Monday, June 27, 2022

Trump A.G. Bill Barr Joins Hudson Institute

Bill Barr, an Attorney General in the Trump Administration, has joined the Hudson Institute as a distinguished fellow, where he will focus on several policy issues, including violent crime, transnational criminal and drug organizations, international terrorism, separation of powers, and other constitutional principles.

Hudson houses a number of former Trump officials, including former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (a distinguished fellow), former Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao (a distinguished fellow), and former National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster (Japan Chair).

Thursday, June 23, 2022

Russia Increasing Pace of Cyberattacks on Think Tanks

Microsoft Corp. has issued a new report saying that Russian intelligence agencies have increased the pace of cyberattacks against countries that have provided aid to Ukraine, and targets include think tanks.

Here is more from Microsoft:

Russian targeting has prioritized governments, especially among NATO members. But the list of targets has also included think tanks, humanitarian organizations, IT companies, and energy and other critical infrastructure suppliers. Since the start of the war, the Russian targeting we’ve identified has been successful 29 percent of the time. A quarter of these successful intrusions has led to confirmed exfiltration of an organization’s data, although as explained in the report, this likely understates the degree of Russian success. 


Microsoft notes that Russia, which has been targeting think tanks around the world for years, has mainly been targeting think tanks that advise on foreign policy.

Here is a new piece entitled "Why Think Tanks Are Such Juicy Targets for Cyberspies."

Tuesday, June 21, 2022

Think Tank Quickies (#446)

  • Why Brookings has such a problematic voice on China.
  • What is the Institute for the Study of War and why does the media trust it?
  • Jake Sullivan caught on hot mic at CNAS admitting taxpayers are paying to "upkeep" seized Russian yachts.  Did Sullivan also get COVID at the event?
  • Sarah Lee of Capital Research Center: Think tanks are taking millions in foreign donations, and Biden has "no interest in imposing transparency."
  • GMF's Jonathan Katz organizes letter from experts urging EU candidate status for Ukraine.
  • Facebook-funded American Edge backed conservative think tanks to create the appearance of grassroots opposition to antitrust regulation. 
  • Video clip: Go inside Meet the Press's exclusive war game with CNAS.
  • Ilya Shapiro lands at Manhattan Institute in quite the circuitous route.
  • Pic: Did Macron promise Zelesnky a think tank?

Thursday, June 16, 2022

New Bill Compels Think Tanks to Disclose Foreign Donations

Amid reports that former Brookings Institution president John Allen may have illegally lobbied on behalf of Qatar, lawmakers in the US House of Representatives have introduced a new bill requiring think tanks to disclose their foreign donations.

Here is more from the Washington Post:

A House bill introduced Thursday seeks to curb foreign influence in U.S. democracy by imposing a lifetime ban on members of Congress, senior military leaders and senior executive branch officials from lobbying for a foreign government or political party, among other measures.

The legislation would also compel tax-exempt groups, including think tanks, to disclose high-dollar donations and gifts from foreign powers and require political campaigns to verify that donors have a valid U.S. address, using the three-digit CVV code on the back of credit cards.

The legislation addresses issues brought to light more recently by the federal probe into whether retired four-star Marine Gen. John R. Allen, who resigned over the weekend as president of the Brookings Institution, lobbied on Qatar’s behalf without disclosing his activities as required under federal law. And the proposals come amid stepped-up enforcement by the Justice Department of the Foreign Agents Registration Act, including the decision last month to sue Steve Wynn, a developer and Republican megadonor, to compel him to register as an agent of China.

The bill’s sponsors also point to a 2020 study from the D.C.-based Center for International Policy that found that the nation’s premier think tanks received at least $174 million in funding from foreign powers between 2014 and 2018. Among those receiving the most foreign funding, according to the analysis, was Brookings.


The lead sponsor of the bill, which is being called the Fighting Foreign Influence Act, is Rep. Jared Golden (D-ME).  Co-sponsors include Reps. Lance Gooden (R-TX), Katie Porter (D-CA), and Paul Gosar (R-AZ).  Among other things, the bill would require a think tank to disclose gifts and donations from foreign powers greater than $50,000 in a given year.

The text of the bill can be found here.  Similar bills have been introduced in Congress in the past but have all stalled.  With limited calendar space amid a midterm election year, it is unlikely this bill will pass either.

