Monday, July 26, 2021

Heritage Foundation Promoting US-Tunisia Ties

 This is from Foreign Lobby Report:

The Heritage Foundation released a report calling for a “renewed strategic partnership between the United States and Tunisia.” The report’s release follows a meeting between study author Anthony Kim, the editor of the Heritage Index of Economic Freedom, and Tunisian Olfa Hamdi, the short-lived former CEO of national carrier Tunisair and head of the Center for Strategic Studies on Tunisia, a new Washington think tank connected to lobbying firm Cornerstone Government Affairs.


Here is more on the Center for Strategic Studies on Tunisia (CSST), which was established as a 501(c)(4), an entity which can engage in much more lobbying than most US think tanks which typically establish themselves as 501(c)(3) entities.

Friday, July 23, 2021

Think Tank Quickies (#421)

  • Supreme Court throws out state law requiring nonprofits to name rich donors; "will make think tanks even less transparent." 
  • Treasury official Wally Adeyemo was hired to establish BlackRock's internal think tank.
  • China Watch is China Daily's "think tank."
  • CSIS has new Open Source Analysis Project.
  • RAND Corp. has a new artist-in-residency program.
  • Letter to US House Judiciary Committee signed by 13 think tanks and advocacy groups warning antitrust bills could "dramatically degrade" tech products. 
  • DGAP: Why German think tanks have to change the way they work.
  • Robin Niblett talk: How can think tanks become incubators for policy innovation?
  • "In academia you sometimes have to work 7 days a week, but the freedom to choose which 7 days is unparalleled; in think tanks you do so for nights, not just days."
  • The Onion: "Brookings released a statement encouraging Americans to start thinking about what form of government they would like to try after democracy crumbles."

Thursday, July 22, 2021

Major Source of Arms Control Funding to Dry Up for Think Tanks

 Here is more from Politico:

For the Washington think tanks and foundations that work to control the spread of nuclear weapons, the Doomsday Clock is inching closer to midnight.

That’s because a leading financial backer of their efforts to reduce nuclear proliferation is ending its support, sending shockwaves through arms control institutions that are already struggling to remain influential.

For more than 40 years, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, one of the largest philanthropic organizations in the United States, has been a primary benefactor of a host of non-profit research centers, academic programs and grassroots organizations dedicated to reversing the spread of nuclear weapons and training a generation of arms control experts.

Since 2015 alone, MacArthur directed 231 grants totaling more than $100 million to “nuclear challenges” — in some cases providing more than half the annual funding for individual institutions or programs.

But its recent conclusion that it wasn't achieving its goals and decision to pull out of the arena could be detrimental without alternative sources of funding, according to multiple veterans of the nuclear policy community.


Those receiving funding from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation include the Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI), Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, and the Arms Control Association.  Another is the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, the organization that operates the Doomsday Clock.

Matthew Bunn, who directs the Project on Managing the Atom at Harvard University's Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, estimates that MacArthur was providing around 45% - 55% of all non-government funding worldwide on nuclear policy.

Here is the MacArthur Foundation's statement mentioning its exit from the nuclear field.

The MacArthur Foundation has given to nearly every major US think tank, including the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), Aspen Institute, Atlantic Council, Bipartisan Policy Center (BPC), Brookings Institution, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Cato Institute, Center for American Progress (CAP), Center for Global Development (CGD), Center for National Policy (CNP), Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments (CSBA), Center for a New American Security (CNAS), Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP), Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), Economic Policy Institute (EPI), Hudson Institute, Institute for Policy Studies (IPS), Middle East Institute (MEI), Migration Policy Institute (MPI), New America, R Street Institute, Resources for the Future (RFF), Stimson Center, Truman Center for National Policy, US Institute of Peace (USIP), Urban Institute, Wilson Center, and World Resources Institute (WRI).

At the end of 2020, MacArthur's assets totaled $8.2 billion.  In June 2020, amid the coronavirus pandemic, the MacArthur Foundation was one of several major institutions that pledged to increase their charitable giving.

Update: In related arms control think tank news, the Federation of American Scientists just released a report using satellite imagery showing that China is building a new network of silos for launching nuclear missiles.

Wednesday, July 21, 2021

New Site Tracks Think Tank Funding by Big Tech

 Here is more from Politico:

The American Principles Project (APP), a populist Republican group that has been advocating against the influence of “Big Tech,” is launching a project today that’s certain to stir up debate, as GOP resistance to the influence of Silicon Valley money in Washington escalates. tracks which nonprofits, think tanks and academic centers receive funding from Facebook, Google, Amazon and/or Apple, based on publicly available disclosures. One of the datasets tracks the tech funding behind 400 groups; the other, which comes with a browser extension, includes 200 groups.

