Monday, May 31, 2021

Think Tank Quickies (#414)

  • Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) citing Mother Jones: "A leaked tape has revealed the campaign to restrict voter access in states across the US is being coordinated by the Heritage Foundation and funded by secret money."
  • Just launched: Palm Beach Freedom Institute, a 501(c)(3) which aims to cancel out cancel culture.
  • Think tanks have stolen universities clothes.
  • New USMCA monitoring, research, and engagement project at Brookings.
  • EPI's ad looking for a new think tank president.
  • President of CFR Richard Haass awarded South Korean state medal.
  • Foreign policy fight over university vs. think tank funding in Australia.
  • Think tanks can link Taiwan, India.
  • Pic: The world's coolest think tank?
  • South Korea's Ministry of Foreign Affairs agreed to work together with a government agency overseeing state-run think tanks to draw up a blueprint for future relations with China.

Friday, May 28, 2021

Group Behind SolarWinds Hack Now Targeting Think Tanks

Think tanks are huge targets for  hackers and they face relentless assaults on their data, personnel information, sources, and inner workings.

Here is the latest example from Reuters:

The group behind the SolarWinds cyber attack identified late last year is now targeting government agencies, think tanks, consultants, and non-governmental organizations, Microsoft Corp said on Thursday.

"This week we observed cyberattacks by the threat actor Nobelium targeting government agencies, think tanks, consultants, and non-governmental organizations", Microsoft said in a blog.

Nobelium, originating from Russia, is the same actor behind the attacks on SolarWinds customers in 2020, according to Microsoft.

"This wave of attacks targeted approximately 3,000 email accounts at more than 150 different organizations", Microsoft said on Thursday.


Every major think tank in the US and many around the world have been hacked multiple times, with some facing near-daily hacking attempts.

Thursday, May 27, 2021

US Senators Want Think Tanks to Come Up With China Strategy

Sen. Mitt Romney (R-UT) and Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ) have been offering various ideas on how the US can best compete with China, and they recently co-sponsored an amendment to a giant China-related bill Congress is working on that calls for think tanks to help with a US-China strategy.

Here is more on the amendment from a Romney press release: 

U.S. Grand Strategy with Respect to China.  Requires the President to develop and submit to Congress a grand strategy to address the new era of geostrategic and geoeconomic competition with China. Convenes an advisory board of outside experts from the private sector, academia, and think tanks to review the current strategy, including challenging its assumptions and approach, and make recommendations to the President for the strategy.


Romney has embraced think tanks for years, and when he ran for president in 2012, he selected advisors from think tanks like the Heritage Foundation, Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), American Enterprise Institute (AEI), Brookings Institution, Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), and Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

During that time, Romney suggested that he supports the US government funding think tanks.

The Week recently said that Romney has emerged as a "one-man think tank," citing all the different policy ideas he has been proposing.

Wednesday, May 26, 2021

Trump Acolytes Build Ecosystem of Think Tanks so Trumpism Lives On

 Here is more from Bloomberg:

Allies of Donald Trump have built an ecosystem of think tanks, fund-raising outfits and professional development organizations designed to push his populist agenda for years to come whether or not the former president ever seeks office again.

With Trump-like branding, a number of the groups are named after his America First philosophy and serve to challenge the conservative orthodoxy of groups like the Heritage Foundation or the American Enterprise Institute whose ideas have guided generations of Republican politicians.

The aim is to develop the former president’s unorthodox policy preferences into a coherent program, ready-made for a new generation of politicians to adopt and carry out. No fewer than six new organizations so far are devoted to carrying on his policy legacy.

“There were fights that weren’t being fought,” said Russ Vought, Trump’s last director of the Office of Management and Budget. He started the Center for Renewing America, a think tank with a Capitol Hill office, and a companion grassroots advocacy organization, Citizens for Renewing America, about a week after leaving office in January. His policy shop has eight paid staffers, including Vought, but he wouldn’t release figures on its fundraising or finances.

