Tuesday, July 25, 2023

India's Top Think Tank Struggling Amid Modi Crackdown

Here is more from FT:

One of India’s best-regarded public policy think-tanks is struggling to continue its work after authorities stripped it of its tax-exempt status and permission to raise foreign funds as part of an intensifying crackdown by the Modi government on civil society.

The New Delhi-based Centre for Policy Research, which conducts grassroots data collection, publishes research and organises talks, had its licence to raise money abroad suspended by India’s home affairs ministry in February.

Tax authorities in late June informed the 50-year-old group, which formerly raised about 75 per cent of its funds outside India, that it had lost its tax-exempt status, a move it describes as “a debilitating blow” that “strikes at the core of its ability to function”.

A senior staffer at CPR, whose past backers included the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, told the Financial Times that the centre’s headcount had fallen from more than 200 last year to fewer than 60 now because it was no longer able to pay salaries in full. 

India’s moves against CPR are part of decades-long efforts to tighten financial controls on think-tanks, academia and other independent institutions that predate Modi but have intensified since he took office in 2014.


Here is a previous Think Tank Watch post about India's crackdown of CPR.

Wednesday, July 19, 2023

Think Tank Quickies (#481)

  • Sarah Gilbert will become president and chief content officer of the Chicago Council on Global Affairs.  She suceeds Ivo Daalder, who will now become the think tank's CEO. 
  • Former CFR president Richard Haass, who just stepped down from the think tank, says the biggest threat to the world right now is America.
  • Former DNI John Ratcliffe joins the Heritage Foundation as a visiting fellow for national security, cybersecurity and intelligence.
  • AEI: A guide to think tank effectiveness.
  • The Jamestown Foundation: Russian think tanks enable the Kremlin's dangerous delusions.
  • Energy Innovation: "An energy and climate policy think tank."
  • Victoria Coates will be vice president of the Heritage Foundation Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for National Security and Foreign Policy.  She was previously a in the NSC in the Trump Administration and is a Ted Cruz (R-TX) alum.
  • Yorktown Institute: "A think tank dedicating to securing American liberty, prosperity, and self-governance under the US Constitution."
  • New think tank: Western Massachusetts Policy Center.
  • Thinkboi: A slang term for wannabe experts, often without much expertise to speak of.

Tuesday, July 18, 2023

Billionaire Michael Milken Pouring $1 Billion into Think Tank, Related Entities

Here is more from the Wall Street Journal: 

The wealth that [billionaire Michael] Milken has achieved, through his own investments and those made by his family office, speaks to the scale and success of his comeback. He has poured $500 million of his fortune into establishing the D.C. complex, which sits across the street from the U.S. Treasury and catty-corner from the White House and will house a public exhibition space known as the Milken Center for Advancing the American Dream, in addition to conference and event spaces and offices for his Milken Institute think tank.

Since as early as 2009, Milken has been contemplating a physical space dedicated to highlighting the goals of his think tank, according to Michael Klowden, former CEO of the Milken Institute who organized much of the planning for the Milken Center. Milken had originally conceived of it as a library and began looking at real estate in California. Only later did he decide that the facility, which is expected to cost over $1 billion, should be located in Washington, where much of the Milken Institute’s policy work is centered.   


Milken's think tank will be the closest think tank to the White House, the perfect location to continue influencing the US president and related agencies on taxes.

Monday, July 17, 2023

Think Tanker Being Held Hostage by Iran-Backed Militia

Here is more from CBS:

A dual Israeli-Russian academic who has been missing in Iraq for months is being held by an Iran-backed militia in Iraq, the office of Israel's prime minister said Wednesday.

Elizabeth Tsurkov, a Princeton University doctoral student, who disappeared in Iraq in late March, is being held hostage by the Shiite group Kataeb Hezbollah or Hezbollah Brigades, a powerful Iran-backed group that the U.S. government listed as a terrorist organization in 2009, according to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Tsurkov, whose work focuses on the Middle East, and specifically war-torn Syria, is an expert on regional affairs and has been widely quoted over the years by international media. 

She is a fellow at the Washington-based think tank New Lines Institute. Staff there said they'd last heard from Tsurkov on March 19. She told them she had enough of doing field research and wanted to return to the U.S. to finish her dissertation at Princeton.


Here is Tsurkov's biography via New Lines Institute for Strategy and Policy.  It notes that Tsurkov is a non-resident fellow at New Lines, and says she is a research fellow at the Forum for Regional Thinking, an Israeli-Palestinian think tank based in Jerusalem.

According to the New Lines website, Tsurkov is one of 16 non-resident fellows at the think tank.

New Lines Institute was founded in 2019 by Dr. Ahmed Alwani, who serves as the think tank's president.  The parent institution of New Lines is Fairfax University of America (FXUA), a private, non-profit university in Fairfax, Virginia that Dr. Alwani founded.

Here is more about the think tank's New Lines Magazine, which was launched in October 2020.

Thursday, July 13, 2023

Think Tanks Targeted in Latest Chinese Hack

Here is more from the Washington Post:

Chinese cyberspies, exploiting a fundamental gap in Microsoft’s cloud, hacked email accounts at the Commerce and State departments, including that of Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo — whose agency has imposed stiff export controls on Chinese technologies that Beijing has denounced as a malicious attempt to suppress its companies.

The Microsoft vulnerability was discovered last month by the State Department. Also targeted were the email accounts of a congressional staffer, a U.S. human rights advocate and U.S. think tanks, officials and security professionals said. State and Commerce were the only two executive branch agencies known to be breached, officials said.