Jon Schweppe, the director of policy and government affairs at the APP, said he launched the project after hearing from staffers on Capitol Hill who were confused about which groups involved in policy debates about the tech sector receive money from those same companies.

The website also offers a “Big Tech Funding Browser Extension,” which adds disclosures to tweets from groups that take money from big tech companies. For instance, the browser extension would add a disclosure that says “Warning: This group is funded by Google, Facebook and Amazon” to tweets from the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank, or the Brookings Institution, a liberal think tank. Schweppe said he knows it’ll ruffle some feathers.


Here is the Big Tech Funding website.  Think Tank Watch took a peek and here are some findings in terms of think tanks receiving big tech money:

  • American Enterprise Institute (AEI): Facebook, Google, Amazon
  • Aspen Institute: Facebook, Google
  • Atlantic Council: Facebook Google
  • Bipartisan Policy Center (BPC): Facebook, Amazon
  • Brookings Institution: Facebook, Google, Amazon
  • Cato Institute: Facebook, Google
  • Center for a New American Security (CNAS): Google, Amazon
  • Center for American Progress (CAP): Facebook, Google, Amazon
  • Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS): Google, Amazon
  • Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI): Facebook, Google, Amazon
  • Council on Foreign Relations (CFR): Facebook
  • Heritage Foundation: Facebook, Google
  • Hudson Institute: Google
  • New America: Facebook, Google, Amazon
  • Niskanen Center: Google
  • R Street Institute: Google, Amazon
  • Third Way: Facebook, Google
  • Urban Institute: Google


In June, APP sent a letter to offices on Capitol Hill warning Republican lawmakers and staffers to be wary about Big Tech funding of think tanks and other entities. 

The Heritage Foundation has recently turned down large donations from Facebook and Google.

Heritage is among more than 40 right-leaning research groups that have stopped accepting donations from tech giants.

Tuesday, July 20, 2021

Iran Hackers Masqueraded as UK Scholars to Hack Think Tanks

 Here is more from the Jerusalem Post:

Iranian hackers masqueraded as British scholars with the University of London's School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) in an attempt to solicit sensitive information from journalists, think tank experts and senior professors since the beginning of the year, according to a new report by the cybersecurity company Proofpoint on Tuesday.

While Proofpoint has been unable to independently confirm that the hackers, known as TA453 or CHARMING KITTEN and PHOSPHORUS, are part of the IRGC, the hackers have historically aligned with the priorities of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), with attacks targeting dissidents, academics, diplomats and journalists, according to the report. 
In their latest attack, TA453 compromised a site belonging to SOAS in order to deliver pages disguised as registration links to harvest login information from targets, including experts in Middle Eastern affairs from think tanks, senior professors at academic institutions and journalists specializing in Middle Eastern coverage.
The hacker group used the personas of individuals associated with SOAS, in order to solicit conversations with targets. In initial emails sent by the first persona, TA453 invited the target to a fake online conference on “The US Security Challenges in the Middle East.” Emails by the second persona solicited contributions to a "DIPS Conference."


Last year, researchers said that Charming Kitten targeted the World Health Organization (WHO) by posing as a think tank.  In that incident, the hackers tailored a message to look like an interview request from a scholar at real Washington, DC-based think tank American Foreign Policy Council (AFPC).

In a separate 2020 incident, Iranian hackers impersonated the former head of Israeli military intelligence and his assistant to fish for analysis from a researcher at a think tank.

Friday, July 16, 2021

Think Tank Quickies (#420)

  • Jack Levine, chief climate officer at the US International Development Finance Corp., is shopping a paper by Barbara Matthews of the Atlantic Council, calling it recommended reading for the Biden Administration.
  • Panera partnered with the World Resources Institute (WRI) to create a carbon label identifying which meals fall below a threshold of 5.38kg of carbon emissions per lunch or dinner - a number WRI says is needed to cut food-related emissions 25% by 2030.
  • SOSi's Center for Intelligence Research and Analysis (CIRA) is "a leading national security think tank serving the US government, Fortune 500 companies, and the broader Washington foreign policy community."
  • Paul Musgrave: Political science has its own lab leaks, and when ideas get out from academia (and think tanks) into the wold, they can be surprisingly dangerous.  Dan Drezner responds.
  • Rahm Emanuel being briefed by think tankers like CFR's Richard Haass and CSIS's Michael Green in preparation for likely US Ambassador to Japan nomination.
  • World's most influential think tanks rankings updated by
  • Whenever a party loses, people start think tanks.
  • In 2020, Exxon gave $100,000 each to the Brookings Instituion and AEI.
  • Retraction Watch: Zombie papers taint academic journals; lots of post-retraction citations.

