Wednesday, November 30, 2022

CAP President is Friends With New House Democratic Leader

Mr. Patrick Gaspard, President and CEO of the Center for American Progress (CAP), is a close ally of new House Democratic leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY), according to Punchbowl News, which notes that the two become close friends in New York and know each other from when Gaspard was a top official at the labor union 1199 SEIU United Healthcare Workers East.

Last year, Rep. Jeffries spoke at a CAP event welcoming Jeffries as the think tank's new leader.

Earlier this year, CAP co-founder John Podesta was tapped to serve as Senior Advisor to President Biden for Clean Energy Innovation and Implementation.

Tuesday, November 29, 2022

Can Back-Channel Diplomacy by Think Tanks Boost US-China Ties?

Think tanks and think tankers have been playing a quiet role in helping keep the US-China relationship afloat.  Here is more from the Wall Street Journal:

China is turning to an old friend in corporate America to bolster communications with the U.S., as President Xi Jinping tries to stabilize the bilateral relationship while gearing up for greater competition between the two powers.

A few days before Mr. Xi’s summit last week with President Biden, according to people with knowledge of the matter, Beijing dispatched a delegation of senior policy advisers and business executives to New York to meet with a U.S. counterpart group set up by insurance executive Maurice “Hank” Greenberg, one of the most successful American businessmen in China.

Xi approved the trip, organized by a think tank affiliated with China’s Foreign Ministry, right after a Communist Party conclave in October that extended his hold on power, the people said. 

The Chinese People’s Institute of Foreign Affairs, the Foreign Ministry-affiliated think tank, was named as organizer of the group—whose members, according to the people, include Cui Tiankai, Beijing’s former top envoy to Washington, Chen Deming, ex-commerce minister, and Ning Jizhe, former vice minister at China’s top economic-planning agency.


As Think Tank Watch previously noted, the US group, formed in July 2022, consists of several US think tankers.

Monday, November 28, 2022

Heritage Working to Sink Same-Sex Marriage Bill

Here is more from Politico:

The Heritage Foundation will drop seven figures on a new ad campaign opposing legislation to codify same-sex and interracial marriage rights ahead of a vote on the bill when lawmakers return from the Thanksgiving recess next week.

— The legislation overcame its first procedural hurdle in the Senate last week with 12 Republicans joining all Democrats in support following an agreement to include protections for religious liberty that Heritage skewered as not going far enough. “Republican senators claiming the bill protects religious liberty are misleading the public,” Roger Severino, the think tank’s vice president of domestic policy, said in a statement pointing to Democratic leaders denying a vote on an amendment from Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah).

— The last-minute effort to derail the bill includes putting $1 million behind a TV spot that will air    until next week on Fox News and on Thanksgiving weekend NFL and college football games in Iowa, Indiana, West Virginia and Wyoming — the home states of four Republican senators who voted to advance the bill last week — and another $300,000 in digital ads from Heritage Action, the organization’s lobbying arm.


Here is more on the ad campaign from Heritage's "The Daily Signal," and here is more from Fox News.

Tuesday, November 22, 2022

Think Tank Quickies (#459)

  • Off-the-record, invitation-only talk by Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis leader James Bullard at Citigroup event similar to 2017 Stanley Fischer talk (when he was Fed's vice chair) where he gave a closed-door speech at Brookings that drew some outcry.
  • The Pentagon is not happy about a Heritage Foundation report that rated the US military as weak. 
  • Quincy Institute played a major role in drumming up support for a Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC) letter calling for the Biden Administration to seek a diplomatic solution in Ukraine.
  • Andrew Cohen to join the German Marshall Fund as its first-ever managing editor.
  • Former US Ambassador to Russia John Sullivan is joining Georgetown University's School of Foreign Service as a distinguished fellow.
  • Barre Seid is a major donor to Heartland Institute and Leonard Leo's dark money network.
  • The Institute for Progress, a US think tank, is helping government agencies distribute grants more effectively. 
  • Katie Porter (D-CA) accused Heritage Foundation witness Amy Swearer of perjury during House hearing on gun control.
  • Washington Consensus is a term coined in 1989 by PIIE's John Williamson.
  • Canon Institute for Global Studies (CIGS) under pressure to remove "dangerous" climate articles.

