Tuesday, November 30, 2021

Dr. James McGann (aka "Mr. Think Tank") Dies

Dr. James McGann, Director of the Think Tanks and Civil Societies Program (TTCSP) at the University of Pennsylvania, died on Nov. 29.

Dr. McGann, also known as "Mr. Think Tank," is best known for creating the annual think tank rankings ("Global Go To Think Tank Index") that were closely followed across the globe but also came under increasing scrutiny for biased methodology and myriad errors.

While far from perfect, Dr. McGann's think tank rankings were the most comprehensive global think tank rankings available.

It is unclear what replacement for the rankings, if any, will emerge.

Besides the rankings, McGann authored several books on think tanks, including The Fifth Estate, Global Think Tanks, and Think Tanks: The New Knowledge and Policy Brokers in Asia.

Here is an obituary from the Philadelphia Inquirer published on Dec. 2

Wednesday, November 24, 2021

Lawmaker Introduces Bill to Force Think Tanks to Disclose Foreign Funding

Here is more from Politico:

Rep. Jim Banks (R-Ind.) introduced new legislation that would place more stringent requirements on witnesses testifying at congressional hearings to disclose foreign funding. “Congress works best when all the cards are face up on the table,” Banks, who chairs the conservative Republican Study Committee, said in a statement of the proposed revisions to the so-called Truth in Testimony rule.

Banks cited a report last year from the Foreign Influence Transparency Initiative that found at least $174 million in foreign funding flowed to D.C. think tanks between 2014-2018. House Democrats put in place stricter disclosure requirements for witnesses at the beginning of the current Congress, but Banks pointed to an article in The New Republic that outlined how witnesses were able to skirt the rule by appearing in their personal capacity rather than on behalf of the think tank that employs them.

Banks’ resolution aims to close that loophole, requiring witnesses to disclose “all foreign government, foreign political party, and foreign state-owned entity payments, grants, or in-kind contributions, to any nonprofit entity at which the witness is employed or working as a contractor for over $5,000 a year, regardless of whether or not the witness is testifying on their own behalf."

It would also expand the requirements to apply to fellows at think tanks and require disclosures from agents and subsidiaries of foreign governments, foreign political parties and other state-owned entities, as well as paid consultants or advisers representing individuals from countries deemed by Trump to be “foreign adversaries” (China, Russia, Iran, North Korea, Venezuela, and Cuba).


A summary of the bill can be found here

Here are some thoughts on the move from Josh Rogin of the Washington Post.

Friday, November 19, 2021

Think Tank Quickies (#432)

  • What buying the support of top think tanks gets you. 
  • Senate Republicans want Biden nominee to commit to briefing by think tankers.
  • A Chinese think tank has a serious beef with US Air Force.
  • Mitch McConnell joined Justice Clarence Thomas at Heritage Foundation to mark the 30th anniversary of the justice's confirmation to the high court on Oct. 15, 1991.
  • 10th China-Africa think tanks forum begins.
  • Is Trump running in 2024? The Claremont Institute hopes so.
  • Carnegie report on China's influence.
  • New ideas struggling to emerge from the sea of science. 
  • The science that isn't seen because it's not in English.
  • PLA analysts presented a research brief that analyzes 450+ policy reports and documents published in the past 4 years by the US government and broader policy community.

Thursday, November 18, 2021

New Virginia Governor Uses Heritage Staff for Transition

Here is more from Politico:

Virginia Gov.-elect Glenn Youngkin has tapped two staffers at the conservative Heritage Foundation for prominent transition roles as his nascent administration takes shape. Heritage President Kay Cole James, a George W. Bush-era Office of Personnel Management director who’s served in Virginia administrations as well, will serve as co-chair of Youngkin’s gubernatorial transition team. And Lindsey Burke, director of the Center for Education Policy at the foundation, will help outline Youngkin’s education agenda “to ensure K-12 schools are accountable to families,” Heritage said in a press release — a nod that comes after education, and attacks on critical race theory, took an outsize role in the election, championed in part by Heritage and others on the right.


The Heritage Foundation recently announced that Kay Cole James will be replaced as president by Kevin Roberts later in 2021.

Wednesday, November 17, 2021

Powerful Think Tank-Like Entity Has Deep Ties to Heritage Foundation

Here are a couple excerpts from a new Washington Post piece on the closed-door Council for National Policy (CNP):

I learned about another dimension of CNP through a video featuring Jim DeMint, a former senator and tea party favorite. It was 2018, and he was telling CNP members about an initiative called the Conservative Action Project, which had been launched years earlier by CNP leaders.

CAP claims to include more than 100 groups “representing all major elements of the conservative movement — economic, social, and national security.” Its website publishes policy memos signed by the leaders of its member groups. It turns out that, according to documents, CAP shares an address with CNP, and many CAP activists are members of both groups. CAP also works hand-in-hand with yet another group that DeMint had started not long before called the Conservative Partnership Institute.


DeMint served as Heritage Foundation president from 2013-2017. 