Thursday, July 15, 2021

Think Tanks Raking in Big Bucks From ExxonMobil

 Here is more from The New Republic (TNR):

Not everyone is happy about Unearthed’s recent exposé on ExxonMobil. Shortly after the Greenpeace-attached journalistic outfit published quotes top Exxon lobbyist Keith McCoy unknowingly gave to an undercover reporter about the oil giant’s attempts to shape climate policy, Brookings Institution Executive Vice President Darell M. West penned a blog post declaring that “using secret video recordings to embarrass opponents is undermining the health of our already ailing American democracy.” He also likened Unearthed to the right-wing sting operation Project Veritas.

West didn’t mention that Brookings received $100,000 from ExxonMobil last year, according to the oil company’s own disclosures. He also didn’t mention that, in parts of the transcript Unearthed did not publish but which they subsequently provided to The New Republic, Brookings is mentioned explicitly by McCoy as one of two think tanks his company is “actively involved in.”

In 2019, the Progressive Policy Institute received $50,000 from ExxonMobil but was not listed on this year’s report. Notably, the right-wing Manhattan Institute—funded as well by Trump backer Rebekah Mercer—is apparently no longer getting Exxon funds, after receiving $90,000 in 2019.

Other think tanks that Exxon donates to include: American Enterprise Institute (AEI), Bipartisan Policy Center (BPC), Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), and Council on Foreign Relations (CFR).  It also donates to dozens of colleges and universities.  Mr. McCoy named Brookings and CSIS as "key allies" of Exxon.

CFR's Lisa Shields said that Exxon is one of roughly 120 members of the think tank's Corporate Program.  Chevron, Shell, BP, ConocoPhillips, and Total are also corporate members.  Shields noted that corporate membership dues account for about 9% of CFR's total operating revenue.  [AEI says that around 10% of its revenue comes from corporations.]

Update: Brookings quietly took down the Darrell West post.

Wednesday, July 14, 2021

Think Tanks Urged to Help Boost China-Russia Ties

As China and Russia appear to be cozying up to each other and drifting further apart from the US, they have begun working closely on think tank coordination.

Here is more from China Daily:

Think tanks in China and Russia should maintain close relations and deepen their cooperation to face common challenges and bring mutual development, experts from both countries said on Thursday.

The China and Russia: Joint Development and Modernization International Symposium, and the publishing ceremony for the think tank report series "Russia-Eurasia Studies"-both co-hosted by the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, the China-Russia Friendship Committee for Peace and Development and China Daily-were held at Beijing International Hotel.

The event was co-organized by the Institute of Russian, Eastern European and Central Asian Studies at the CASS, the Institute of Economics of the Russian Academy of Sciences, and China Watch, China Daily's think tank.

Over 60 government officials and experts, who participated in the symposium and publishing ceremony by either attending the conference in person or joining the discussion via video link, had a comprehensive discussion about China-Russian relations and Eurasian affairs.


According to the latest University of Pennsylvania think tank rankings, the US has 2,203 think tanks, China has 1,413, and Russia has 143. 

Meanwhile, Taiwan's Institute for National Defense and Security Research (INDSR) is expanding its ties with European think tanks, as they are interested in Taiwan's experience in countering China's security threat. 

"Since its establishment in May 2018 by the Ministry of National Defense, the institute has interacted with think tanks or research agencies in the US, New Zealand, Australia, India, Japan, South Korea and Europe, its budget plans over the past few years showed," notes the Taipei Times.

While DPP Legislator Wang Ting-yu said that INDSR is Taiwan's only "official" think tank, Taiwan actually has 44 think tanks, according to the latest University of Pennsylvania statistics.

Monday, July 12, 2021

Man Indicted for Alleged Threats to Brookings Institution

Here is more from US Department of Justice:

United States Attorney Duane A. Evans today announced Russell Vennell, age 59, of Jefferson Parish, Louisiana, was charged on July 1, 2021 in a one-count indictment by a federal Grand Jury with making threatening phone calls in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 875(c). 

