Monday, October 31, 2022

Think Tank Quickies (#456)

  • New US intelligence report says the Kremlin spent $300 million since 2014 to try to influence several European countries using front companies and think tanks.
  • Chinese think tank issues rare public disagreement with the ruling Community Party's severe "zero-COVID" policy.
  • Iranian operatives have targeted members of the US-based think tank community through surveillance and cyber operations.
  • Are think tanks ready for the age of AI?
  • ChinaFile, a digital magazine published by the Asia Society, collected 100,000+ Chinese government bidding documents for surveillance technology and shared them exclusively with the New York Times.
  • Progressive Jewish groups launch think tank (Emor) to counter spread of right-wing ideas.
  • Nick Eftimiades of the Atlantic Council keeps a database on Chinese espionage cases.
  • Carter Price, a mathematician at RAND Corp., is working on a budget model that will incorporate the latest social science research, as well as climate science, to inform long-term policy decisions.
  • Rhiana Gunn-Wright, director of climate policy at the Roosevelt Institute, is an architect of the Green New Deal.
  • Matt Duss, foreign policy adviser for Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), is joining the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

Friday, October 28, 2022

RAND Corp. Exposes Fake RAND Report

Over the years, Think Tank Watch has documented numerous incidents where people or entities have impersonated think tanks and think tank scholars.

Now, RAND Corporation has uncovered a fake RAND report that has been circulating online.

Here is more from RAND:

A supposedly leaked RAND report about a bizarre U.S. conspiracy to “weaken Germany” is fake.

Genuine RAND research, analysis, and commentary on the war in Ukraine may be found at this page.

Given the potential origins of this fake document, we encourage you to explore this resource on the “firehose of falsehood” approach to propaganda and RAND's extensive research on “Truth Decay,” a phenomenon driven in part by the spread of disinformation.


SOFREP has much more on the fake report, which was apparently published in Swedish newspaper Nya Dagbladet.  SOFREP says that Russian agents likely created the fake report.

Thursday, October 27, 2022

Think Tank Analyst Acquitted in Trial Over Trump Dossier

Here is more from Associated Press:

A jury on Tuesday acquitted a think tank analyst accused of lying to the FBI about his role in the creation of a discredited dossier about former President Donald Trump.

The case against Igor Danchenko was the third and possibly final case brought by Special Counsel John Durham as part of his probe into how the FBI conducted its own investigation into allegations of collusion between the 2016 Trump campaign and the Kremlin.

Danchenko, by his own admission, was responsible for 80 percent of the raw intelligence in the dossier and half of the accompanying analysis, though trial testimony indicated that Danchenko was shocked and dismayed about how Steele presented the material and portrayed it as factual when Danchenko considered it more to be rumor and speculation.


Mr. Danchenko was a former Brookings Institution analyst.

Wednesday, October 26, 2022

New Legislation to Impact Republican-leaning Think Tanks More?

Legislation that is working its way through the US Congress, which is largely being pushed by Republicans, may impact conservative think tanks more than liberal ones.

Here is more from Politico:

For all the joy that conservative pols have taken at Brookings’ latest turn in the barrel, conversations with people around the industry reveal an irony: Any potential new wave of government-mandated disclosure rules, especially those that go beyond foreign money, would actually represent a bigger cultural change at right-wing organizations, some of which historically have tended to see donations as a form of free speech. Establishmentarian center-left outfits like Brookings already share significant pieces of that information — thanks in part, it should be noted, to previous funding imbroglios, and their reliance on corporate dollars. (The Heritage Foundation, by contrast, says less than two percent of its income comes from corporate sources.)

The last spate of transparency efforts, which followed a blockbuster set of New York Times reports in 2014 and 2016 about donor influence at think tanks, was embraced “way more on the left than the right,” one longtime conservative think tank figure tells me. (To be clear, this veteran of fundraising told me, that’s because it was centrist and liberal outfits that had been caught out.) While a visitor to Brookings’ website can today peruse annual reports that identify top donors, the American Enterprise Institute says it doesn’t provide that information as a matter of course.


Of course, the various proposals floating around Congress may never become law, and even if something passes, certain loopholes may be be included in any final package.