Those that have spoken at CNP events include Kay Coles James, another former Heritage president.  Heritage co-founder Ed Feulner has also been involved with CNP.

Friday, November 12, 2021

New Gilded Age: Atlantic Council Throws Washington's "Oscars"

 Here is how Politico described Atlantic Council's annual awards party:

WASHINGTON’S ‘OSCARS’ TONIGHT: That’s how the Atlantic Council brands its black-tie Distinguished Leadership Awards — and to celebrate the organization’s 60th birthday, they’re going all out. 2021 Honorees are dominated by European officials and scientists, but the name that will be on everyone’s lips: recording artist Dua Lipa. Other honorees are European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen; Özlem Türeci and Uğur Şahin, the developers of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine; and Albert Bourla, Pfizer CEO.


Here is more on this year's awards ceremony.

Friday, November 5, 2021

Fmr. Brookings Scholar Arrested for Lying to FBI

Here is more from the New York Times:

An analyst who was a key contributor to Democratic-funded opposition research into possible links between Donald J. Trump and Russia was arrested on Thursday and charged with lying to the F.B.I. about his sources.

The analyst, Igor Danchenko, was a primary researcher for claims that went into the so-called Steele dossier, a compendium of rumors and unproven assertions suggesting that Mr. Trump and his 2016 campaign were compromised by and conspiring with Russian intelligence officials to help him defeat Hillary Clinton.

In February, [special counsel John] Durham used a subpoena to obtain old personnel files and other documents related to Mr. Danchenko from the Brookings Institution, where Mr. Danchenko had worked from 2005 until 2010.

The inspector general report also said that a decade earlier, when Mr. Danchenko — who was born in Russia but lives in the United States — worked for the Brookings Institution, a prominent Washington think-tank, he had been the subject of a counterintelligence investigation into whether he was a Russian agent.


Here is a previous NYT piece about the Brookings subpoena, which notes that during his time at the think tank, Danchenko put forward analysis embarrassing to Russian President Vladimir Putin.  More specifically, he had evidence that Mr. Putin plagiarized parts of his dissertation.  Danchenko and Brookings colleague Cliff Gaddy revealed their findings at a 2006 Brookings event.

In 2009, Danchenko apparently made a comment to two Brookings colleagues that had sounded like a solicitation to pay for unauthorized disclosures of classified information, according to NYT.  

Danchenko also worked closely with Brookings scholar Fiona Hill, who served in the Trump Administration as deputy assistant to the president and senior director for European and Russian affairs on the National Security Council (NSC).

Here is Danchenko page on the Brookings website.  His LinkedIn page says he started off as a senior research assistant at the think tank and later became a senior research analyst.

Thursday, November 4, 2021

Putin Refuses to be Pinned Down by US Think Tanker

Here is more from Bloomberg:

Russian leader Vladimir Putin refused to be pinned down by a former Donald Trump aide when asked during his annual meeting with analysts to comment on reports that the ex-president may run again in 2024.

Instead, Putin flipped the script on Christian Whiton, a Center for the National Interest senior fellow who advised Trump on strategic communications, and prodded him to say who he would vote for in a contest between Trump and a Democrats.


Here is a biography of Mr. Whiton, who ultimately said that he would vote for Mr. Trump.  Putin reportedly responded with a smile and said "I understand you."

Tuesday, November 2, 2021

CSIS Scholar Heather Conley Becomes President of German Marshall Fund

Ms. Heather Conley, Senior Vice President for Europe, Eurasia, and the Arctic, and Director of the Europe, Russia, and Eurasia Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), will become the next president of the German Marshall Fund (GMF).

Conely will become GMF's sixth president in January 2022, replacing Dr. Karen Donfried, who joined the Biden Administration as Assistant Secretary of State for Europe and Eurasia after leading the Washington, DC-headquartered think tank for seven years.

GMF will celebrate its 50th anniversary in 2022.  Founded in 1972 through a gift from Germany as a tribute to the Marshall Plan, GMF also has offices in Berlin, Brussels, Ankara, Belgrade, Bucharest, Paris, and Warsaw.

Monday, November 1, 2021

Think Tank Quickies (#431)

  • Brookings and Brookings Doha Center end their affiliation. 
  • Should Nielsen do ratings for think tank discussions?
  • Microsoft: Russia the most prevalent hacker of US think tanks in the past year.
  • There are very few significant think tanks in Canada that are not recipients of Chinese funds.
  • James McGann: How do think tanks remain relevant in today's world? 
  • Prof. Lawrence Freedman: "I always felt that universities are sometimes better than think tanks because of their students, their engagement, their fresh and changing ideas."
  • Citing donor pressure, Yale professor resigns.
  • National Science Foundation (NSF) swamped by investigations of foreign influence on grantees.
  • "Western think tanks regularly convene events on Gulf issues. Gulf people are massively underrepresented at these events primarily due to their indifference to such gatherings."
  • Who has the most coherent and comprehensive model for the bizarre state of our current world?