Friday, April 29, 2022

Think Tank MEI Promoting Middle East Objectives Without Disclosing Conflicts of Interest

Here is more from Dr. Ben Freeman, a Research Fellow at the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft:

Firas Maksad of the Middle East Institute...dubbed the [US's abandoning of the Middle East] a “crisis” in a Wall Street Journal op-ed in March calling on Biden to renew the U.S.’s “commitment to regional defense by publicly affirming a strategic alliance” with Saudi Arabia and the UAE, or both countries will continue to cozy up to Beijing and Moscow.

Maksad’s MEI colleagues, Bilal Saab and Karen Young, kept up the drumbeat in early April with a Foreign Policy article arguing for a new U.S. “strategic defense framework with the Gulf Arab states.” The article followed an MEI policy memo accusing the United States of being supportive of Iran’s expansionism which, amongst other issues, purportedly pushed Saudi Arabia and the UAE closer to China and Russia.

Noticeably absent from these documents and media appearances clamoring for more U.S. military entanglements with Saudi Arabia and the UAE is any acknowledgement that MEI’s biggest funders are the UAE and Saudi Arabia. In fact, in 2017, leaked emails revealed a $20 million “secret” grant from the UAE to MEI.

Maksad also has personal ties to Saudi and Emirati money as Responsible Statecraft has previously pointed out. Maksad is the Managing Director of Global Policy Associates which, prior to RS’s  reporting, listed Teneo as one of the firms’ clients. Teneo, incidentally, is registered under the Foreign Agents Registration Act to represent multiple Saudi and Emirati interests.


Among other things, Dr. Freeman notes that media outlets have an obligation to acknowledge these potential conflicts of interest.

Thursday, April 28, 2022

Evelyn Farkas to Become New Executive Director of McCain Institute

Here is more from a press release:

The McCain Institute at Arizona State University and ASU President Michael M. Crow have announced that Evelyn Farkas has been named the institute’s new executive director. Farkas will begin her new position at the Washington, D.C.-based McCain Institute on May 2.

Farkas brings decades of American foreign policymaking to the McCain Institute. A member of the Council on Foreign Relations, she previously served as deputy assistant secretary of defense for Russia, Ukraine and Eurasia, and executive director of the congressional Commission on the Prevention of WMD Proliferation and Terrorism, among many other senior national security positions in the U.S. government. 


Amb. Mark Green previously held the executive director position, which he left after being tapped to run the Wilson Center. 

After Green left, Amb. Josette Sheeran, a Founding Trustee of the McCain Institute, joined the institute's leadership team in the newly created position of Executive Chairman at the McCain Institute.

Tuesday, April 26, 2022

For 1st Time Africa Programs at US's Top Think Tanks All Being Run by Africans

Here is more from The Africa Report:

Although he could not attend, the informal meeting was a dream come true for Aloysius Ordu, the director of the Africa Growth Initiative (AGI) at the Brookings Institution. Long accustomed to being one of the only Africans in the room, [Aloysius Ordu, the director of the Africa Growth Initiative (AGI) at the Brookings Institution], suddenly finds himself surrounded by a half-dozen diaspora thinkers who have taken charge of Africa programmes in Washington over the past 18 months.

The Nigerian-born Ordu is the de facto dean of the new group, having joined AGI in August 2020. Since then, French-Senegalese politician Rama Yade and Congolese-born Mvemba Dizolele have taken over the Africa programmes at the Atlantic Council and the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), respectively.

Over the same period, three others have been tapped to start new Africa programmes from scratch: Nigerian economist Zainab Usman at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace; Cameroon native Joseph Sany at the US Institute of Peace; and Morocco-born Intissar Fakir, who heads the new programme for North Africa and the Sahel at the Middle East Institute.

In addition to Ordu and his predecessors at Brookings, the Zambian-born Monde Muyangwa has led the Africa programme at the congressionally chartered Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars since 2014. Muyangwa, however, is leaving the Wilson Center to take over as the top official for Africa at the US Agency for International Development.

The Center for Global Development (CGD) also has a top African fellow, with Liberia’s former public works minister W. Gyude Moore, who joined the think tank as a fellow in 2018. The CGD, however, does not organise its programmes by geography but instead by area of focus.


Here is a 2020 report from South Africa-based Institute for Security Studies (ISS) entitled "Think Tanks in Africa: A Widely Untapped Resource."  Here is more on think tanks in Africa from Africa Portal.