 Stephen Miller, a former White House senior adviser and anti-immigration hardliner, is leading America First Legal, a nonprofit to preserve Trump’s policies on immigration and other issues. Jenna Ellis, who represented Trump and his campaign in some of its attempts to overturn last November’s election results, is chairwoman of the Election Integrity Alliance, which is focused on state voting laws. The group is part of the American Greatness Fund, a nonprofit set up by Brad Parscale, Trump’s former campaign manager.

And there’s the America Alliance, run by Michael Glassner, chief operating officer of Trump’s campaign, which is a new network of big donors who pledge to give at least $100,000 a year for candidates who support Trump’s agenda, and to his causes.

The biggest of the organizations is the America First Policy Institute, dedicated to advance what would have been Trump’s second-term agenda. The think tank has nearly 45 employees and a $20 million budget for its first year. It’s working out of an office building in Arlington, Va., with an eye toward moving to Washington. Its roster includes Pam Bondi, who defended Trump in his first impeachment trial, and former White House adviser Scott Turner.


As noted in the piece, it is unlikely that these groups are diverting money from more traditional conservative think tanks like Heritage, AEI and the Hudson Institute.  While former Trump officials have started their own think tanks and think tank-like entities, many have chosen to instead join the already-established traditional think tanks. 

Here is more about which think tanks former Trump officials have landed at.

Tuesday, May 25, 2021

Think Tank Quickies (#413)

  • Since Jan. 1, 2020, Ely Ratner, DoD's new point man on China, has made $412,000 as EVP of CNAS.  [The president of CNAS made $408,230 in 2017.]
  • On FARA and restoring trust in the think tank sector, via Ben Freeman and Eli Clifton.
  • Bruegel is looking for a new director.
  • Jared Kushner founds Abraham Accords Institute.  Others involved include Avi Berkowitz, Haim Saban, Yousef Al Otaiba, and Abdulla R. Al-Khalifa, and Gabi Ashkenazi.
  • The ties that Brookings President John Allen has to Qatar. 
  • RAND and Carnegie reports on responsible space behavior accepted for consideration by UN.
  • "There's no such thing as a think tank emergency.  It is policy and it is papers.  Nobody dies." Christopher Ingraham: "I used to work at Brookings comms department and it was basically think tank emergency 75% of the time." 
  • Online debate: Think tanks and the media.
  • FP's Pacific Power Index: 50 people shaping the future of US-China relations; China Twitter: 100+ accounts you should follow (via SupChina).
  • Pic: The various types of MENA think tank papers.

Monday, May 24, 2021

World's Largest Index of Think Tank Publications

The web-based application Overton says it is the world's largest searchable index of policy documents, guidelines, think tank publications, and working papers.

Here is more from the site:

[We] collect data from 182 countries and over a thousand sources worldwide with more being added all the time.

 We parse each document, finding references, people, and key concepts, and then link them to the relevant news stories, academic research, think tank output, and other policy.

Our products allow you to search these documents and see where your ideas, papers, reports, and staff are being cited and mentioned.


Here is more about Overton, which is based in London.  Annual subscription prices for think tanks and other non-university entities runs from $1,800 to $7,200, tiered by publication volume.

Thursday, May 20, 2021

Think Tank Quickies (#412)

  • Former Sen. Doug Jones (D-AL) joins Center for American Progress (CAP) as a Distinguished Visiting Fellow, focusing on criminal justice, democracy reform, and racial equity and justice.
  • "Our (think tank's) sole purpose will be to transparently and independently peer review the output of other think tanks, rate their output, and shame cranks." 
  • Harvard Institute of Politics (IOP) marred by tensions, turnover.
  • Automotive Aftermarket Suppliers Association (AASA) Technology Council (ATC) launches new think tank groups.
  • Rep. Will Hurd (R-TX), a trustee of the German Marshall Fund (GMF), is joining the board of OpenAI.
  • Williams Institute: "A sexual orientation and gender identity think tank at UCLA School of Law."
  • David Rothkopf, a former member of the US Institute of Peace's (USIP) advisory board, has a Twitter bromance with Ron Klain. 
  • Steven Simon, a senior research analyst at the Quincy Institute, lost his position as a paid consultant with the Middle East Institute after visiting Bashar al-Assad in Damascus in 2015.
  • Reshoring Institute: "A manufacturing policy think tank."
  • Institute for National Defense and Security Research: "A think tank co-founded by Taiwan's defense ministry."

