "conservative" principles of the Heritage Foundation after the powerful nonprofit announced it's hosting an event entitled "The Crown Under Fire: Why the Left's Campaign to Cancel the Monarchy and Undermine a Cornerstone of Western Democracy Will Fail." Political pundits noted on Saturday that opposition to the British monarchy is "about as foundationally American as you can get," but a recent interview of Meghan Markle and Prince Harry by Oprah Winfrey revealed an unabashedly pro-monarchy embrace of the Crown by many of today's U.S. conservatives.


Heritage's event will take place on March 25 and is being hosted by James Jay Carafano, Vice President of the think tank's Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute.  It will be moderated by Dr. Joseph Loconte, Director of the think tank's Simon Center for American Studies.

The panelists include: Rt Hon Sir Iain Duncan Smith MP, former leader of the UK Conservative Party and Founding Chairman of The Centre for Social Justice; Camilla Tominey, Associate Editor of the London Daily Telegraph and Royal Expert and Commentator; Tim Montgomerie, Political Commentator and Founder of ConservativeHome; and Dr. Nile Gardiner, Director of the Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom and Bernard and Barbara Lomas fellow.

In related news, the Center for a New American Security (CNAS) will be hosting an event with the Rt Hon Ben Wallace MP, UK's Secretary of State for Defense.

Friday, March 19, 2021

Congress Pushing for More Transparency on Foreign Funding of US Think Tanks

As foreign governments continue to flood US think tanks with money, some in the US Congress are demanding more transparency to shine a light on the influence that these entities have over policy shops.

Here is more from National Review:

A group of House Republicans [is introducing a] bill that subjects think tanks and research institutions to stricter disclosure requirements. If their proposal, set to be announced by Representative Lance Gooden and the Republican Study Committee — which initially called for these reforms in June — becomes law, it stands a chance at complicating...foreign-influence operations.

The Gooden bill will require think tanks to report any donations from foreign governments and political parties that exceed $50,000 annually, though its introduction reflects a growing concern on Capitol Hill about the CCP’s foreign-influence campaigns in particular.

The Gooden bill, in addition to making those disclosures mandatory above $50,000, requires that the Treasury Department create a publicly accessible database displaying the relevant think tanks’ ties to foreign governments.


Here is a press release about the bill from Lance Gooden (R-TX), and here is the text of the bill, which was introduced along with Jim Banks (R-IN) and Joe Wilson (R-SC).

Ben Freeman, Director of the Foreign Influence Transparency Initiative (FITI), said the language in the bill is "precisely what was recommended in its report entitled "Foreign Funding of Think Tanks in America."

Think Tank Watch should note that most major US think tanks already disclose their donors, including foreign governments.  However, some that do disclose will often release only a partial list of major donors above a certain monetary threshold, obfuscate certain donors as "anonymous," or even purposely leave certain donors off the list.

And as with anything that becomes law, there would be numerous loopholes.  For example, many think tankers often work at or run their own for-profit consultancies where money from foreign governments and other entities can be funneled to, thus avoiding any disclosure requirements.

Update: Here is a piece by Quincy Institute Senior Advisor Eli Clifton about the newly introduced bill.

Thursday, March 18, 2021

Koch Funding is Reshaping Washington's Think Tank Scene

While US government funding and foreign government funding of US think tanks continues to play an increasing role in think tank funding, corporate-tied funding is as influential as ever.  And there are few bigger names in think tank funding than Koch.

The recent kerfuffle at Atlantic Council exposed huge problems in the think tank world, highlighting how scholars are often beholden to their donors and will stop at nothing to defend their turf - even if it means axing their fellow think tank colleagues to keep that money flowing.

Here is more from The Washington Free Beacon about the influence of Koch money:

The controversial view that caused last week's kerfuffle—that the United States should look the other way on the human rights violations of its adversaries—is espoused by the scholars who sit atop virtually every Koch-funded program, the result of an aggressive and explicit push to undermine what remains of the country's foreign policy consensus and replace it with a different one. 

Over the past several years, Charles Koch Institute vice president William Ruger, President Donald Trump's failed nominee to be ambassador to Afghanistan, has approached virtually every major think tank in the city offering to fund proponents of "restraint," according to a dozen think-tank sources familiar with the situation.

Organizations from the Atlantic Council to the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, the International Crisis Group, the Center for the National Interest, and the Eurasia Group Foundation have taken Ruger and the Charles Koch Institute up on the offer. The list goes on: the Cato Institute, the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft, and, as of last year, even the government-funded RAND Corporation.


