Tuesday, January 31, 2023

Can Think Tanks Save TikTok?

TikTok is hoping that meetings with influential DC groups and officials, including think tanks, will help prevent it from being banned in the US.  Here is more from the New York Times:

Last week, TikTok’s chief executive, Shou Zi Chew, met with several influential think tanks and public interest groups in Washington, sharing details on how his company plans to prevent data on American users from ever leaving the United States. And the company’s lobbyists swarmed the offices of lawmakers who have introduced bills to ban the app, telling them that TikTok can be trusted to protect the information.

In a 24-hour visit to Washington last week, Mr. Chew held four back-to-back 90-minute meetings with think tanks like New America, academics and public interest groups such as Public Knowledge. In the company’s temporary WeWork suites near Capitol Hill, Mr. Chew and Mr. Andersen outlined the promises in Project Texas in a presentation with graphics on how the data is stored in Oracle’s cloud and TikTok’s appointment of a content moderation board and auditors.


Think Tank Watch is pretty sure that TikTok did not meet with the Heritage Foundation, which recently tweeted: "This is your daily reminder to delete TikTok."

Scholars at the think tank have also written several anti-TikTok pieces, including one here and here.

Wednesday, January 25, 2023

Taiwan's TPP Establishes New Think Tank

Here is more from the Taipei Times:

Taiwan People’s Party (TPP) established the affiliated Taiwan New Homeland Think Tank Association, as well as an internal policy think tank to establish policy suggestions on foreign, defense and internal administration affairs.

Former Taiwan Solidarity Union chairman Shu Chin-chiang, who was expelled over a 2014 visit to China, was tapped as CEO of the New Homeland association.

The think tank is to present a “third force” in Taiwanese politics during the election by consolidating views from different parties and experts, Shu said.

The proposals put forward by the think tank are to reflect major national policies and issues of concern to the people, he said.

[TPP Chairman] Ko Wen-je is to serve as chairman of the New Homeland think tank, with TPP Legislator Jang Chyi-lu and former party secretary-general Hsieh Li-kung serving as vice chairmen.

The think tank includes many former heads of departments under the Taipei City Government and members of other political parties, Hsieh said.


The Taipei Times also notes that Ko will be visiting the US this spring and will make stops at several US think tanks, among other places.

Tuesday, January 24, 2023

Think Tank Quickies (#464)

  • Shayna Strom to become new president and CEO of Washington Center for Equitable Growth.
  • IISS is searching for a new Director-General and Chief Executive, and has placed full-page ads in the Economist for the post. 
  • Can ChatGPT replace think tanks?
  • The law firm of Torres Trade Law has a new piece entitled "Think Tanks May Need to Rethink FARA Registration."
  • Prime Policy Group will work to recruit "influencers in the US, such as Christian Protestant denominations" and 'key' think tanks to press lawmakers on North Korean issues."
  • The late journalist Blake Hounshell worked at the Ibn Khaldun Center for Development Studies, an Egyptian think tank founded by Saad Eddin Ibrahim, a critic of Hosni Mubarak's regime.
  • Katharine Stevens starts a new think tank, the Center on Child and Family Policy (CCFP).
  • The Vandenberg Coalition, which consists of numerous think tankers and has been described as an "influential coterie of defense hawks," calls on probe of Covid origins.
  • Former Heritage Foundation intern explains why some think tanks have "blood on their hands."
  • Heritage Foundation wants you to delete TikTok.

Monday, January 23, 2023

Trump-Aligned Think Tank Buying Up DC Office Space

Here is more from Axios:

An influential conservative nonprofit led by former Trump chief of staff Mark Meadows is buying up millions of dollars worth of office space on Capitol Hill, records show.

Why it matters: The Conservative Partnership Institute is the backbone of a policy and advocacy apparatus aligned with hard-right legislators such as Reps. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) and Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.).

Driving the news: CPI completed its most recent purchase early this month: $11.35 million for new space on Pennsylvania Avenue, adjacent to both the Capitol and CPI's headquarters on Independence Avenue, D.C. property records show.

  • That followed multiple purchases last year on Pennsylvania Avenue and ones on nearby 3rd Street SE and C Street SE, each made in the name of a different LLC.
  • Also last year, CPI paid more than $7 million for a 14,000-square-foot lodge on more than 2,000 acres near the Maryland shore, according to property records.