Wednesday, May 19, 2021

Think Tankers Come Under Fire for Attending China Summit

Here is more from The Washington Free Beacon:

The Democratic majority leader of the California state senate and officials from some of the United States's top foreign policy think tanks will speak this week at a forum organized by a group with close ties to the Chinese Communist Party.

The China Public Diplomacy Association, a group founded by China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, will host the 2021 China-U.S. Public Diplomacy Summit in Beijing on Friday. The association, which has received little attention in the West, is led by several officials at Communist Party front groups. Robert Hertzberg, the majority leader of the California Senate, is slated to speak on a panel at the summit, as are scholars from the Brookings Institution, the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, the Wilson Center, the Asia Society, and other prominent U.S. think tanks.

The forum will be held in person at Renmin University in Beijing and streamed live on the internet. The itinerary does not say which American speakers will attend the event in person and which will attend virtually. 


When asked about the summit, China hawk Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) said that "every think tank...should realize that meetings like these are influence operations organized by the Chinese Communist Party intended to slowly undermine America."

Monday, May 17, 2021

CAP Chief Neera Tanden Lands at the White House

Center for American Progress (CAP) President and CEO Neera Tanden has finally found her way into the White House after her nomination to be the director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) was withdrawn in March.

She will now be a senior advisor to President Joe Biden, according to various media reports.

Here is more from the Associated Press on what she will be doing in her new role:

She will launch a review of the US Digital Service and begin planning for possible policy changes that could result from the forthcoming Supreme Court decision on GOP legal challenges to the Affordable Care Act. Tanden worked in former President Barack Obama’s administration as the act was designed and implemented.


The Washington Post notes that Tanden is "particularly close" to White House Chief of Staff Ron Klain, who played a "significant role" in her initial selection for the Cabinet.  He was also "instrumental" is helping Tanden land this new White House job, according to the Post.

Here is a statement from CAP Founder John Podesta on Tanden's appointment. 

Here is a Think Tank Watch list of think tankers who have gone into the Biden Administration.  Tanden is one of six think tank presidents who have been tapped for a White House post.

There is no official word yet as to who will replace Tanden at CAP.

Friday, May 14, 2021

How Bellingcat Was Embraced by the Atlantic Council

This is from the book "We Are Bellingcat" by Eliot Higgins, the founder of Bellingcat, an investigative website specializing in open-source intelligence:

Maks Czuperski, a young staffer at the Atlantic Council, the influential Washington-based think tank, knew of my work on Syria and Russia, and asked me if Bellingcat would embark on a joint project with them.  This, I realized, could provide the boost that we wanted, showing the powerful figures who circulated around the Atlantic Council that we were more than online amateurs.

Our first collaboration was a major report in May 2015, "Hiding in Plain Sight: Putin's War in Ukraine," about Russia's direct military involvement in eastern Ukraine.  The work made waves, and soon I was traveling the globe explaining these findings and what exactly Bellingcat did.

Two other major Atlantic Council report followed: "Distract Deceive Destroy: Putin at War in Syria" and "Breaking Aleppo," about the Assad regime's devastation of the city.  Another consequence of my period as a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council was our creation of the Digital Forensic Research Lab, today a leading incubator of open-source innovation, with its annual "Digital Sherlock" summit bringing together online sleuths from the around world.