While working for the Charles Koch Institute, Mr. Ruger is also a Research Fellow in Foreign Policy at the Cato Institute.  Charles Koch, the founder and primary financier of the Charles Koch Institute, is Chairman and CEO of Koch Industries, one of the largest privately held American companies.

The article notes that a handful of DC think tanks, including the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), have turned down the Koch money, "pointing privately to the Kochs' insistence on approving the scholars who would be hired with the funds."  However, CSIS spokesman Andrew Schwartz admitted that the think tank has "on occasion performed some small project work" that has been funded by Koch. 

Here is a previous Think Tank Watch piece about how Koch money helped fund the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft.

Here is a Politico piece entitled "Koch Showers Millions on Think Tanks to Push a Restrained Foreign Policy."

Wednesday, March 17, 2021

Is This Little Magazine More Influential Than Any Think Tank?

There is a little magazine that is arguably more influential than any publication that any think tank in the United States produces.  Here is more from the New York Times:

It has only 500 subscribers. And yet Democracy: A Journal of Ideas, a 15-year-old quarterly run by a three-person staff out of a small office blocks from the White House, may be one of the most influential publications of the post-Trump era.

Six of President Biden’s 25 Cabinet-level officials and appointees, including the secretary of state and the chief of staff, as well as many other high-level administration members, have published essays in its pages, floating theories that may now be translated into policy.

Democracy’s print edition has no photos or illustrations, and its website is bare-bones. It has no podcast, and the titles of its articles — “Meritocracy and Its Discontents”; “How to End Wage Stagnation”; “Defend Multilateralism: It’s What People Want” — are not exactly the stuff of clickbait.

It is also not one of those publications with a big social presence, hosting public policy discussions at the Hyatt rather than cocktail parties for the Georgetown set.


The article notes that Anne-Marie Slaughter, the chief executive of the think tank New America, is a member of Democracy's editorial advisory committee.

Monday, March 15, 2021

Will States Start Forcing Think Tanks to Disclose Foreign Funding?

Here is more about what is going on in Florida: 

Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said China’s theft of intellectual property is among the nation’s most pervasive threats as he outlined proposed legislation Monday to limit its influence in Florida.

The proposal would require universities to report any gifts of $50,000 from a foreign source and more thoroughly screen foreign applicants for research positions. Research institutes would have to report all work-related travel to foreign counties.

It would also require any company that wants to do business with the state or apply for grants to disclose financial ties worth more than $50,000 with China, Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Russia, Syria or Venezuela.


According to a press release, the requirements would impact "every higher education institution, including their DSO's and foundations," meaning that some university-affiliated think tanks could be impacted if the legislation in ultimately enacted.

Friday, March 12, 2021

Think Tank Quickies (#403)

  • Wilson Center announces a new Brazil-U.S. Dialogue on Sustainability and Climate Change in partnership with the Concertação Pela Amazônia.
  • Rep. Jamie Raskin's (D-MD) father, Marcus Raskin, co-founded the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS). 
  • Foreign policy think tank (Estonian Council on Foreign Relations) created by Estonian ex-ministers and former Estonian president Toomas Hendrik Ilves.
  • BPC launches new task force aimed at modernizing infrastructure.
  • Congressional testimonies of think tank economists by affiliation. 
  • Dr. James McGann's new book: The Future of Think Tanks and Policy Advice Around the World. 
  • FITI currently researching South Korea, Taiwan, and Saudi lobbies.
  • Pic: When the think tank event runs out of sandwiches.
  • Is there a single think tank in Brussels that does not get money from Google or Facebook or Amazon or Apple or Microsoft?
  • "I really hope for an 'Emily in DC' episode where someone at a think tank Q&A stands up and says 'I have more of a comment than a question' and then the entire episode is just a 30-minute comment."

Thursday, March 11, 2021

Think Tank Disagrees With Itself. Chaos Ensues.

Debates happen all the time at think tanks as scholars debate other scholars both within their own think tank and outside the think tank.

But what happened this week at the Atlantic Council went beyond the norms of think tank debate and spilled out into the open, highlighting simmering tensions within the highly-regarded think tank.

The tensions came to a boiling point after Emma Ashford and Mathew Burrows published a piece entitled "Reality Check #4: Focus on interests, not on human rights with Russia," in which they argue that the Biden Administration should focus on more important issues in the US-Russia relationship rather than human rights-related sanctions.

Of course, that is a no-no for most within in the NATO-friendly think thank, whose scholars almost unanimously take a very aggressive stance toward Russia and favor a pile-on of more sanctions.  Plus, the think tank gets major funding from a number of foreign governments that have imposed and are continuing to impose more sanctions on Russia.