As Think Tank Watch previously reported, Rep. Jack Bergman (R-MI) is pushing for an investigation into Brookings.

Update: Here is Politico's angle on the whole Allen/Brookings incident.

Monday, June 13, 2022

Brookings Takes Major Reputational Hit as President John Allen Resigns

The Brookings Institution, already facing years of reputational damage from its funding sources, is facing another huge hit as the think tank's president, John Allen, announced on Sunday that he is resigning amid an FBI foreign lobbying probe. 

Allen's resignation letter can be read here.  The news comes six days after a court filing revealed evidence that Allen had secretly lobbied on behalf of Qatar, a country that has donated millions of dollars to Brookings over the years.

Here is more from the Washington Post:

Allen met with senior Qatari leaders in 2017, when he was a part-time senior fellow at Brookings. According to law enforcement, Allen used his Brookings email address to communicate with Trump administration officials, including Army Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, who was White House national security adviser at the time.

Allen offered a “false version of events” when describing the nature of his work in Qatar while talking with law enforcement officials in 2020, the FBI said. When subpoenaed by a grand jury, law enforcement officials added, Allen did not produce email messages that were relevant to the case.


Ted Gayer remains as acting president of Brookings, although he is scheduled to leave this summer to run the Niskanen Center.  Thus, Brookings will need to find a new president or acting president in the coming weeks.  Allen had been making around $1 million a year as president of the think tank.

The Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft notes that Allen's alleged use of Brookings' resources to conduct his work for Qatar "raises questions about Brookings' lucrative relationship with Qatar and the ethical implications of maintaining close ties to a foreign government."

In a letter to Attorney General Merrick Garland, Rep. Jack Bergman (R-MI) is pushing for an investigation into Brookings.

Here is a new Vox explainer about the whole scandal.  It notes that the small changes that Brookings undertook the past few years regarding foreign donors after being called out multiple times in the media are "[accomplishments that] will now likely be lost to this unfolding investigation."

Joe Cirincione, a prolific think tanker, said the Brookings debacle "is just a small part of the general corruption and degrading of DC think tanks."  He added: "Once proud, independent academic institutions, they are now dominated by corporations and government, issuing mediocre reports that serve their interests."

Here is a piece from Eli Clifton and Benjamin Freeman entitled "The Government's Investigation Into a Brookings Ex-President Should Worry Think Tanks."

Thursday, June 9, 2022

Jason Matheny Named as New President of RAND Corp.

Here is more from a RAND Corporation press release:

Jason Matheny, an economist, technologist, national security expert, and longtime civil servant, has been named president and chief executive officer of the nonprofit and nonpartisan RAND Corporation, according to Michael Leiter, chair of the RAND Board of Trustees.

Effective July 5, Matheny will become the sixth president and CEO of RAND, a research institution based in Santa Monica, Calif. He succeeds Michael D. Rich, who has led RAND since 2011.

Matheny recently led White House policy on technology and national security at the National Security Council and the Office of Science and Technology Policy. Previously, he was founding director of the Center for Security and Emerging Technology (CSET) at Georgetown University and director of the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity (IARPA), where he was responsible for developing advanced technologies for the U.S. intelligence community. Before IARPA, he worked for Oxford University, the World Bank, the Applied Physics Laboratory, the Center for Biosecurity, and Princeton University.


According to the think tank, Matheny was chosen from nearly 200 potential candidates.

Tuesday, June 7, 2022

Brookings President Implicated in Secret Lobbying Campaign on Behalf of Qatar

Here is more from the Washington Post:

A former U.S. ambassador to Pakistan and the United Arab Emirates pleaded guilty Friday to federal charges in connection with a secret lobbying campaign on behalf of Qatar to influence the Trump White House and Congress in 2017, after implicating a retired four-star American general in the effort.

Richard G. Olson, a 34-year career Foreign Service officer who served as the Obama administration’s special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan from 2015 until 2016, admitted to lying in ethics paperwork and violating revolving-door laws by lobbying for Qatar within a year of retiring from federal service.

In pre-plea proceedings in federal court in Washington, Olson’s defense counsel said he admitted to the misdemeanor charges — each punishable by up to one year in prison at his sentencing Sept. 13 — and cooperated with federal prosecutors on the understanding that they were also investigating and pursuing criminal charges against retired four-star Marine Gen. John G. Allen. The latter commanded U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan before retiring in 2013. He was tapped in late 2017 as president of Washington’s influential Brookings Institution, to which Qatar agreed in 2013 to donate $14.8 million over four years.