Monday, April 25, 2022

Think Tank Quickies (#444)

  • Lachlan Murdoch helps launch the Centre for the Australian Way of Life at right-leaning Institute of Public Affairs.
  • Heritage Action created a new PAC, the Sentinel Fund, to bolster grassroots support for Republicans running for Congress. 
  • Anastasiia Lapatina, a journalist with the Kyiv Independent, accepted into the 2022 Hertog War Studies Program, a two-week academic program at the Institute for the Study of War.
  • CAP is trying out different hybrid models for its think tank staff to return to work before settling on anything more permanent.
  • When emotion is king, do think tanks still matter?
  • Cato Institute analyzes Heritage Foundation report outlining complaints against "Big Tech."
  • Many think tanks don't have a good track record in terms of intern pay in the foreign policy field.  Neither do university's when it comes to adjunct professor pay.
  • PIIE chief Adam Posen: A two-decade backlash against globalization poses risk to America.
  • The Carnegie-Tsinghua Center for Global Policy's American head, Paul Haenle, now resides in Singapore.
  • Virtually everything the Niskanen Center publishes falls under a Creative Commons license.

Friday, April 22, 2022

Carnegie Forced to Close its Moscow Center

After 28 years, the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace was forced to close its Moscow Center at the direction of the Russian government, according to the think tank.  Here is more from a Carnegie statement:

“We regret the Russian government’s decision to close our Moscow center and believe this step will only deepen Russia’s international isolation,” said Tino Cuéllar, president of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. “The Carnegie Endowment was the first independent think tank to open in Russia after the fall of the Soviet Union and since then consistently set the standard for objective policy analysis in Russia. As an institution dedicated to advancing international cooperation and peace through independent analysis and innovative strategic thinking, we remain true to our principles and steadfast in our commitment to the mission we’ve had for more than a century. Our worldwide network of scholars, including leading experts from Russia and other states of the former Soviet Union, will continue to tackle the urgent issues facing this region and the world.”


The Moscow Times notes that the Russian government shuttered the think tank after claiming that they had "discovered violations of Russian legislation," but didn't provide further details.

Besides its Washington, DC headquarters and Moscow Center, the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace also has Carnegie Europe (in Brussels), Carnegie India (in New Delhi), Carnegie China, and the Malcolm H. Kerr Carnegie Middle Easter Center (in Lebanon).

Thursday, April 21, 2022

Russia Declares Think Tank Chatham House "Undesirable"

Here is more from Barron's:

Russia said that it will add the UK think tank Chatham House to a blacklist of "undesirable" international organisations, calling it a threat to national security.

While the Russian announcement did not give any specific reason, it comes following Britain's strong support to Kyiv following the launch of Russia's military operation in Ukraine.

Chatham House is the informal name for The Royal Institute of International Affairs, a respected, more than century-old research institute in London that focuses on international affairs and is widely cited by media.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky's chief of staff Andriy Yermak and Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba have recently taken part in events organised by Chatham House.

It recently held a webinar titled "Aggression against Ukraine: Holding Russia accountable".


Several other thinks tanks were already on Russia's undesirable list, including the Atlantic Council and the German Marshall Fund (GMF).

Wednesday, April 20, 2022

Why Are Most Think Tanks Awful at Predictions?

Think tanks and think tank scholars are often criticized for being isolated within a "groupthink" bubble which leads to stale, inside-the-box thinking.  One example, as highlighted in The Atlantic, comes from their COVID predictions:

In the Great Recession that started in 2008, the housing market crashed, state- and local-government budgets were decimated, and the federal government’s rescue efforts were in many ways too little too late. Early on in the pandemic, think tanks, journalists, columnists, and economists all leaned heavily on the preceding recession to try to understand just how bad things were going to get. “There was an awful lot of last-war-type thinking,” Jason Furman, the Harvard economist and former chair of the Council of Economic Advisers, told me. Although looking to the past is normally a good rule of thumb for forecasters, this overreliance missed how different the Great Recession and the pandemic-induced recession were from each other.

In August 2020, the Aspen Institute released a report warning that 30 million to 40 million people in the United States were at risk of eviction, a number equivalent to roughly one in 10 Americans. But in December 2021, Princeton’s Eviction Lab found that in the 31 cities where it had collected data, all but one recorded fewer eviction filings than the historical average. Not only was the prediction startlingly off base—evictions actually declined.


There are countless examples of think tanks getting it wrong, and Think Tank Watch will continue to document those cases.

Tuesday, April 19, 2022

Big Tech Increases Funding to Think Tanks

Here is more from the Financial Times:

The world’s largest technology companies are pouring money into the biggest foreign policy think-tanks in the US, as they seek to advance the argument that stricter competition rules will benefit China.