Here is a link to the Digital Forensic Research Lab (DFRL) and here is the site for DigitalSherlocks

The book also that that Andy Carvin, who is a senior fellow at the DRFL, got nightmares and panic attacks from the work he did and was eventually diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Friday, May 7, 2021

Think Tank Quickies (#411)

  • Breakthrough Institute: Absolute decoupling of economic growth and emissions in 32 countries. 
  • Think tank research shows domestic extremism on the rise in the US.
  • Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga spoke at CSIS event during US visit.
  • Attention think tank panelists: "No one, in the history of time, has EVER heard a talk and thought: 'That was fantastic. I wish it was longer.'"
  • Asia Society President and CEO mistaken for an Uber driver.
  • Fuels Institute: A think tank founded by National Association of Convenience Stores (NACS) in 2013. 
  • Which think tanks think about rural America? 
  • Think tanks can get funding for US-Egypt-related projects via Public Diplomacy Small Grants Program, says US Embassy Cairo.
  • Japan's regional think tanks.
  • Meet the newest fake university (SRIIOTA), whose mascot is Carl the Soft Shell Crab.

Thursday, May 6, 2021

The Swiss Billionaire Funding Democratic Think Tanks

Numerous billionaires, both Democrats and Republicans, fund numerous think tanks, a trend that has only been increasing over the years.

Here is the latest example from the New York Times:

He is not as well known as wealthy liberal patrons like George Soros or Tom Steyer. His political activism is channeled through a daisy chain of opaque organizations that mask the ultimate recipients of his money. But the Swiss billionaire Hansjörg Wyss has quietly become one of the most important donors to left-leaning advocacy groups and an increasingly influential force among Democrats.

Newly obtained tax filings show that Mr. Wyss’s foundations donated $208 million from 2016 through early last year to three nonprofit funds that doled out money to a wide array of groups that backed progressive causes and helped Democrats in their efforts to win the White House and control of Congress last year.

Beneficiaries of his direct giving included prominent groups such as the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank where Mr. Wyss sits on the board.


The Times has previously reported that the Center for American Progress (CAP) and its sister organization have received more than $6.1 million from foundations linked to Wyss.

NYT also noted that John Podesta, the founder of CAP, has advised the Wyss Foundation, including on the hiring of The Hub Project's executive director, Arkadi Gerney, a former official at CAP.

Update: Here is a 2022 Real Clear Politics piece on on Wyss's "mega influence" on US politics, including his think tank involvement.

Wednesday, May 5, 2021

Heritage Foundation Halts Donations from Big Tech

 Here is more Lydia Moynihan of the New York Post:

The Heritage Foundation has stopped accepting donations from tech giants amid an escalating battle with Silicon Valley over censorship, The Post has learned.

The influential conservative think tank — which famously turned pro-Trump after initial skepticism of his presidential candidacy, brokering appointments of cabinet members including Mick Mulvaney, Jeff Sessions and Betsy DeVos — said it will join a group of more than 40 right-leaning research outfits refusing to accept money from Big Tech firms including Google, Twitter, Facebook, Apple, and Amazon, according to a memo obtained by The Post.

Last month, dozens of conservative think tanks including the Family Research Council, Media Research Center, Center for Renewing America, and Citizens United pledged to turn down donations from big tech. Other big right-leaning research nonprofits like American Enterprise Institute, Mercatus, Cato Institute, the Manhattan Institute, the Hoover Institution and the Rand Corporation haven’t announced positions on tech donations. 


The New York Post notes that in early 2019, Google dissolved an advisory board on artificial intelligence (AI) that Heritage's James had served on after it received a petition signed by 2,500 employees demanding her removal, calling her "vocally anti-trans, anti-LGBTQ, and anti-immigrant."  The move was blasted by James in a Washington Post op-ed.

The NY Post also notes that a few months later, Google's YouTube removed a video posted by Heritage, saying comments made about transgender issues were "hate speech."