Thursday, November 17, 2022

Think Tanks Bolstered FTX, But Funding Now Endangered

The now-collapsed cryptocurrency exchange FTX received lots of support from outside groups along the way, including think tanks.

Here is more from Bloomberg:

"No one saw this coming" has been a common refrain in the financial world since the swift disintegration of Sam Bankman-Fried's cryptocurrency empire. Nowhere is that sentiment more plain to see than in the letters sent to US regulators in support of FTX's application for a controversial plan that would have revolutionized trading of derivatives, a heavily regulated corner of Wall Street.

From Fidelity Investments to Fortress Investment Group, Susquehanna International Group and Virtu Financial, from faculty members at Georgetown, the University of Chicago, William & Mary and Stanford, from the Jones Day law firm and the Heritage Foundation think tank, hundreds of letters in support of FTX’s plan landed with the CFTC earlier this year.


In Oct. 2022, think tank Bipartisan Policy Center (BPC) hosted FTX co-founder and CEO Sam Bankman-Fried (SBF) for an event on the future of cryptocurrency.

Some think tanks have allied themselves with or received money from the FTX Foundation, and the collapse of FTX endangers SBF's philanthropic gifts, both through the FTX Foundation and through other non-profits.

SBF has been a proponent of the "effective altruism" movement which believes in prioritizing donations to projects that have the largest impact on the most number of people.

Wednesday, November 16, 2022

UAE Funding of Think Tanks Comes Under More Scrutiny Amid New US Intel Report

Here is more from the Washington Post:

U.S. intelligence officials have compiled a classified report detailing extensive efforts to manipulate the American political system by the United Arab Emirates, an influential, oil-rich nation in the Persian Gulf long considered a close and trusted partner.

The activities covered in the report, described to The Washington Post by three people who have read it, include illegal and legal attempts to steer U.S. foreign policy in ways favorable to the Arab autocracy. It reveals the UAE’s bid, spanning multiple U.S. administrations, to exploit the vulnerabilities in American governance, including its reliance on campaign contributions, susceptibility to powerful lobbying firms and lax enforcement of disclosure laws intended to guard against interference by foreign governments, these people said. 

The UAE has spent more than $154 million on lobbyists since 2016, according to Justice Department records. It has spent hundreds of millions of dollars more on donations to American universities and think tanks, many that produce policy papers with findings favorable to UAE interests.


The article notes that boosters of the UAE within US think tanks often call it "Little Sparta" for its "military prowess while sidestepping its human rights record and ironclad kinship to Saudi Arabia."

Here is a Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft report entitled "Gulf funded think tank turns pro-Saudi, UAE messaging up to 11."

Monday, November 14, 2022

Think Tank Quickies (#458)

  • Daniel Bunn will be the next president and CEO of the Tax Foundation.
  • Jon Huntsman has joined CNAS's board of directors.  He was previously the Atlantic Council's board chair.
  • Politico: Spotted on an American Airlines flight from Palm Beach to DC: Heritage Foundation president Kevin Roberts in first class; Manhattan Institute president Reihan Salam in coach.
  • Quincy Institute event: Foreign funding and public trust in the think tank sector (and a summary).
  • Only 15% of people trust think tanks?  (Most don't even know what a think tank is...)
  • Warning: Someone is impersonating think tanker Michael McFaul.
  • New book Spies and Lies details how covert influence operations by China reach into US think tanks and elsewhere.
  • Todd Moss: "Think Tank" is the name of the orangutan house at the National Zoo. 
  • Shit Nonprofits Say on how think tanks decide to take donor money.
  • Pic: Scary costume for the DC think tanker.

Friday, November 11, 2022

Viktor Orban-funded Think Tank Aims to Shake Things Up

Here is more from Politico:

A think tank funded by illiberal Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán is set to disrupt the Brussels chin-stroking scene when it launches this month — provoking a fierce backlash from detractors back home.

MCC Brussels — an arm of the Mathias Corvinus Collegium (MCC), a Budapest-based college that has controversially received billions of forints from Orbán’s government — plans to “provide an alternative” for Europe’s “polarized cultural landscape,” according to one of its founders.

The center — backed by Hungary’s right-wing, EU-confrontational government — will shake up a think tank ecosystem in Brussels currently dominated by largely homogeneous, pro-European thought.


