Friday, August 19, 2022

New Report: Hackers Linked to China Targeting Think Tanks

Here is more from MIT Technology Review:

A hacking group linked to China has spent the last three years targeting human rights organizations, think tanks, news media, and agencies of multiple foreign governments, according to a revealing new report from the cybersecurity firm Recorded Future. 

The report, shared exclusively with MIT Technology Review, offers new clues about how private contractors and front companies operating with relatively few resources can run long-standing hacking operations and succeed against high-value targets with crude but effective tactics.

The hackers, known as RedAlpha, have taken aim at organizations including Amnesty International, the International Federation for Human Rights, Radio Free Asia, the Mercator Institute for China Studies, and other think tanks and government and humanitarian groups around the world. The hackers’ impact remains unclear, but judging from the sheer length of the campaign, analysts expect that the digital espionage has, broadly speaking, seen success. 


The report notes that RedAlpha has regularly registered domain names imitating think tanks such as MERICS as well as multiple Taiwanese think tanks.  "Of particular note, the registration of at least 16 domains spoofing MERICS from early to mid-2021 coincided with the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) imposing sanctions on the Berlin-based think tank in March 2021," it says.

RedAlpha is one of the numerous hacking groups that has been targeting think tanks for years.

Thursday, August 18, 2022

Think Tank Quickies (#450)

  • Alison Markovitz is the new COO of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
  • Former national security adviser Robert O'Brien is now a distinguished senior fellow at the Pepperdine School of Public Policy. 
  • NYT columnist Tom Friedman hosted delegation from Chinese think tank Center for China and Globalization. Asia Society also hosted them.
  • RUSI has identified at least 15 financial intelligence information-sharing initiatives globally.
  • China Daily: Think tanks should play a bigger role in global exchanges.
  • Thread on Pottinger/Flynn report in 2009 on war in Afghanistan that was published by CNAS.
  • Abraham Denmark, senior vice president of programs at the Wilson Center, is joining the Pentagon as senior adviser on AUKUS.
  • Fox: Database reveals Department of Education ties to liberal think tanks. 
  • Is Rockbridge Network, a band of secretive donors aligned with Peter Thiel, donating to think tanks?
  • Pics: The world's most beautiful bookshops (no think tank bookshops on list...).

Wednesday, August 17, 2022

Will Think Tanks Soon Have to Register as Foreign Agents?

With a number of major US think tanks receiving money from foreign governments, there has been an ongoing debate about whether they should have to register as foreign agents under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA).

Ben Freeman, a Research Fellow at the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft, has the latest on where things may be headed:

Late Friday the Department of Justice’s Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) Unit issued guidance indicating that think tanks and non-profits doing work at the behest of a foreign government likely have an obligation to register under FARA.

In a new Advisory Opinion — the FARA Unit’s public, though heavily redacted, responses when organizations ask if they should register or not — the Chief of the FARA Unit argues that the unnamed organization in question should register under FARA as its work for foreign principals included outreach to policymakers in the defense community, facilitating “meetings and new partnerships in the United States, particularly with U.S. government officials,” and has agreed to prepare a study that would “foster bilateral exchange and cooperation between” a foreign government and the United States. 

If the FARA Unit is, in fact, viewing papers published at the behest of foreign governments as grounds for FARA registration, think tanks should most definitely take notice. 


Just like FARA advisory opinions from earlier this year, the newest advisory opinion still leaves some uncertainty as to whether certain think tanks should be registering under FARA.

Law firms note, however, that many interactions that think tanks have with foreign entities could potentially trigger FARA scrutiny. 

On Aug. 16, several US senators, including Senate Judiciary Ranking Member Chuck Grassley (R-IA), sent a letter asking the US Department of Justice (DOJ) to detail steps being taken to ensure that the Brookings Institution and other think tanks tied to foreign entities comply with FARA.

The letter, which requests a response from the DOJ by Aug. 29, comes on the heels of a DOJ investigation into former Brookings President John Allen, who resigned from his position earlier this year amid an FBI foreign lobbying probe.

Meanwhile, a group of House lawmakers recently introduced a bill, the Fighting Foreign Influence Act (H.R. 8106), which would impose a range of new disclosure requirements on think tanks.