The big picture: Led by Meadows and ex-Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), CPI has incubated or financially supported a number of allied organizations.

Between the lines: CPI leases some of its office space to the House Freedom Caucus' political arms — the House Freedom Fund and House Freedom Action, Federal Election Commission records show.

  • Staffers for HFC members and other conservative legislators routinely travel to CPI's Maryland property, where the group hosts training sessions on topics ranging from communications to congressional procedure to investigative tactics.


CPI was founded in 2017 and its budget went up from $7.1 million in 2020 to $45 million in 2021, according to Axios. 

Here is a previous Think Tank Watch piece about how CPI worked to block Rep. Kevin McCarthy's speaker bid.

Friday, January 20, 2023

House Republicans Demand Information From Biden's Think Tank

House Oversight and Accountability Committee Chairman James Comer (R-KY) is seeking information about who had access to the Penn Biden Center for Diplomacy & Global Engagement's Washington, DC office, according to a new Punchbowl News report.  Rep. Comer also wants information on the think tank's sources of funding.

Classified documents where recently discovered at President Biden's former office at the think tank, which is named after President Joe Biden.

Rep. Comer is requesting a list of all Penn Biden Center employees, the names of everyone with keycard access to the think tank, a visitor log of anyone who met with Biden, and "all documents and communications related to the security at the Penn Biden Center," according to Punchbowl.  In a letter, Comer said he wants the information by Feb. 1.

Comer also wants information on documents related to donations from China to the University of Pennsylvania and/or the Penn Biden Center from Jan. 20, 2017 to the present and all Chinese donor information over the same period of time.  He also wants to know how the Penn Biden Center solicited donations.  The University of Pennsylvania runs the Penn Biden Center.

The Penn Biden Center launched in 2017 along with the University of Pennsylvania hiring Biden as a largely ceremonial professor.  Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Colin Kahl had both worked at the Penn Biden Center.

Blinken says he has no knowledge of classified documents taken to the think tank.

Former Penn President Amy Gutmann, who was nominated by Biden as US Ambassador to Germany in 2021, was the one who brought Biden to Penn.

Fox News is reporting that Chinese donors have funneled millions of dollars into the University of Pennsylvania during Biden's presidency.

Thursday, January 19, 2023

Atlantic Council Caught Promoting Its Own Foreign Donors on World Stage Without Disclosures

The influential think tank Atlantic Council has been called out yet again for promoting its donors without proper conflict of interest disclosures.

Here is more from Politico:

WHOOPS: “The Atlantic Council's chief executive officer, Fred Kempe, this month lavished praise on the ‘resource-rich, renewables-generating’ United Arab Emirates in a Jan. 14 op-ed for CNBC praising the oil-rich Gulf nation's ‘utopian’ plan to fight climate change,” The Washington Free Beacon’s Chuck Ross writes. “What he failed to mention were the Middle Eastern monarchy's sizable donations—which have in some years topped $1 million—to the Atlantic Council.”

— “In the piece, Kempe celebrated the United Nations' decision to hold its annual climate change summit in Abu Dhabi and praised the UAE’s selection of Sultan Ahmed Al-Jaber, an Emirati government minister and the head of the state-owned Abu Dhabi National Oil Company, to oversee the global summit.”

— “After the Washington Free Beacon contacted the Atlantic Council for comment, CNBC attached a lengthy editor's note to the article noting that ‘the obvious conflict of interest’ was ‘not disclosed’ and that the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company is a major sponsor of the Atlantic Council's annual energy conference.”

— “The UAE embassy in 2021 gave more than $1 million to the Atlantic Council, while the UAE's Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation gave between $100,000 and $250,000, according to donor records.” A spokesperson for the think tank called the omission an oversight, telling the Free Beacon it “regret[s] that proper disclosures were not made.”


Mr. Kempe is also scheduled to be on a World Economic Forum (WEF) panel about "how great" Saudi Arabia is, and Quincy Institute scholar Ben Freeman says that it should be disclosed at the panel that Kempe's think tank gets $1+ million every year from the UAE (a Saudi ally) and six-figure checks every year from defense contractors that have made billions of dollars selling arms to Saudi Arabia.