The Redmond, Wash.-based tech giant said the hackers, whom the firm calls Storm-0558, gained access on May 15. They did this by using forged authentication tokens to access user email using “an acquired Microsoft account consumer signing key,” according to a blog written by Charlie Bell, Microsoft’s executive vice president of security.


This is one of numerous attempts by Chinese hackers to access internal think tank information.

Wednesday, July 12, 2023

Think Tank Quickies (#480)

  • Heritage Foundation filed two FOIA lawsuits against Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg. 
  • Nikki Haley delivers major China speech at AEI.
  • How the UK media mislead people about Britain's leading military think tank.
  • Mercatus Center as described by the WSJ: "A coordinating center for lobbyists trying to block a flurry of regulations."
  • Salvatore Babones using GoFundMe to help raise cash for his new think tank Indian Century Roundtable.
  • Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen received delegation from US think tank FDD.
  • Shocking Cato Institute chart on immigration in the US.
  • Michael Kofman is joining the Carnegie Endowment as a senior fellow in the Russia and Eurasia Program.  He served as the director of the Russia Studies Program at the Center for Naval Analysis and an adjunct fellow at CNAS.
  • Gold Institute for International Studies: "A think tank addressing emergent national security issues facing the US, Canada, and European nations."
  • Alex Velez-Green has joined the Heritage Foundation as a senior advisor to the vice president for national security and foreign policy.  He was previously national security advisor to Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO).

Tuesday, July 11, 2023

US Think Tank Chief Charged with Acting as Foreign Agent for China

Here is more from Reuters:

The leader of a U.S. think tank has been charged with acting as an unregistered agent of China, as well as seeking to broker the sale of weapons and Iranian oil, federal prosecutors in Manhattan said on Monday.

Gal Luft, a citizen of the United States and Israel, is accused of recruiting and paying a former high-ranking U.S. government official on behalf of principals based in China in 2016, without registering as a foreign agent as required by law.

Prosecutors did not identify the former official, but said he was working as an adviser to the then president-elect Donald Trump at the time. Luft is accused of pushing the adviser to support policies favorable to China, including by drafting comments in the adviser's name published in a Chinese newspaper.

Luft is co-director of the Institute for the Analysis of Global Security, which describes itself as a Washington, D.C.-based think tank focused on energy, security and economic trends.


Luft was arrested in early 2023 in Cyprus but fled after being released on bail while awaiting extradition.

According to the most recent US tax records, the Maryland-based Institute for Analysis of Global Security (IAGS), founded in 2002, had total revenue of around $14,000 in 2021 and total assets of around $220,000.

As Jurist has noted, one of IAGS's major projects is the US Energy Security Council (USESC), which was co-founded by Reagan-era National Security Advisor Robert McFarlane and former CIA Director James Woolsey.  Luft served as senior adviser to USESC.

One of the officials whom Luft is accused of covertly attempting to "recruit and pay, on behalf of principals based in China" is reportedly Mr. Woolsey, who was an adviser to then President-elect Donald Trump.

USESC's members include myriad former high-ranking officials in the US government.

Jurist has also pointed out that on a fundraising page posted to his Twitter account, Gal Luft called the charges a "witch hunt."  He is looking to raise $100,000, and so far has raised close to $8,000.

The eight-count indictment can be read here.

Friday, July 7, 2023

Think Tankers Holding Secret Talks with Russians on Ukraine

Here is more from NBC: 

A group of former senior U.S. national security officials have held secret talks with prominent Russians believed to be close to the Kremlin — and, in at least one case, with the country’s top diplomat — with the aim of laying the groundwork for potential negotiations to end the war in Ukraine, half a dozen people briefed on the discussions told NBC News.

In a high-level example of the back-channel diplomacy taking place behind the scenes, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov met with members of the group for several hours in April in New York, four former officials and two current officials told NBC News.

Sitting down with Lavrov were Richard Haass, a former diplomat and the outgoing president of the Council on Foreign Relations, current and former officials said. The group was joined by Europe expert Charles Kupchan and Russia expert Thomas Graham, both former White House and State Department officials who are Council on Foreign Relations fellows. 


NBC notes that that discussions have involved leaders from major think tanks in Russia that are apparently very close to the Kremlin.

Thursday, July 6, 2023

Iranian Hacking Group Impersonating Nuke Experts to Gain Intel From Think Tanks

Here is more from SC Media:

A cyber espionage group linked to the Iranian government has been impersonating think-tank employees to phish Middle Eastern nuclear weapons experts, according to researchers at Proofpoint.

The group — called “TA453,” “Charming Kitten” or “APT35,” depending on the threat intelligence service you’re relying on — has a long track record of targeting U.S. and European government officials, politicians, think tanks and entities involved in critical infrastructure.

The latest campaign detailed by Proofpoint dates from March to May of this year and begins with benign emails that seek to establish a rapport with foreign policy researchers in the West.

Those initial emails were later followed by phishing emails that link to a password-protected DropBox URL, ostensibly to access the research. Instead, it executes .RAR and LNK files and run a PowerShell script that installs a backdoor on the victim’s system, before calling out to a cloud hosting provider for additional malware payloads.

In one instance, the actor reached out several times in mid-May to a media relations contact for an unnamed U.S.-based think tank focused on foreign affairs.

The first email, purporting to be from Karl Roberts, a senior fellow and deputy director of terrorism and conflict at the Royal United Services Institute, asked for feedback on an Iranian-themed piece of research.


SC Media notes that it is not the first time that Charming Kitten has targeted think tanks in order to gather intelligence about Western foreign policy decision-making. 

Here is a 2021 Think Tank Watch piece about Iranian hackers masquerading as UK scholars to hack think tanks.