Update: Rep. Jack Bergman (R-MI) tweeted that the American people "deserve to know" who is influencing US policy and said he is working on legislation to bring "greater transparency to how think tanks funded by foreign money impact the US legislative process.

Tuesday, August 16, 2022

CIA Director Employed Undisclosed CCP Members While Running Carnegie

Here is more from The Daily Caller:

Central Intelligence Agency Director William Burns formerly headed an influential D.C. think tank while it employed undisclosed Chinese Communist Party (CCP) members as well as individuals with Chinese government ties, the Daily Caller News Foundation has found.

During Burns’ tenure as president of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace from February 2015 to November 2021, the think tank employed at least 20 policy experts whom the DCNF has identified as CCP members. These CCP members worked at both Carnegie’s Washington, D.C., headquarters and Carnegie-Tsinghua — the Beijing center Burns’ predecessor, Jessica Mathews, launched in 2010 in cooperation with Tsinghua University.

Yet, expert profiles on Carnegie’s website don’t disclose these individuals’ ties to the CCP. The DCNF only discovered their communist ties after analyzing hundreds of Chinese-language, Communist Party branch records and personnel profiles from more than a dozen CCP-linked organizations.


The Daily Caller reminds us that during his Senate confirmation for the CIA post, Burns came under fire for Carnegie's ties to the China-United States Exchange Foundation (CUSEF).

Here is a list of CCP members and individuals with Chinese government ties Carnegie has employed.

Meanwhile, The Washington Free Beacon has a piece entitled "Biden Admin Taps China Apologist for Foggy Bottom Post," which notes that Quincy Institute scholar Jessica Lee is joining the US State Department.

Tuesday, August 9, 2022

Wargaming at Think Tanks Picks Up Speed Amid US-China Tensions

Think tanks have been holding war games for years, but the number and variety of war games has recently exploded, with several influential think tanks focusing their efforts on a possible US-China war.

Here is one example from a new Bloomberg piece:

As China waged extensive military exercises off of Taiwan last week, a group of American defense experts in Washington was focused on their own simulation of an eventual — but for now entirely hypothetical — US-China war over the island.

The unofficial what-if game is being conducted on the fifth floor of an office building not far from the White House, and it posits a US military response to a Chinese invasion in 2026. Even though the participants bring an American perspective, they are finding that a US-Taiwan victory, if there is one, could come at a huge cost.

“The results are showing that under most — though not all — scenarios, Taiwan can repel an invasion,” said Mark Cancian, a senior adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, where the war games are being held. “However, the cost will be very high to the Taiwanese infrastructure and economy and to US forces in the Pacific.”

In sessions that will run through September, retired US generals and Navy officers and former Pentagon officials hunch like chess players over tabletops along with analysts from the CSIS think tank. They move forces depicted as blue and red boxes and small wooden squares over maps of the Western Pacific and Taiwan. The results will be released to the public in December.

In 18 of the 22 rounds of the game played to this point, Chinese missiles sink a large part of the US and Japanese surface fleet and destroy “hundreds of aircraft on the ground,” according to Cancian, a former White House defense budget analyst and retired US Marine. 


Here is a Wall Street Journal description of the wargame, which includes pictures of some participants.  [Benjamin Norton describes it as "a bunch of neoconservative hawks...sitting around drinking coffee and playing board games to plan how they can wage war on China and colonize Taiwan."]

Through its Executive Education courses the think tank offers, CSIS will be holding a course entitled "Wargaming: Constructing Simulations and Competitive Strategy Exercises" from September 26-28.  Tuition for the three-day course is $3,500.

Among those teaching the course will be Dr. Benjamin Jensen, Senior Fellow for Future War, Gaming and Strategy in the International Security Program at CSIS.  Dr. Jensen is also a professor of strategic studies at the Marine Corps University School of Advanced Warfighting, and has helped develop wargames for places such as the US Army, DARPA, and NATO.

Relatedly, CSIS's ChinaPower program recently launched a page to track China's activities in the "Fourth Taiwan Strait Crisis."

In a recent wargame run by the Center for a New American Security (CNAS) simulating a 2027 invasion of Taiwan by China, neither side achieved air superiority and both sides took heavy losses.  [Parts of the wargame were aired on MSNBC.]