According to previously filed court documents, on June 13, 2021, at approximately 2:08 a.m., a person called the Brookings Institution in Washington, DC 20036, from a telephone number found to be subscribed to Vennell. The caller stated that he was going to kill S.H., a person employed by the Brooking Institution at the time of the call. The subject later left a voicemail, at the Brookings Institution, reiterating the previous threat he made to kill S.H.  Vennell was arrested on June 18, 2021 by agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

If convicted, Vennell faces a maximum penalty of five (5) years imprisonment, followed by up to three (3) years of supervised release, up to a $250,000.00 fine, and a mandatory $100 special assessment fee based on the charge outlined in the indictment.  


According to, Vennell apparently said "I'm going to wipe the entire Brookings Institution off the face of this f****** Earth.  You are scum sucking evil (expletives) and you all deserve death in the most heinous way and it's coming at you."

This is not the first time that someone has wished ill upon Brookings.  President Richard Nixon ordered his top aide to break into Brookings and steal its files on Vietnam.  The plan involved firebombing the think tank.

Friday, July 9, 2021

Think Tank Quickies (#419)

  • Top 10 highest paid CEOs at nonprofits in 2021, via Economic Research Institute (none are think tankers).  Politico asks: when is a nonprofit CEO's salary too high?  Jonas Parello Plesner, who runs the Alliance of Democracies from Europe, said he earns around $150,000 a year and suggested an informal cap of around $300,000 for the NGO and foundation sector.
  • NRDC appointed Manish Bapna as president/CEO starring Aug. 23.  Bapna is currently interim president and CEO of the World Resources Institute (WRI).  Replacing him at WRI is Ani Dasgupta, who has been named the think tank's next president and CEO.
  • CSIS: Survey of Chinese-linked espionage in the US since 2000.
  • Former USTR Robert Lighthizer has joined American Compass board of directors along with Daily Caller co-founder Neil Patel.
  • New IISS report assesses the US as the only global cyber superpower, well ahead of China. 
  • Young Uighurs look to sue Australian think tank ASPI over report on forced labor in Xinjiang.
  • A research team at Stimson Center, led by Richard Ponzio, has published a roadmap for new global governance "to fill gaps in thinking around what a new global social contract could look like," and is pushing for a 2023 World Summit on Inclusive Global Governance.  The center launched a Global Governance Innovation Network on June 24.
  • The Center for Global Development (CGD), which specializes in anti-poverty research, spent two years measuring the diversity of nonprofit governing boards.
  • Washington Free Beacon editor-in-chief and friend of Playbook Eliana Johnson is teaming up with AEI fellow and Dispatch editor Chris Stirewalt on a new podcast critiquing DC journalism.
  • Steve Rattner's wife, Maureen White, is a Senior Fellow at the Foreign Policy Institute (FPI) at SAIS; she is also a member of CFR and serves on the board of CGD.

Thursday, July 8, 2021

New Think Tank Focusing on Intersection of Foreign Policy & Tech

Purdue University's Purdue Research Foundation (PRF) has just launched a new "tech tank" that is being billed as the US's first think tank focused on the intersection of technology and diplomacy.

The Center for Tech Diplomacy's (CTDP) primary focus will be on technologies that are critical to American foreign policy, such as 5G, artificial intelligence, semiconductors, energy, digital health, digital currency, cybersecurity, autonomy, and global supply chains, according to a press release, which notes that CTDP will collaborate with like-minded countries and with the private sector to advocate for a global tech agenda that "reflects freedom, democracy, and human rights" in multilateral organizations.

Dr. Mung Chiang, Executive Vice President and John A. Edwardson Dean of the College of Engineering at Purdue University will be CTDP's Founding Director.  In 2019-20, he served a one-year appointment at the State Department as the Science and Technology Advisor to then-Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

Dr. David Reingold, Justin S. Morrill Dean of the College of Liberal Arts at Purdue University, is the Co-director of the think tank. 

Mr. Keith Krach, who served as Undersecretary of State in the Trump Administration, is the think tank's Chairman.  Krach founded Ariba and served as DocuSign Chairman and CEO for 10 years.  He was also Chairman of the Board of Angie's List.  He is reportedly a single-digit billionaire.

Others on the board include: Former Rep. Susan Brooks (R-IN); 3 Points Partners Managing Director Marc Carlson; Foundation Capital Co-Founder and General Partner William Elmore; Cold Canyon AI Founder and CEO Daniel Goldin; and Stephens Inc. EVP Mary Kissel, who was a senior advisor to former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

Initial senior fellows include: Former Indian Ambassador to the EU Rajendra Abhyankar; Managing Director of Fannon Global Advisors and CSIS Senior Advisor Frank Fannon; Predata Co-founder Jim Shinn, and former Assistant Secretary of State Manisha Singh.