In 2021, Jonathan Guyer wrote a piece about a Saudi expert at Atlantic Council (Kirsten Fontenrose) who "hid" the foreign funding of the think tank when testifying before Congress.  He noted that Atlantic Council has received millions of dollars from Saudi Arabia's biggest boosters.

Here is more about Atlantic Council's recent conflict of interest problems from Eli Clifton.

Wednesday, January 18, 2023

WEF: "The Think Tank World's FIFA"

As the World Economic Forum (WEF), often described as a think tank-like entity, takes place in Davos, Switzerland, Politico has come out with a new piece on the race to succeed the current chairman, Klaus SchwabHere is a brief excerpt:

For 52 years the World Economic Forum has been synonymous with its founder and executive chair Klaus Schwab, whose humble manner belies what many who know him describe as great ambition and boundless energy, even into his mid-80s. 

Schwab has grown WEF’s $6,000 startup capital in 1971 into a $390 million a year business, turning a once sleepy organization into the think tank world’s FIFA.

Schwab turns 85 in March, and it’s an open question whether he will pass the torch at all. Rupert Murdoch hasn’t. Warren Buffet hasn’t. In an era of active aging, why should Schwab?


A number of names were mentioned as possible successors in the article, including Christine Lagarde, Marc Benioff, Peter Maurer, Tony Blair, and Borge Brende.

Update: The Guardian is now reporting that a "mutiny" has erupted among WEF staffers over the role of Klaus Schwab, who is sometimes referred to as "Mr. Davos."

Monday, January 16, 2023

New Study Shows How Nuclear Industry Influences Think Tank Reports

A new study entitled "No Such Thing as a Free Donation? Research Funding and Conflicts of Interest in Nuclear Weapons Policy Analysis" found that the nuclear industry often influences the outcome of the reports they commission through donations to think tanks.

Here is more from the abstract:

Numerous scholars have in recent years concluded that the field of nuclear weapons policy analysis is plagued by widespread self-censorship, conformism, and enduring disconnects between accepted knowledge and available evidence. It has been hypothesized that this tendency is fostered in part by many analysts’ reliance on funding from donors with interests in the perpetuation of the existing nuclear order. In this article, we probe this hypothesis by investigating the financial links between foreign policy think tanks, on the one hand, and nuclear defence contractors and governments that espouse nuclear deterrence strategies, on the other. Relying on semi-structured interviews and a survey of the funding sources of 45 of the world’s top think tanks, we find, first, that effectively all think tanks in the sample accepted funding from nuclear vested interests and, second, that such ‘stakeholder funding’ has real effects on intellectual freedom. Given the widely-held view that democracy relies on intellectual independence, this finding calls for a serious debate about conflicts of interest in foreign policy analysis generally and nuclear policy analysis specifically.


The report was written by Kjølv Egeland and Benoît Pelopidas of the Center for International Studies (CERI) in Paris, and received funding through a grant from the European Research Council.

The study looked at 45 think tanks (US and non-US), including the Atlantic Council, Brookings Institution, Center for American Progress (CAP), Center for a New American Security (CNAS), Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), Heritage Foundation, Hoover Institution, Hudson Institute, RAND Corporation, Stimson Center, and Wilson Center.

Here are more thoughts from Ben Freeman of the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft, who notes that the authors offer a practical takeaway based on their research:  “Responsible scholars, journalists, and other members of the public should stop treating think tanks and university programs that accept large donations from vested interests as research entities and instead think of them as communications or public relations operations.”

Friday, January 13, 2023

Think Tank Quickies (#463)

  • Think tank RUSI collaborated with Reuters and iStories to piece together the global supply trail of Russia's killer drones.
  • Think tanks are mass-reviewing content on Twitter. 
  • British defense think tank has revealed Russia's pre-invasion plan to Ukraine.
  • Daily Caller: CIA Director's former think tank introduced congressional staffers to experts who worked for Chinese spy fronts.
  • US intelligence warned for months that Russian hackers conduct "strategic espionage" against think tanks and other groups in 42 countries that back Ukraine.
  • New paper: What Do Think Tanks Think? Proximity to Power and Foreign Policy Preferences.
  • Flashback: In a 2017 study titled "Strategic Choices for a Turbulent World," RAND Corp. described a global tipping point: "The post-Cold War period is over."
  • Which think tanks are being open about their funders? 
  • Video: Paul Ryan on why legislators should work with think tanks to solve big picture issues.
  • Gov. Glenn Youngkin enlists conservative think tanks to rewrite history curricula.
  • Book Think Tanks by Paul Dickson was published in 1972 and has lots of history about RAND Corp., Hudson Institute, and lots of other think tanks.