Recent wargames at other think tanks, including the RAND Corporation, have shown the US "losing" to China.  RAND has conducted tabletop wargames with policymakers since the 1950s.  RAND has worked with various government agencies on wargames, including the US Air Force's Warfighting Integration Capability (AFWIC) office.

Here is a new RAND report that breaks down China's gray zone tactics, and here is another one on the implications of a coercive quarantine on Taiwan by China.  Here is another recent RAND report on determining the military capabilities most needed to counter China and Russia.  And here is the think tank's assessment of US and Chinese industrial bases in quantum technology.

In a piece on software that helps militaries predict the outcomes of conflicts, The Economist recently noted that RAND is working to develop a model to help forecast the will to fight.  Equations developed by RAND have already been included in a few Defense Department combat simulators, including OneSAF and IWARS.

Polygon notes that RAND's wargame history led to a series of educational games.

It has also been reported that think tanks and universities in Japan and the US have been conducting wargames more frequently on a Taiwan contingency.

Here is a previous Think Tank Watch post on the variety of war games taking place at think tanks. 

Update: Here is a thread from Christopher Dougherty of CNAS, who took part in the CSIS wargames, describing his experience.

Here is a pic from Sebastian Bae, a research analyst at CNA, showing some wargaming at CSIS that took place in July.  He ran his wargame "Littoral Commander" with the think tank's International Security Program's (ISP) Wargaming Working Group.

Tuesday, August 2, 2022

Think Tank Quickies (#449)

  • Atlantic Council delegation visits Taiwan; led by former US Defense Secretary Mark Esper.
  • Michael Krepon, co-founder of the Stimson Center, passed away.
  • Jordan Schneider's career advice for China scholars: "If everything broke right for you over the past two decades, you today might be sitting in a brand name Mass Ave think tank making 150-250k as a senior fellow, with, if you’re lucky, some consulting work on the side."
  • Jake Eberts spreadsheet on think tank internship pay.
  • Center for Security Policy: New Muslim Brotherhood-linked think tank (Center for Global Policy, or CGP, and now called Newlines Institute) tries to launder credentials, fails.
  • Twitter thread on two Chinese think tanks that launched a new report on AUKUS. 
  • Todd Moss: All sizable US think tanks have an Africa program or at least policy experts to cover the continent.  Why not Center for American (CAP)?
  • Former Trump National Security Adviser Robert O'Brien is now the chairman of the board at the Richard Nixon Foundation.
  • Dimitri Simes, president and CEO of the Center for National Interest, hosted Russian Ambassador to the US Anatoly Antonov and former US envoy for Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad for lunch at Cafe Milano in Georgetown.
  • India Think Tank Forum: Aug. 3-4 in New Delhi.

Monday, August 1, 2022

The Think Tanker Who "Weaponized" Critical Race Theory

Here is more from The Economist:

It’s like a bomb went off,” says Christopher Rufo. Mr Rufo himself helped light the fuse. After George Floyd’s murder in May 2020, discussions about racism spread throughout schools, he says. Mr Rufo labelled those discussions “critical race theory” (crt). Controversy around crt has continued to grow—recently expanding beyond race to matters of sex and gender. 

With the help of Mr Rufo, now a director of an “initiative” on crt at the Manhattan Institute, a conservative think-tank, critical race theory, once an obscure academic topic, became a prominent Republican issue in a matter of weeks.

The Manhattan Institute now supplies a guide for parents fighting against “woke schooling”, and the Goldwater Institute, another conservative think-tank, provides model legislation. 


Here is a 2021 New Yorker piece on Rufo entitled "How a Conservative Activist Invented the Conflict Over Critical Race Theory."

The New York Times says that Rufo appears on Fox News so often that he converted a room in his house to a television studio with professional lighting, an uplink to Fox in New York, and an "On Air" light in his hallway to help prevent disturbances from his wife and children when broadcasting.

NYT notes that Rufo, 37, lives near Seattle and is a former documentary filmmaker.  Besides his think tank work he has a newsletter with 2,500 paid subscribers and runs a nonprofit entity to support his work, which he said had received $500,000+ in donations since late 2021.

Here is a recent piece on how the Manhattan Institute has emerged as a haven for "canceled" scholars.