CTDP will host an inaugural event focusing on the global semiconductor supply chain on September 22, 2021. The event will feature a keynote speech from Patrick Gelsinger, CEO of Intel, and roundtables with chief technology officers from major semiconductor companies across the world and leaders from the US government and Congress. The bi-coastal event will take place in Silicon Valley and Washington, DC, while kicking off virtually from West Lafayette, Indiana.

Two additional launch events are scheduled for October, one focusing on US-EU-UK-Japan collaboration in technology research and development and another launching a year-long study on 6G global roadmap.

In parallel with the July 7 launch of CTDP, Dr. Chiang wrote a piece entitled "The Era of 'Tech Diplomacy' is Here."  CTDP's new website can be found here; its YouTube page is here.

Here are some thoughts on the new think tank from Purdue University President Mitch Daniels, who is also Chairman of PRF.

CTDP is one of the many university-affiliated think tanks in the US.  Other notable examples of university think tanks include Stanford University's Hoover Institution and Rice University's Baker Institute for Public Policy.

CTDP is also one of a number of think tank or think tank-like entities focusing on technology.  One example is the Center for Data Innovation, which runs the AI Policy Network.  Another is the Center for AI and Digital Policy.

According to the latest University of Pennsylvania think tank rankings, the US currently has 2,203 think tanks.

Wednesday, July 7, 2021

Former Think Tanker Lina Khan Now Chairing FTC

Before becoming Chairperson of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) in the Biden Administration, tech critic Lina Khan was a think tanker.  Here is some more from the New York Times:

One of Lina Khan’s first projects as a new staff member at an antitrust think tank in 2011 was researching the history of the market for books, which had increasingly been dominated by Amazon. It was an early, unpublished entry in a body of work that has since established her as a major critic of the tech giants and corporate concentration.

She spent the next 10 years honing her arguments, becoming a leading figure in a growing movement that calls for more aggressive policing of Google, Facebook, Apple and Amazon.

Ms. Khan rose quickly to prominence. After a few years at the think tank in Washington — during which she wrote, among other things, about the failure to rein in concentration in chicken farming — she went to law school at Yale.


Although not directly mentioned in the piece, Khan was a fellow with the Open Markets Program at New America.  From 2011-2014, she was a policy analyst for the program, formerly known as the Markets, Enterprise, and Resiliency Initiative.

The Open Markets Institute applauded Khan's new job.

Tuesday, July 6, 2021

German Think Tank Chief Arrested for Spying for China

Here is more from Associated Press:

A German man who ran a think tank has been arrested on suspicion of being an informant for Chinese intelligence for years, German prosecutors said Tuesday.

Federal prosecutors said the suspect, identified only as Dr. Klaus L. in line with German privacy rules, was arrested on suspicion of espionage Monday following an indictment that they filed at a Munich court in May.

They said he is a political scientist and had run a think tank, which they didn’t identify, since 2001. According to prosecutors, employees of a Chinese intelligence service contacted him when he went on a lecture trip to Shanghai in June 2010.

He is accused of regularly passing information to Chinese intelligence ahead of or after state visits or multinational conferences until November 2019. That information, prosecutors said, came primarily from “high-ranking political interlocutors” he was in contact with thanks to the think tank. 


Here is more from Reuters, which notes that he had also been a spy for Germany's foreign intelligence agency, the BND, for half a century before retiring.

"Klaus L." had worked for the Munich-based Hanns Seidel Foundation, associated with the Christian Social Union (CSU), Bavarian sister party to Chancellor Angela Merkel's CDU.

Here is a recent Think Tank Watch piece on the abundance of Chinese moles at US think tanks.

Friday, July 2, 2021

Fmr. Intel Official: Abundance of Chinese Moles at US Think Tanks

Here is more from a SpyTalk interview:

The entire U.S. intelligence community—17 agencies in all—has been penetrated by Chinese spies, says Nicholas Eftimiades, who recently retired as one of the U.S. government’s top experts on Chinese espionage.

He added,  “I think if we're talking about [the] Justice [Department], the intelligence community, the 17 agencies including the DNI, I'd be stunned if there weren't dozens, absolutely stunned if there weren't dozens” of Chinese moles.

Eftimiades, who retired in 2017, quickly cautioned that probably only a small number—”less than a dozen”—have access to classified information.  Many more are employed to find out just “who's who” in U.S. intelligence, “and where they're living and things like that.” But Eftimiades, author of two books on Chinese espionage, said there are “thousands more” moles in other, non-intelligence U.S. government agencies, as well as among contractors, corporations, think tanks and congressional offices.


Here is list from Think Tank Watch of former US intelligence officials who have worked or still work at US think tanks.