Allen reportedly has denied ever working as a Qatari agent and said his efforts on Qatar in 2017 were motivated to prevent a war from breaking out in the Gulf that would put US troops at risk.  Allen has "voluntarily cooperated" with the government's investigation.

Update: It was reported on June 8 that the FBI has seized Allen's data related to Qatar lobbying.

Here is more from the New York Times of Brookings' affiliation with Qatar:

Brookings once had a large campus in Doha. The campus was established years before General Allen became president of the think tank. In September, according to its website, Brookings ended its affiliation with the Doha institute, which is now called the Middle East Council on Global Affairs.

 Allen became president of the think tank in November of 2017. 

Update II: John Allen has been placed on administrative leave, and EVP Ted Gayer is now serving as acting president of Brookings.

Last week it was announced that Gayer is leaving Brookings to head the Niskanen Center, effective August 2022.

Monday, June 6, 2022

What Do Nearly All Think Tank Reports Have in Common?

Can you remember the last meaningful think tank report you've read?  If you answered "no," you're in good company.

Reports have become so prosaic and mundane that Mr. Brian Katulis, a senior fellow and vice president of policy at the Middle East Institute (MEI), recently tweeted the "recipe" for a foreign policy report at a US think tank:


Katulis, who was formerly a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress (CAP), added that for extra credit you can a) throw in the word "strategic" or some variation of it, b) add a list of advisors or reviewers, preferably a transpartisan group, and c) organize a panel with a former distinguished official, where the report is "treated like tablets Moses brought down from the mountains."

It often feels as if think tank reports can be generated by an algorithm, and in the future they certainly will be.  Coupled with this think tank name, logo, and mission statement generator, it should be pretty easy running your very own AI-run think tank in the not-too-distant future.

Think Tank Watch can't help but wonder if the future will be filled with an army of liberal, conservative, centrist, and libertarian think tanks fueled by artificial intelligence all competing for your attention.

Thursday, June 2, 2022

Heritage Foundation Co-Hosts Retreat With Hill Aides to Plot Biden Probes

Here is more from Politico:

“Top Republican congressional aides huddled this month with conservative think-tank leaders on Maryland's Eastern Shore to hone tactics and messaging for Biden administration probes,” reports Axios’ Lachlan Markay.

— “If the GOP wins control in the midterms, leaders want to kick off high-profile investigations as soon as the new Congress is seated. Republicans plan to draw on investigative power from allies across Washington. The retreat was hosted by the Heritage Foundation, the Conservative Partnership Institute and the American Accountability Foundation, a nonprofit run by Trump administration alumni that's dogged Biden nominees with independent investigative work.”

— “Over two days, congressional aides at the retreat got briefings from prominent conservative activists and organizations on a host of investigative tactics,” while the event itself “provides a glimpse of where Republicans see potentially fruitful oversight avenues.”


Over the years, the Heritage Foundation has hosted numerous retreats for congressional conservatives.  For example, it held a retreat for Republican lawmakers at the Salamander Resort and Spa in Virginia in 2015.  It held a similar retreat in Baltimore in 2013.  The think tank has also held retreats in Simi Valley, California, and at the Four Seasons hotel in Philadelphia, among other places.

Wednesday, June 1, 2022

Brookings EVP to Become President of Niskanen Center

Dr. Ted Gayer, executive vice president of the Brookings Institution and a senior fellow in Economic Studies, will become the next president of the think tank Niskanen Center.

Here is more from a press release: 

The Niskanen Center’s Board of Directors is pleased to announce that it has named Ted Gayer as its new President, effective August 2022.

Gayer has served as executive vice president of the Brookings Institution since 2018, after five years as vice president and director of the Economic Studies program. His background includes extensive experience in academia, government, and public policy organizations. Before joining Brookings in 2009, he was an associate professor of public policy at Georgetown University. From 2007 to 2008, he was deputy assistant secretary for economic policy at the Department of the Treasury. He has also served as a senior economist at the President’s Council of Economic Advisers.


Jerry Taylor, co-founder of Niskanen and former president, resigned last year after being charged with violently attacking his wife. 

Joseph Coon, a co-founder of Niskanen, is currently serving the interim president of the think tank.