Google, Amazon, Facebook and Apple are behind an increase in funding to four of Washington’s most prestigious research groups: the Center for Strategic and International Studies, the Center for a New American Security, Brookings and the Hudson Institute.

Total donations from Big Tech companies to the four think-tanks have risen from at least $625,000 in 2017-18 to at least $1.2mn in 2019-20, according to a Financial Times analysis of financial disclosures. These figures could be as high as $1.2mn in 2017-18 to $2.7mn in 2019-20.


Other tech giants are also increasingly funding think tanks.  Here is a recent Think Tank Watch post on Amazon's funding of think tanks.

Thursday, April 14, 2022

Think Tank Quickies (#443)

  • Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene does not like think tanks.
  • A Texas bill signed last year - written by the head of a think tank opposed to climate action, then passed by lawmakers - directs the state to boycott financial groups that divest from fossil fuels.
  • Bill Browder calling for think tanks to sever ties with Russian oligarchs.
  • Micah Zenko: "Every Russia-Ukraine conflict wargame I'm aware of [USG or think tanks] began with a devastating Russian cyberattack that turns out the lights and causes mass panic. An assumption taken for granted which turned out to be wrong."
  • New report on women's representation at European think tanks.
  • Chinese think tank looks at long-term impact of Russia's recent actions.
  • International consortium of think tanks launch the "Europe is Asia's Century" in Bucharest.
  • Ex-CDC director, Tom Frieden, recently charged with sexual abuse, hired by think tank CFR.
  • SCMP: Think tanks should play a bigger role in Hong Kong's governance.
  • What's the point of think tank awards?  (When you have to ask...)

Tuesday, April 12, 2022

Hoover Inst. Warning: Digital Yuan May Undo Dollar

The Hoover Institution has published a new report entitled "Digital Currencies: The US, China, and the World at a Crossroads," arguing that the Chinese government's introduction of a digital yuan as a domestic alternative to paper currency poses a threat to the US dollar's global dominance.

The report, which had 31 contributors, was edited by Darrell Duffie and Elizabeth Economy, both senior fellows at the think tank.

Other contributors include Jared Cohen, CEO of Jigsaw; Lauren Gloudeman, director for China at Eurasia Group; Niall Ferguson, author of The Ascent of Money; Stuart Levey, CEO of Diem Networks; Sigal Mandelker, general partner at Ribbit Capital; H.R. McMaster, a former National Security Adviser under President Trump; Evan Medeiros, a former NSC staffer; and Matthew Pottinger, former Deputy National Security Adviser under Trump.

The report and the working group that produced it were launched with support of Hoover and its project on China's Global Sharp Power, co-chaired by Larry Diamond and Glenn Tiffert.

A grant from the Smith Richardson Foundation provided the principal financial support for the work.  The Atlantic Council's GeoEconomics Center shared data with the group on the status of central bank digital currency projects around the world.

Monday, April 11, 2022

Atlantic Council Scholar Leaving to Become CEO of Atlantik-Brücke

Here is more from an Atlantik-Brücke press release:

Julia Friedlander, 37, will take over as CEO of Atlantik-Brücke on June 1, 2022. Friedlander is currently C. Boyden Gray Senior Fellow and Director of the Economic Statecraft Initiative at the Atlantic Council in Washington, D.C. She is an expert on transatlantic economic relations, EU economic policy, and financial regulation and sanctions. Previously, Julia Friedlander served as an advisor at the U.S. Treasury Department and the White House, among other positions. Julia is a native New Yorker who studied at Princeton and Johns Hopkins University. She lived in Germany for two years on a DAAD scholarship. Julia Friedlander takes over the position from Dr. David Deißner, who has led Atlantik-Brücke’s operations since 2017. Deißner is leaving Atlantik-Brücke to pursue a new role in the business community.


Atlantik-Brücke is currently headquartered in Berlin, Germany.

The news comes as Dr. Michael Green, a scholar at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), was recently tapped to become CEO of the University of Sydney's United States Studies Centre (USSC).

Friday, April 8, 2022

Billionaire Building Community for Think Tankers to Work, Live

Billionaire Nicolas Berggruen, a German-American investor and philanthropist, is creating a new type of community for the think tank world.  Here is more from the New York Times:

[Near the Getty Center] Berggruen plans to construct what he half-jokingly describes as a “secular monastery,” a campus where scholars affiliated with the think tank that he founded, the Berggruen Institute, will live, work, cogitate. The 450-acre property, known informally to Berggruen and his staff as Monteverdi (they haven’t decided on an official name), will be centered around a building designed by a group that includes the Swiss architectural firm Herzog & de Meuron, famed for the Bird’s Nest Olympic venue in Beijing. According to Berggruen, he purchased the land in 2014 for $15 million. But he has yet to break ground on the project, which has drawn resistance from nearby residents. If completed, this spot overlooking Los Angeles will become the de facto seat of what might be called an empire of the mind.