As a response to Dr. Ashford and Dr. Burrows, 22 Atlantic Council scholars penned a piece, published on the think tank's website, saying that that the article is "premised on a false assumption that human rights and national interests are wholly separate and the US policy toward Russia was and remains driven by human rights concerns principally."

The 22 scholars added that they "disagree" with the article's "arguments and values" and "disassociate" themselves from the report.

It was a breathtaking move of dissent that is rarely seen in the think tank world.

New America CEO Anne-Marie Slaughter called the situation "really odd."  She added: "Think tanks typically differentiate [between] an 'institutional view,' which most of us rarely take, and views of individual experts/programs. Healthy disagreement is normal, but it should manifest in public debate or some internal process, not public disassociation."

Dr. Douglas Ollivant, a Senior Fellow at New America, said he can't recall anything like this happening before at a think tank.

Mr. Daniel Larison, who writes a Substack newsletter, called the incident bizarre.  "Atlantic Council published a sensible report on Russia calling for fewer sanctions and focusing on areas where the US and Russia can cooperate.  Then almost two dozen people at AC denounce one of their own publications.  Bizarre." 

Mr. Bill Browder, CEO of Hermitage Capital and head of the Global Magnitsky Justice campaign, said "if they didn't have American names I would swear they are Russian," referring to Ashford and Burrows.

Mr. Abe Silberstein says that he sympathizes with the views of the letter signers, but "that isn't how you conduct a professional policy debate."  He added: "It should go without saying that if your byline is not [on] an article or paper, then you are not responsible for it (hence no need to disassociate)."

Ms. Loren DeJonge Schulman, an Adjunct Senior Fellow at the Center for a New American Security (CNAS), said that "fostering intellectual diversity does not mean people get to engage in unsound attacks on one another with the institutions resources."

Dr. Daniel Drezner has a new piece on three ways of looking at the incident.  In it, he notes that some of the 22 signatories of the letter sounded like high school mean girls."

In a move to mitigate the turmoil, Atlantic Council EVP Damon Wilson suggested it is completely normal and healthy.  "Atlantic Council is a place where debate over the most critical foreign policy issues is welcomed and encouraged," adding that the think tank's management does not review the 1,000+ papers it publishes annually for content.

Wilson noted that the think tank will host a Russia-related event soon so that competing arguments within the think tank can be heard out in the open.

Update: Politico has published a new piece on the Atlantic Council kerfuffle.  Here are some excerpts:

One person who signed the statement told POLITICO that they worried the article was, or might be viewed as, a shoddy work product influenced by a $4.5 million donation over five years to the Atlantic Council from Charles Koch, who advocates for less American intervention abroad.

After Koch gave that money to the Atlantic Council, the money was used to set up the New American Engagement Initiative, which aims to study new ways to address foreign policy issues. Ashford, who was at the Koch-funded libertarian think tank the Cato Institute, started at the Atlantic Council on the NAEI in September and was joined by Chris Preble, another prominent former Cato foreign policy scholar who had started at the think tank a few months before.

It goes on to note that most of the people who signed the statement are affiliated with the Atlantic Council's Eurasia Center, which has traditionally taken the lead on articles and reports about Russia.  

John Herbst, a former US ambassador to Ukraine and Uzbekistan and one of the signatories of the letter, is director of the Eurasia Center.

Besides Ashford and Burrows, those within the NAEI program include: Erica Borghard, Evan Cooper, Aude Darnal, and Chris Preble.

Nonresident Senior Fellow Dylan Myles-Primakoff has penned a piece (also on the Atlantic Council website) attempting to refute the arguments made by Ashford and Burrows.

It appears that the issue of funding has played the largest role in this fiasco, with the Koch-funded people on one side and the EU government-funded people on the other.  Sadly, the merits of the debate are tainted by that fact.

What it had led to, at least for the time being, is essentially two separate think tanks within the Atlantic Council that are catering to their respective donors while simultaneously weakening the institution as a whole. 

Wednesday, March 10, 2021

Head of Think Tank WRI to Lead Bezos' $10 Billion Earth Fund

 Here is more from CNBC:

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos on Tuesday named the head of a top environmental think tank as the CEO of his $10 billion Earth Fund.

In an Instagram post, Bezos said Andrew Steer, who currently serves as President and CEO of the World Resources Institute, an environmental non-profit, has agreed to lead the Earth Fund.