Tuesday, October 25, 2022

Think Tank Quickies (#455)

  • Republican lawmaker calls on CIA director to address his strong ties to CCP while at helm of think tank.
  • Johns Hopkins, a school attended by many think tankers, has a long history with student-spies. 
  • Amazon's behind-the-scenes campaign against Canada's competition law reforms involves hardball tactics and spending on think tanks.
  • Sentinel Action Fund, the new Heritage-linked super PAC, will spend $3.5 million on TV ads and $1.5 million on voter outreach to bolster Arizona GOP Senate nominee Blake Masters.
  • Hal Harvey, CEO of the San Francisco-based think tank Energy Innovation, has written a new book, The Big Fix.
  • Gordon Hempton: "Quiet is a think tank of the soul."
  • Peter Kelley: "A think tank is an arrangement in which voluntary corporations, govt’s, or eccentric mega-rich give millions of dollars to support people who spend most of their time trying to get their names into print.”
  • Thread: Coldplay lyrics as think tank report titles. 
  • Pic: The death of the think tank meal is greatly exaggerated.
  • Pic: Only at a think tank could registration be this complicated.

Friday, October 21, 2022

Richard Haass Stepping Down as President of CFR

After nearly 20 years at the helm of one of the most influential foreign policy think tanks, Richard Haass has decided to leave his post as president of the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR).

The New York Times broke the news this week.  Among other things, NYT notes that President Biden's national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, once interned for Mr. Haass's predecessor at the think tank, Leslie Gelb.

Some have already speculated that Sullivan could be in the running to be the next CFR president.

Haass, whose annually salary tops $1.7 million, is expected to depart in June and no replacement has yet been named.

Thursday, October 20, 2022

US Threatened to Charge Cato Institute & Mercatus Employees with Treason

Here is more from The Dispatch:

In March 2020, a maritime shipping advisory panel offered a simple suggestion to the government: Charge all past and current members of two libertarian think tanks [Cato Institute and Mercatus Center] with treason.

It is certainly not the first time a bunch of libertarians angered members of a bureaucratic panel. But this backlash stemmed from criticism of the Jones Act, a century‐​old law that imposes requirements for shipping between American ports.


Cato scholars Colin Grabow and Scott Lincicome have more details here, and call the situation "deeply troubling."

It also appears that the Maritime Transportation System National Advisory Committee's (MTSNAC) International Shipping Subcommittee wanted the US president to inform the Heritage Foundation that he will personally disavow them if they continue to advocate against the Jones Act.

Wednesday, October 19, 2022

Where Young Conservative Think Tankers Meet in DC

Here is more from The Dispatch:

The Cicero Society is an institution you’ve probably never heard of if you’re not of a certain age and living in the District of Columbia. The society is a “parliamentary debate society committed to developing excellence, preserving the Western intellectual tradition, and forming young leaders,” and its intellectual nature has made it quite popular with young, politically active adults in D.C. Cicero hosts a debate once a month at the City Tavern Club—a private social club in Georgetown—for its members and anyone willing to shell out $25, with a strict business casual dress code, an open bar, and, as of late, a list of attendees that includes a real who’s-who of D.C.-based new right.

[Among those in attendance at a recent meeting at the Dumbarton House include] Saurabh Sharma, co-founder of American Moment. Sharma was joined by figures affiliated with The American Conservative, The American Mind, The American Compass, and a number of other populist right think tanks, publications, and advocacy groups whose founders were able to think of names that didn’t start with “The American.” Congressional staffers are a dime a dozen—possibly even cheaper and more numerous.

Another fixture in this world is a friend of Sharma’s and perhaps the most prominent public face of the young new right—the left-wing media’s go-to voice for insight into this crowd, Nate Hochman. (Hochman interned for The Dispatch in 2020.) Hochman describes the Cicero Society as “particularly decadent” and an “over-the-top, silver-spoon” club. He can be found at the meetings fairly regularly, and says he was planning on going to the spring cocktail party until a conflict arose.

Hochman is now a Claremont Institute fellow and an Intercollegiate Studies Institute fellow, the latter of which got him a yearlong spot at National Review starting last August.


Here is a link to Cicero Society's website.

Monday, October 17, 2022

Think Tank Quickies (#454)

  • Jeromin Zettelmeyer has started as director of Bruegel, taking over from Guntram Wolff.
  • Shayna Strom named interim president and CEO of the Washington Center for Equitable Growth.
  • Tess McEnergy is the Project on Middle East Democracy's new executive director.
  • Brigham McCown is now senior fellow and director of the Hudson Institute's Initiative on American Energy Security.  He's also chair and CEO of consulting firm Nouveau and most recently was CEO of Alyeska, the operator of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System.
  • Heritage Foundation lobbyist Tommy Binion joins OnMessage Public Strategies. 
  • President Biden has nominated Roger Zakheim as a member of USIP.
  • Emma Ashford is now a senior fellow at the Stimson Center.
  • Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY) headlines AEI's annual Constitution Day Lecture.
  • Grover Norquist is looking to work with think tanks to build an argument that only Congress can relieve student debt.