Here are some other anecdotes from NY Post:

In 2019, Twitter temporarily banned a Heritage employee who tweeted he believed transgender women who are born male should not be allowed to participate in women’s sports competitions, classifying the tweet as hate speech. Heritage mediated the situation and the employee regained access to his account without deleting the tweet.

Earlier this year, Amazon removed a book on transgenderism from its site, “When Harry Became Sally,” written by former Heritage employee Ryan T. Anderson. In February, US Sens. Marco Rubio, Josh Hawley, Mike Lee, and Mike Braun wrote Amazon a letter demanding an explanation for removing the book from its platform.


As Think Tank Watch previously reported, the Heritage Foundation recently turned down six-figure donations from Google and Facebook, although it has already accepted seven-figure donations from those firms.

Tuesday, May 4, 2021

Is Quincy Institute Washington's "Weirdest" Think Tank?

Here are some excerpts from a Tablet piece by Armin Rosen, entitled "Washington's Weirdest Think Tank":

The [Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft] titular director and president is Andrew Bacevich, a historian, former U.S. Army colonel, and a widely respected if sometimes overwrought proponent of the idea that a military-industrial complex has hijacked American society. The IRS document identifies Trita Parsi, head of the National Iranian American Council until 2018, as another one of Quincy’s co-founders and as its executive vice president. The tax exemption application lists Parsi’s estimated compensation at $275,000 a year, compared with $50,000 for Bacevich—a fair indication of who is actually running Washington’s weirdest and most intriguing foreign policy shop.

Chas Freeman, a former U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia and one of the elder statesmen of the realist movement in American foreign policy, told me he was “part of the group consulted about [Quincy’s] formation,” though he has no affiliation with the institute. “I think the main organizer was Trita Parsi, and perhaps that was a product of his disappointment as head of NIAC,” Freeman recalled. “I think he probably thought: How can I play a role in trying to shake things loose a little bit, not particularly on Iran, but generally.”


There are lots of juicy anecdotes throughout the piece.  Think Tank Watch's favorite line: "[Is Quincy] a three-ring circus of governmental, academic, and think tank washouts, funded by two megalomaniacal billionaires and led by a man alleged to be a cheerleader for a hostile foreign government?"

Entities and people mentioned in the piece include: Lawrence Wilkerson, Charles Koch Institute, Open Society Foundations, George Soros, Rockefeller Brothers Fund (RBF), Stephen Heintz, J Street, Arms Control Association, Ploughshares Fund, International Crisis Group, Robert Malley, Thomas Pickering, Francis Najafi, Adam Weinstein, Suzanne DiMaggio, Joe Cirincione, Colin Kahl, Lora Lumpe, Stephen Metz, Max Abrahms, Samuel Moyn, Javad Zarif, Charles Doran, John Mearsheimer, Bob Ney, Eli Clifton, Stephen Wertheim, Lawrence Wilkerson, Joshua Landis, Ford Foundation, Giustra International Foundation, Stephen Walt, Ron Burkle, and many others.

Here is a previous Think Tank Watch piece about the founding of the Quincy Institute.

Monday, May 3, 2021

Think Tank Quickies (#410)

  • How media outlets describe DC's tax think tanks.
  • On the UAE's strong relationship with US think tanks. 
  • Japan's only national think tank covering security, the National Institute for Defense Studies, makes predictions on the Quad.
  • Jelena Brankovic thread: Why rankings, such as those for think tanks, are awful.
  • ADBI discusses ways to boost Central Asia's think tanks.
  • C. Lea Shea is "founder and chairman of the Center for the Study of Great Power Competition, formerly known as the Long War Institute on Counterterrorism and Counterinsurgency and, prior to that, as the New Globalization Initiative."
  • Academics in Myanmar being rounded up and "disappeared."
  • Former Brookings fellow Maati Monjib released from detention in Morocco.
  • The National Pulse: China boasts control over Western think tanks. 
  • "I would love to see a paper comparing the stock phrases used by think tanks in Brussels, London, and DC."