The Earth Fund, launched last February, is designed to combat the effects of climate change by issuing grants to scientists, activists and other organizations in their efforts to “preserve and protect the natural world.” Last November, Bezos announced the first recipients of the Earth Fund, with groups receiving $791 million worth of grants. Among the recipients were the Nature Conservancy, Natural Resources Defense Council, the World Wildlife Fund and the World Resources Institute.


Here is a previous Think Tank Watch piece about how the World Resources Institute (WRI) received $100 million from Jeff Bezos.

With Andrew Steer stepping down from his current post, WRI will become the latest think tank to lose its leader this year.  And rumors abound that there could be even more think tank leadership changes later in the year.

Tuesday, March 9, 2021

White House Says Think Tanks Compromised in Latest Microsoft Hack

Foreign entities continue to hack into think tanks at a relentless pace, and the White House is now monitoring the issue.  Here is more from Reuters:

The White House is closely tracking an emergency patch Microsoft Corp has released, U.S. national security adviser Jake Sullivan said on Thursday, after an unknown hacking group recently broke into organizations using a flaw in the company’s mail server software.

“We are closely tracking Microsoft’s emergency patch for previously unknown vulnerabilities in Exchange Server software and reports of potential compromises of U.S. think tanks and defense industrial base entities,” Jake Sullivan, President Joe Biden’s national security adviser, said on Twitter.

Microsoft’s near-ubiquitous suite of products has been under scrutiny since the hack of SolarWinds Corp, a Texas-based software firm that served as a springboard for several intrusions across government and the private sector.


Here is a recent Think Tank Watch piece on how a suspected Russian hacking spree included a US-based think tank.

Monday, March 8, 2021

Think Tank Quickies (#402)

  • CFR president: Taiwan is becoming the most dangerous flash point in the world. 
  • Atlantic Council deconstructs the storming of the US Capitol.
  • RAND Corp. doles out insights on sleep.
  • To think tanks who are transcribing webinars: thank you from the bottom of my heart. 
  • Neera Tanden has highest Glassdoor approval rating of any think tank chief?
  • Six experts from the Hoover Institution are partnering with Innovate Alabama to help grow the state's economy. 
  • Wilson Center Tech Lab alums visit water treatment facility to observe cybersecurity readiness.
  • Carnegie Europe: Russia sees attempts to link climate change to global security as a threat to its own security and economic stability.
  • AEI think tanker Scott Winship not happy with WaPo reporter.
  • Pic: CFR's new face masks.

Friday, March 5, 2021

Trump's SefDef Joins McCain Institute as Distinguished Fellow

Dr. Mark Esper, former President Donald Trump's Defense Secretary, has joined the McCain Institute as a Distinguished Fellow, making him the latest high-level Trump official to enter think tank land.

The think tank, which is based in Washington, DC, notes that Esper will lead a bipartisan team to assess, discuss, and promote policy solutions to the challenges facing US national security decision-makers in Congress and the Executive Branch.

Donors to the McCain Institute include: Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Bloomberg Philanthropies, Carnegie Corporation, Chevron, Cisco Systems, Daimler, FedEx, Ford Foundation, GE Foundation, Open Society Foundations, MGM Resorts International, PetSmart, Embassy of Saudi Arabia, Sasakawa Peace Foundation, and Walmart.

Think Tank Watch has just updated its list of think tankers going into the Biden Administration and list of former Trump officials going into the think tank world.

Thursday, March 4, 2021

NYT Columnist David Brooks Used Perch to Promote His Own Think Tank Project

 Here is more from BuzzFeed:

New York Times columnist David Brooks is drawing a second salary for his work on an Aspen Institute project funded by Facebook and other large donors — a fact he has not disclosed in his columns.

A Times spokesperson refused to tell BuzzFeed News whether the paper was aware Brooks was taking a salary for his work on Weave, a project he founded and leads for the Aspen Institute, a prominent think tank based in Washington, DC. The spokesperson also wouldn’t say if the Times knew that Weave took money from Facebook.

In Dec. 2018, Facebook earmarked a $250,000 gift to the Aspen Institute for the project. Three months later, Brooks introduced Times readers to his concept of “Weavers,” which he described as people who fight social isolation by “building community and weaving the social fabric” across the US.

Brooks began work on Weave in May 2018, according to the Aspen Institute. Its transparency report for that year shows Weave received just over $1.3 million from donors, including the Resnick Family Foundation, the Robert K. Steel Family Foundation, and James Schine Crown, an Aspen Institute trustee who sits on the boards of General Dynamics Corporation and JPMorgan Chase. Weave’s single largest donation, over $300,000, came from Miguel Bezos, the father of Amazon founder Jeff Bezos and an Institute trustee.