The new think tank will be lead by British-Hungarian scholar Frank Furedi and German political scientist Werner Patzelt.

Tuesday, November 8, 2022

Think Tank Third Way Warns Democrats on Flaws

Here is more from Axios:

Third Way — a center-left think tank backed by some of the biggest names in Democratic politics — is sounding the alarm about deep-seated party flaws, based on its own new polling from Senate battlegrounds.

Driving the news: "If Democrats manage to hold on to the House and Senate, it will be in spite of the party brand, not because of it," Third Way writes in a memo synthesizing its conclusions, shared first with Axios.

  • "Despite a roster of GOP candidates who are extreme by any standard, voters see Democrats as just as extreme, as well as far less concerned about the issues that most worry them."

Why it matters: Lifelong, respected Democrats are saying the quiet part out loud — that if Republicans have a huge night on Tuesday, as polls are blaring, Democrats must blame "much deeper" problems than simply the "historical trends" that beset the party in power.


Meanwhile, the Bipartisan Policy Center (BPC) is expanding and restructuring its Democracy Program to "strengthen the foundations that sustain representative democracy," according to Politico.

The program includes six initiatives and BPC will release reports and convene experts over the next two years in anticipation of the 2024 election season.

Monday, November 7, 2022

RAND Corporation Used Heavily by Intelligence Community

Daniel Golden's book Spy Schools highlights a few interesting anecdotes about how think tanks are often used by foreign and domestic intelligence service.

Golden, citing a former CIA operative, notes that every single day, intelligence services around the world work conferences, sponsor conferences, and look for ways to get people to conferences in order to help collect information and recruit spies.

The book says that the "graybeard" of "CIA concealment conferences" is the RAND Corporation.  The think tank holds a number of conferences each year, often under non-disclosure agreements with intelligence agencies, according to the book.

It also notes that Barbara Walter, a University of California, San Diego political scientist, gives unpaid presentations on her specialty, civil wars, at think tanks fronting for the CIA.

Dr. Walters' UCSD biography lists a number of policy briefings she has given, including at think tanks such as RAND, the Atlantic Council, and Council on Foreign Relations (CFR).

Funders of RAND include the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI).

Also, as Think Tank Watch has reported, think tanks, including RAND, abound with former spies.

Friday, November 4, 2022

Think Tank Quickies (#457)

  • New Carnegie report: How we would know when China is preparing to invade Taiwan. 
  • New think tank launched by Michael Wear: The Center for Christianity and Public Life.
  • New launch: Asia Society France, to be chaired by Serge Dumont.
  • New launch: Brussels Institute for Geopolitics, co-founded by Luuk van Middelaar, Hans Kribbe, and Sebastien Lumet. 
  • Billionaire Sam Bankman-Fried speaks at Bipartisan Policy Center.
  • Cryptocurrency think tank Coin Center filed a lawsuit challenging the US Treasury Department's sanctions against cryptocurrency mixer Tornado Cash.
  • David Laufman: Retired US military officials working for foreign governments must be careful about any nexus to the US; if they are promoting interests of their benefactors to...think tanks they may have an obligation to register under FARA.
  • Henry Rome, Eurasia Group's deputy head of research and a director covering macro politics and the Middle East, is now at senior fellow at WINEP covering Iran.
  • Zachary Karabell, president of River Twice Capital and the founder of the Progress Network at New America, was named the Eurasia Group Foundation's new board chair.
  • Lisa Curtis, senior fellow and director of the Indo-Pacific Security program at CNAS, has joined RadioFreeEurope/Radio Liberty's board of directors.

Thursday, November 3, 2022

Think Tankers Stink at Predictions

Mr. Damien Ma, the co-founder and managing director of the Paulson Institute's in-house think tank MacroPolo, has an anecdote on how bad most think tankers really are at predicting geopolitical events.

Here's what he wrote in a recent piece for the new publication Semafor:

Don’t make predictions about Chinese politics. That’s the lesson from our think-tank’s month-long “fantasy football”-style competition to forecast the “Chinese election” before it concluded last weekend.

Of the more than 1,000 players who played — China specialists and casual observers — not a single person correctly predicted all seven members of the Chinese Communist Party’s new Politburo Standing Committee, the peak of political power in China.