Thursday, October 6, 2022

China Wants Hudson Inst. to Stop Its YouTube Videos on China

Here is more from Politico:

The Chinese Embassy in Washington D.C. wants the Hudson Institute to stop distributing a series of short YouTube videos critical of the ruling Chinese Communist Party featuring former Secretary of State MIKE POMPEO. 

The videos “made groundless accusations against the Communist Party of China,” the embassy said in letter that Pompeo shared on Twitter on Tuesday.

“We have written to the Hudson Institute to express our concern and clarify the facts,” Chinese embassy spokesperson LIU PENGYU told China Watcher. Pompeo clearly enjoys the attention. “The CCP wants me to stop speaking the truth. Ain’t gonna happen,” Pompeo tweeted.


Hudson Institute is hosting the new videos at its new China Center, where Pompeo serves as chair of its advisory board.  Pompeo is also a distinguished fellow at Hudson.

China's Global Times has said that the China Center has "evil intentions" and was established to "collude with anti-China figures and concoct and disseminate anti-China rhetoric."

Wednesday, October 5, 2022

Sen. Warren Continues to Target Brookings Over Foreign Funding

Here is more from Politico:

Sen. ELIZABETH WARREN (D-Mass.) sent a letter to the Brookings Institution’s interim president, AMY LIU, to ask how the think tank ensures intellectual independence after it receives foreign funds.

“I remain concerned that these foreign governments — as well as the many private sector corporations and wealthy individuals that are listed as Brookings contributors — can use Brookings and other think tanks to covertly peddle their influence before Congress and the administration,” she wrote.

Warren’s interest in Brookings was piqued following news that the former president, retired Gen. JOHN ALLEN, was under investigation by the Justice Department for violating lobbying laws by advocating for Qatar — a charge he firmly denies. Warren first sent a letter to Brookings in July following that revelation.


The publication Mother Jones also notes that Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) is among those taking aim at Brookings. 

Meanwhile, The Washington Free Beacon notes that Rep. Jack Bergman (R-MI) and Sen. Charles Grassley (R-IA) are spearheading the Think Tank Transparency Act of 2022, which would force nonprofit groups that seek to influence public policy and Congress to publicly report all foreign funding, as well as contracts or agreements they strike with foreign entities.

Tuesday, October 4, 2022

More China Positions Needed at US Think Tanks to Help Prevent War?

In a blog post on Effective Altruism entitled "War Between the US and China: A case study for epistemic challenges around China-related catastrophic risk," Jordan Schneider and Pradyumna Prasad say that there should be more direct funding for early career China-related positions at think tanks in order to help prevent future war.

Here is more about what they have to say about the dearth of US-based China scholars:

There are maybe two dozen fellows at the most influential Mass Avenue think tanks, another two dozen at American staff colleges, perhaps 250 academics, and a few dozen other Americans employed in China-focused roles in the private sector. This number pales in comparison with other directly policy-relevant research fields like macroeconomics.

There are perhaps fifteen senior fellows and another two dozen research assistants in their 20s with at least passable Mandarin in the most influential Mass Avenue think tanks (Brookings, CSIS, CNAS, AEI, CAP…). Federally Funded Research and Development Organizations (FFRDCs) like RAND and the Institute for Defense Analyses perhaps employ fifty more, while American military universities employ perhaps another hundred China-focused researchers.

To ballpark the number of other global academics outside the PRC contributing to China-relevant research that feeds up into DC thinking, perhaps the total number is around 700. With an average salary of $100,000, that would add up to $70m spent per year on China-related studies. Keep in mind though that almost all of this spending is very poorly optimized for research that would feed into strategies to reduce catastrophic risk.


Among other things, they discuss why the Center for Security and Emerging Technologies (CSET) has some of the best China-related research around, and why philanthropists should try to emulate them as a "model framework to areas of particular neglected China-adjacent interest."

They also note that most recent "somewhat rigorous" projection of the economic impact of a US-China conflict was last published in 2016 by the RAND Corporation.