Aspen Institute, founded in 1949, is headquartered in Washington, DC and has campuses in Aspen, Colorado and on Maryland's Eastern Shore.

Update: David Brooks has resigned from the Aspen Institute after more evidence of conflicts emerged.

Wednesday, March 3, 2021

AFL-CIO Launches a Tech Think Tank

The influential labor union AFL-CIO has launched a new think tank called the Technology Institute.  Here is more from a press release:

Today, the AFL-CIO launched its Technology Institute, which will leverage the power of technology and innovation for the labor movement. Leading this cutting-edge initiative is Institute Director Amanda Ballantyne, who brings diverse experience in labor and economic justice work. As executive director of the Main Street Alliance, she grew a groundbreaking project into a powerful, national organization. Under Ballantyne’s leadership, the organization developed campaign strategies to engage small business owners in winning a variety of progressive reforms, including job-quality policies like earned sick time, minimum wage and family leave.

The Technology Institute will serve as the labor movement’s think tank, to help us solve issues created by technology in collective bargaining and in any place it arises.


While labor unions fund a number of think tanks, this is the first time ever that a union has created an in-house think tank in the United States.

Monday, March 1, 2021

Most Influential Think Tankers in the US

Washingtonian magazine has a new piece on who it thinks will be the 250 most influential people outside of government who will play the biggest roles in US federal policy debates over the next five years.  Think Tank Watch counts 38 think tankers, or roughly 15% of the list.  Of those 38, Brookings had the most people on the list, with 10.  Here are the think tankers:


  • Barry Lynn: Open Markets Institute, Executive Director

Banking & Finance:

  • Aaron Klein: Brookings Institution, Senior Fellow

Business & Labor

  • Jennifer Hillman: Council on Foreign Relations, Senior Fellow

Climate & Environment

  • Paul Bledsoe: Progressive Policy Institute (PPI), Strategic Adviser

Economic Policy:

  • Dean Baker: Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR), Co-founder and Senior Economist
  • Oren Cass: American Compass, Founder and Executive Director 
  • Tyler Cowen: George Mason University's Mercatus Center, Director
  • Steve Hanke: Cato Institute, Senior Fellow
  • Adam Posen: Peterson Institute for International Economics (PIIE), President
  • Heidi Shierholz: Economic Policy Institute (EPI), Senior Economist and Director of Policy
  • David Wessel: Brookings, Senior Fellow


  • Rick Hess: American Enterprise Institute (AEI), Resident Scholar

Foreign Affairs:

  • Karen Donfried: German Marshall Fund (GMF), President
  • Michelle Flournoy: Center for a New American Security (CNAS), Co-founder
  • Bonnie Glaser: Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), Senior Adviser
  • Trita Parsi: Quincy Institute, Co-founder and EVP
  • Dennis Ross: Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP), Counselor and Distinguished Fellow
  • Kori Schake: AEI, Director, Foreign and Defense Policy Studies
  • Christine Wormuth: RAND Corp., Senior Fellow
  • Thomas Wright: Brookings, Senior Fellow

Good Government:

  • Lee Drutman: New America, Senior Fellow
  • Norm Eisen: Brookings, Senior Fellow
  • Norman Ornstein: AEI, Emeritus Scholar


  • Stuart Butler: Brookings, Senior Fellow
  • Michael Cannon: Cato Institute, Director of Health Policy Studies
  • James Capretta: AEI, Resident Fellow
  • Paul Ginsburg: Brookings, Chair of Health Policy Studies
  • Scott Gottlieb: AEI, Resident Fellow
  • G. William Hoagland: Bipartisan Policy Center (BPC), SVP
  • Genevieve Kenney: Urban Institute, VP of Health Policy
  • Kavita Patel: Brookings, Nonresident Fellow


  • Claudia Flores: Center for American Progress (CAP), Immigration Campaign Manager
  • Tom Jawetz: CAP, VP of Immigration Policy

Legal Intelligentsia

  • Benjamin Wittes: Brookings, Senior Fellow

National Security & Defense

  • Fiona Hill: Brookings, Senior Fellow
  • James Lewis: CSIS, SVP
  • H.R. McMaster: Hoover Institution, Senior Fellow
  • Michael O'Hanlon: Brookings, Senior Fellow


It should be noted that Time magazine has just issued its 2021 Time100 Next list of the 100 most influential people in the US, and not a single current think tanker made the list.  Jake Sullivan, who was a Nonresident Senior Fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace is on the list, but he is currently the White House National Security Advisor.