The son of the late Heinz Berggruen, one of postwar Europe’s most celebrated art dealers and collectors, the 60-year-old Berggruen grew up in France and made his fortune in America. For a time, he was known as the “homeless billionaire” because he didn’t have a fixed address and lived out of luxury hotels. In the late 2000s, dissatisfied with his career in finance, Berggruen began privately studying philosophy and political theory with a couple of U.C.L.A. professors. Soon after that, he established the Berggruen Institute. A prolific networker, Berggruen has recruited so many prominent names to the institute’s roster of supporters and advisers — Eric Schmidt, Reid Hoffman, Arianna Huffington and Fareed Zakaria are among those listed on the organization’s website — that it has been described as his own personal Davos.

The institute employs around 30 people, has some 40 fellows worldwide and maintains offices in Los Angeles, Beijing and Venice. It publishes a magazine, Noema (ancient Greek for “thinking”), that covers politics, technology, climate change, culture and much else. In addition to the institute, Berggruen recently bought through his charitable trust a palace in Venice that he plans to turn into a center for the arts. His name also appears on the institute’s annual $1 million Berggruen Prize for Philosophy and Culture. Last year’s recipient was Peter Singer, the moral philosopher and bioethicist.


Here is a previous Think Tank Watch post about the Berggruen Institute, which was founded in 2010.  According to Forbes, Berggruen's current net worth is $2.9 billion.

Thursday, April 7, 2022

Google Spots Russian Hacker Group Targeting Think Tanks

Here is more from Google:

In early March, Google’s Threat Analysis Group (TAG) published an update on the cyber activity it was tracking with regard to the war in Ukraine. Since our last update, TAG has observed a continuously growing number of threat actors using the war as a lure in phishing and malware campaigns. Government-backed actors from China, Iran, North Korea and Russia, as well as various unattributed groups, have used various Ukraine war-related themes in an effort to get targets to open malicious emails or click malicious links.

COLDRIVER, a Russian-based threat actor sometimes referred to as Calisto, has launched credential phishing campaigns, targeting several US based NGOs and think tanks, the military of a Balkans country, and a Ukraine based defense contractor. However, for the first time, TAG has observed COLDRIVER campaigns targeting the military of multiple Eastern European countries, as well as a NATO Centre of Excellence. These campaigns were sent using newly created Gmail accounts to non-Google accounts, so the success rate of these campaigns is unknown. We have not observed any Gmail accounts successfully compromised during these campaigns.


Russia has been targeting US-based and other think tanks for years.

Tuesday, April 5, 2022

Think Tank Quickies (#442)

  • Andrey Batlistsky is leaving his position at Moscow State Institute of International Relations, saying he hopes the institute "will provide [the] government and people of Russia unbiased analysis."
  • Former US Ambassador to Israel Daniel Shapiro joins Atlantic Council as a distinguished fellow.
  • South Korea's President-elect Yoon Suk-yeol sending delegation to US to meet with think tanks, others.
  • BlackRock Investment Institute is the Wall Street firm's "global think tank."
  • New Third Way report: "Red State Murder Problem."
  • Think tank and college rankings are a fool's game: Columbia ranked No. 2, but professor is dubious.
  • Rebecca Bill Chavez, an Obama alum, will be new president and CEO of the Inter-American Dialogue.
  • Legal docs tie Quincy Institute scholar Amir Handjani to a spy operation targeting critics of a UAE monarch.
  • Meet the Socialism Research Center (run by Justin Haskins) at the Heartland Institute.
  • New resource for those wanting to build a think tank.

Friday, April 1, 2022

Hong Kong Think Tank Closes After 16 Years

Here is more from SCMP:

The Bauhinia Foundation Research Centre, a Hong Kong think tank set up by a close aide of former chief executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen, will close by the end of March, the Post has learned.

Analysts said its exit underscored the limited room for think tanks to develop in a city where policymaking had been dominated by officials.

The centre was founded in March 2006 by Norman Chan Tak-lam, who ran Tsang's campaign to become city leader the previous year.


In 2019, Hong Kong think tank SynergyNet closed after 17 years in operation from lack of funds and an "unfavorable environment" for think tanks.

In 2020, German think tank Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom closed its Hong Kong office following China's imposition of a new national security law on the territory.