Wednesday, January 11, 2023

New Think Tank War Game: US Will Defeat Chinese Invasion of Taiwan

A new wargame developed by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) showed that in most scenarios, the US and its allies would defeat an invasion by China of Taiwan.

Here is more from CSIS:

CSIS developed a wargame for a Chinese amphibious invasion of Taiwan and ran it 24 times. In most scenarios, the United States/Taiwan/Japan defeated a conventional amphibious invasion by China and maintained an autonomous Taiwan. However, this defense came at high cost. The United States and its allies lost dozens of ships, hundreds of aircraft, and tens of thousands of servicemembers. Taiwan saw its economy devastated. Further, the high losses damaged the U.S. global position for many years. China also lost heavily, and failure to occupy Taiwan might destabilize Chinese Communist Party rule. Victory is therefore not enough. The United States needs to strengthen deterrence immediately.


The wargame was funded by a grant from the Smith Richardson Foundation

As CNN reported, CSIS said this particular wargame was necessary because "previous government and private war simulations have been too narrow or too opaque to give the public and policymakers a true look at how conflict across the Taiwan Straight may play out."

CSIS's Mark Cancian, one of the three project leaders (along with his son Matthew Cancian of the US Naval War College and MIT's Eric Heginbotham), said there is no unclassified war game out there looking at the US-China conflict.  He added that of the games that are unclassified, they are typically only run once or twice.  [Tony Stark disagrees.]

Here is a previous Think Tank Watch piece on how wargaming at think tanks is picking up speed amid US-China tensions.

Update: Elbridge Colby, co-founder and principal of The Marathon Initiative and a former think tank scholar at the Center for a New American Security (CNAS), called the wargame report "rigorous and sophisticated."  He said, however, that he has doubts about the report's baseline finding.

Think Tanks Descend on CES

Here is more from Politico:

The floor at CES this year isn’t just full of tech companies hawking their newest wares — it’s also packed with think-tankers bringing their own perspective to the convention’s ongoing conversation about how tech is shaping society, and vice versa.

The wonks aren’t just here to talk. They want to see what these new gadgets actually do. Policy experts and staffers on both sides of the aisle have a vested interest in getting up to speed on the kinds of consumer-facing gadgets on display here, the better to manage — and argue about — their potential impact on people’s lives.

Jordan Shapiro, an economic and data policy analyst at the center-left Progressive Policy Institute, described her eagerness to understand exactly what kind of data-harvesting capabilities are built into the next generation of tech, and what the costs and benefits are.

When it comes to tech, PPI occupies an interesting place in the think-tank firmament: A liberal shop, but one affiliated with the moderate New Democrat Coalition. Shapiro and her colleagues described to me, across a marble table in the food court of Vegas’ Venetian Resort, how they think industry, the left, and the right can potentially find a middle ground to push tech innovation forward while protecting the public interest.


This year's CES took place Jan. 5-8 in Las Vegas, Nevada, and included 3,200+ exhibitors from 173 countries, regions, and territories.

Tuesday, January 10, 2023

Classified Documents Found at Biden Think Tank

Here is more from CBS News:

Attorney General Merrick Garland has assigned the U.S. attorney in Chicago to review documents marked classified that were found at the Penn Biden Center for Diplomacy and Global Engagement in Washington, two sources with knowledge of the inquiry told CBS News. The roughly 10 documents are from President Biden's vice-presidential office at the center, the sources said. CBS News has learned the FBI is also involved in the U.S. attorney's inquiry.

The material was identified by personal attorneys for Mr. Biden on Nov. 2, just before the midterm elections, Richard Sauber, special counsel to the president confirmed. The documents were discovered when Mr. Biden's personal attorneys "were packing files housed in a locked closet to prepare to vacate office space at the Penn Biden Center in Washington, D.C.," Sauber said in a statement to CBS News. The documents were contained in a folder that was in a box with other unclassified papers, the sources said. The sources revealed neither what the documents contain nor their level of classification. A source familiar with the matter told CBS News the documents did not contain nuclear secrets.