So it turns out the political scientist Phil Tetlock’s longstanding insight holds: On average, expert predictions don’t outperform non-experts’ results.

But maybe it’s not just that expertise didn’t matter, and instead that expertise was neutralized by the paradigm shift that has taken place in China. Basically, expert or not, it was nearly impossible to win our game.

This wasn’t a normal Communist Party congress. The presumed norms that guided and bounded Chinese elite politics fell away. We put too much stock in assumptions about the Party’s commitment to a de facto retirement age, for example, when what counted most was proximity to Xi Jinping himself. Above all else, loyalty and trust were the determinative factors.


An example of a prediction that didn't age well: In 1996, Harry Rowen, who worked at the Hoover Institution, said China will become a democracy in 2015.

Here is one to watch for the future: China expert Oriana Skylar Mastro, a Center Fellow at Stanford University's Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies and a Non-Resident Senior Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), is predicting a 100% chance China will use force against Taiwan in the next five years.

Here is a 2020 RAND Corporation post entitled "How Accurate Were Predictions About the Future?"  Among other things, it discusses RAND's so-called "Delphi Method" which attempts to make effective use of informed intuitive judgement in long-range forecasting.

Wednesday, November 2, 2022

Think Tank Fellow Being Sued by Former WSJ Reporter

Here is more from Politico:

Jay Solomon was abruptly fired from his job as the Wall Street Journal’s chief foreign correspondent in 2017 after the Associated Press reported on his alleged discussions of business deals with one of his key sources. It was one of the most high-profile examples of a prominent journalist being sacked for unethical behavior.

Now Solomon is suing, not over his firing or the unflattering news coverage that precipitated it — but over what he says was a multi-million-dollar criminal campaign by a foreign emirate’s American law firm that allegedly hired Indian mercenary hackers to turn up his correspondence.

The lawsuit, filed this month in federal court in Washington, makes for absolutely wild reading. It pulls back the curtain on the murky intersection of American media, international law firms, Persian Gulf politics and Beltway think tanks — and ought to discomfit anyone who thinks working in Washington protects them from hardball tactics that hold sway in other parts of the world.

The cast of characters named as co-defendants in the lawsuit is large, and includes the pair of former Dechert lawyers, private investigators in Israel and North Carolina, and a New York public affairs firm and its founder. It also includes Amir Handjani, who works at the New York firm but has been also a fellow at two Washington think tanks: the Atlantic Council, where he left the board in 2021, and the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft, where he remains a non-resident fellow. 


In March 2022, the Washington Free Beacon had a story entitled "Legal Docs Tie Quincy Institute's Amir Handjani to Spy Operation."  It published another story in July 2022 saying that a judge had ordered Handjani to turn over documents in an alleged hack-and-leak scheme.

Tuesday, November 1, 2022

Former RAND Scholar Involved in Senate Investigation Unearthing Origins of COVID-19

Here is more from Vanity Fair and ProPublica:

Toy Reid has always had a gift for languages — one that would carry him far from what he calls his “very blue-collar” roots in Greenville, South Carolina. In high school, Spanish came easily. At nearby Furman University, where he became the first person in his family to attend college, he studied Japanese. Then, “clueless but curious,” as he puts it, he channeled his fascination with the Dalai Lama into a master’s degree in East Asian philosophy and religion at Harvard. Along the way, he picked up Khmer, the national language of Cambodia, and achieved fluency in Chinese.

But it was his career as a China specialist for the Rand Corporation and as a political officer in East Asia for the U.S. State Department that taught him how to interpret a notoriously opaque language: the “party speak” practiced by Chinese Communist officials.

For 15 months, Reid loaned this unusual skill to a nine-person team dedicated to investigating the mystery of COVID-19’s origins. Commissioned by Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., the team examined voluminous evidence, most of it open source but some classified, and weighed the major credible theories for how the novel coronavirus first made the leap to humans. An interim report, released on Thursday by the minority oversight staff of the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor & Pensions (HELP), concludes that the COVID-19 pandemic was “more likely than not, the result of a research-related incident.”


Reid's RAND page lists two reports that he co-authored with the think tank, one on the China-Taiwan dispute and another on domestic trends in the US, China, and Iran and implications for US Navy strategic planning.