As noted by CBS, the Penn Biden Center is a think tank about a mile from the White House that is affiliated with the University of Pennsylvania and named for the sitting president. 

Biden kept an office at the think tank after he left the vice presidency in 2017 until shortly before he launched his 2020 presidential campaign in 2019.

Monday, January 9, 2023

Prominent Think Tank Journal Shutting Down

Here is more from Politico:

The National Interest, a prominent journal run by a right-leaning foreign policy think tank, is shutting down its print edition after running into severe financial problems, according to four current and former magazine staffers familiar with the matter.

The bimonthly magazine housed in the Center for the National Interest had a nearly four-decaderun as a leading national security product, publishing such seminal works as FRANCIS FUKUYAMA’s “End of History” essay.

But current editorial management was unwilling to incur debts to keep the print edition alive, according to one of the people, though the publication will continue for now as a website. Circulation for the hard copy was already down to a couple thousand subscribers, a drop from almost 10,000 in the 1990s, according to a current magazine staffer. The people were granted anonymity to candidly discuss internal matters at the magazine and think tank.

The think tank has long had financial issues, according to current and former staffers and a review of public documents.

According to tax filings, it operated at a loss of $1 million to $2 million in every year from 2016 to 2020, except in 2019, when it made $300,000 in profit.

Three current and former magazine staffers and another person familiar with the magazine and the center complained about [CNI President Dimitri] Simes’ focus on hosting a television show on Russian state-run TV.

Simes had further caused controversies for the center for espousing increasingly pro-Russian rhetoric, according to seven people familiar with the center.


The president of the think tank, Dimitri Simes, retired on Dec. 31.  Politico also notes that Dov Zakheim, a top Defense Department official in the second Bush administration, resigned from the think tank's board in May after Simes continued to visit Russia and appear on state TV after the invasion of Ukraine.

Now, CNI has only around five total staffers - four of whom are dedicated to the magazine's website.  Several years ago it had around 20 staffers.

Friday, January 6, 2023

Trump-Aligned Think Tank Helping Block McCarthy Speaker Bid?

Here is more from Yahoo:

Several Republican House members fighting to stop Rep. Kevin McCarthy from becoming speaker of the House met Friday morning at the offices of the Conservative Partnership Institute, an organization run by Mark Meadows and Jim DeMint.

Meadows, a former Republican congressman from North Carolina, was chief of staff to former President Donald Trump and played a central role in efforts to overturn the 2020 election. He joined CPI as senior partner in January 2021, a few weeks after Trump supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol, on Jan. 6.

DeMint, a former Republican senator from South Carolina, launched CPI in 2017. Since Trump left office, in 2021, it has become a connective hub for a host of former Trump advisers, including Meadows, Trump budget chief Russ Vought and Trump adviser Stephen Miller.

Most of the Republican congressmen at CPI on Friday morning have been gathering there for months.  On Wednesday, DeMint was one of several Republican figures to sign a letter calling on other House Republicans to join the anti-McCarthy effort.

Vought, who is a close ally of Meadows, also signed the letter, as did Cleta Mitchell and Ginni Thomas. Mitchell is an attorney who was also deeply involved in Trump’s attempts to stay in power, and who now works at CPI as a senior legal fellow. Thomas, who corresponded with Meadows about efforts to overturn the 2020 election in the days leading up to the Jan. 6 riot, is the wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.


Here is a 2022 Think Tank Watch piece about Trump-aligned think tanks and think tank-like entities, including the Conservative Partnership Institute, gaining in power.

Wednesday, January 4, 2023

New Leader at One of China's Most Powerful Think Tanks

Here is more from the South China Morning Post:

Beijing has appointed historian Gao Xiang, a specialist on the Qing dynasty, to head the influential Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS) think tank.

Gao, 59, replaces Shi Taifeng, whose short seven-month tenure ended with his appointment after the 20th party congress to lead the United Front Work Department.

Gao served under Shi’s predecessor – the veteran economist Xie Fuzhan who headed CASS from 2018 – as vice-president, before his promotion last year as the think tank’s deputy party secretary.

While a number of regional think tanks have emerged in China, CASS stands out for its role in shaping the ideology behind the party’s policy formulation. Its academics also keep close ties with the top echelons of the Chinese government.


Here is more on CASS from Wikipedia.