Monday, October 30, 2023

Think Tank Quickies (#486)

  • Former AEI president Arthur Brooks now a self-help guru writing books with Oprah.
  • Stony Brook University received a donation of $500 million, one of the largest gifts to a university in American history.
  • Think tank experts call for increased diplomatic engagement with Iran.
  • Major new Politico piece on Project 2025 at the Heritage Foundation. 
  • Former Undersecretary of Defense Colin Kahl is joining the Brookings Institution's Strobe Talbott Center for Security, Strategy and Technology as their Sydney Stein, Jr. scholar in residence.
  • The annual conference of the European House Ambrosetti, an Italian think tank, was held at the Villa d'Este on the shore of Lake Como.  Sens. John Thune, Lindsey Graham and Bob Menendez attended.
  • Heritage Foundation backs continuing resolution (CR) deal in Congress. 
  • Vivek Ramaswamy gives speech at Trump-aligned American First Policy Institute; Ron DeSantis gives speech at Heritage Foundation.
  • Logan Wright: Director of China markets research at Rhodium Group and senior associate of the Trustee Chair in Chinese Business and Economics at CSIS.
  • Growing wave of volunteers expose faulty or fraudulent research papers.

Thursday, October 26, 2023

Billionare-Backed Network of Think Tankers Pushing AI Agenda

Here is more from Politico:

An organization backed by Silicon Valley billionaires and tied to leading artificial intelligence firms is funding the salaries of more than a dozen AI fellows in key congressional offices, across federal agencies and at influential think tanks.

The fellows funded by Open Philanthropy, which is financed primarily by billionaire Facebook co-founder and Asana CEO Dustin Moskovitz and his wife Cari Tuna, are already involved in negotiations that will shape Capitol Hill’s accelerating plans to regulate AI. And they’re closely tied to a powerful influence network that’s pushing Washington to focus on the technology’s long-term risks — a focus critics fear will divert Congress from more immediate rules that would tie the hands of tech firms.

Acting through the little-known Horizon Institute for Public Service, a nonprofit that Open Philanthropy effectively created in 2022, the group is funding the salaries of tech fellows in key Senate offices, according to documents and interviews.

Current and former Horizon AI fellows with salaries funded by Open Philanthropy are now working at the Department of Defense, the Department of Homeland Security and the State Department, as well as in the House Science Committee and Senate Commerce Committee, two crucial bodies in the development of AI rules. They also populate key think tanks shaping AI policy, including the RAND Corporation and Georgetown University’s Center for Security and Emerging Technology, according to the Horizon web site. In 2022, Open Philanthropy set aside nearly $3 million to pay for what ultimately became the initial cohort of Horizon fellows.

Horizon is one piece of a sprawling web of AI influence that Open Philanthropy has built across Washington’s power centers. The organization — which is closely aligned with “effective altruism,” a movement made famous by disgraced FTX founder Sam Bankman-Fried that emphasizes a data-driven approach to philanthropy — has also spent tens of millions of dollars on direct contributions to AI and biosecurity researchers at RAND, Georgetown’s CSET, the Center for a New American Security and other influential think tanks guiding Washington on AI.


Politico notes that RAND received a $5.5 million grant from Open Philanthropy in April to research “potential risks from advanced AI,” and another $10 million in May to study biosecurity.

It adds that both grants can be spent at the discretion of RAND CEO Jason Matheny, "a luminary in the effective altruist community who in September became one of five members on Anthropic's new Long-Term Benefit Trust."  Matheny, the founding director of CSET, is a former Biden Administration official.  CSET, notes Politico, is funded almost entirely by Open Philanthropy.

Tuesday, October 17, 2023

Vietnam Tried to Hack Think Tank Experts

Here is more from the Washington Post:

Vietnamese government agents tried to plant spyware on the phones of members of Congress, American policy experts and U.S. journalists this year in a brazen campaign that underscores the rapid proliferation of state-of-the-art hacking tools, according to forensic examination of links posted to Twitter and documents uncovered by a consortium of news outlets that includes The Washington Post.

Targeted were two of the most influential foreign policy voices on Capitol Hill: Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Tex.) and Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), a member of the Foreign Relations Committee and chair of its subcommittee on the Middle East. Also targeted were Asia experts at Washington think tanks and journalists from CNN, including Jim Sciutto, the outlet’s chief national security analyst, and two Asia-based reporters.


The Washington Post notes that an Asia expert at the German Marshall Fund was targeted by Vietnam, along with the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS).

Tuesday, October 10, 2023

Iran's Influence Operation Attracted Think Tankers

Here is more from Semafor:

In the spring of 2014, senior Iranian Foreign Ministry officials initiated a quiet effort to bolster Tehran’s image and positions on global security issues — particularly its nuclear program — by building ties with a network of influential overseas academics and researchers. They called it the Iran Experts Initiative.

The scope and scale of the IEI project has emerged in a large cache of Iranian government correspondence and emails reported for the first time by Semafor and Iran International. The officials, working under the moderate President Hassan Rouhani, congratulated themselves on the impact of the initiative. At least three of the people on the Foreign Ministry’s list were, or became, top aides to Robert Malley, the Biden administration’s special envoy on Iran, who was placed on leave this June following the suspension of his security clearance.

According to the emails, Iran’s Foreign Ministry, through its in-house think tank — the Institute for Political and International Studies — reached out to ten “core” members for the project, through which it planned to liaise over the next 18 months to aggressively promote the merits of a nuclear deal between Tehran and Washington, which was finalized in July 2015.


Semafor noted the names of several people who were part of the IEI, including Ariane Tabatabai, who formerly worked at the RAND Corp., as well as Dina Esfandiary, and Ali Vaez of the International Crisis Group (ICG).

Tuesday, October 3, 2023

Think Tank Used to Recruit Russian Spies?

A Russian woman named Natalia Burlinova held numerous meetings with American students and academics under the auspices of her think tank that were part of a years-long effort to influence the opinions of future leaders in the US on behalf of the Russian government, according to a US criminal complaint.

Here is more from Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty:

In addition to the U.S. meetings, Burlinova and her organization, called Creative Diplomacy, or PICREADI, hosted dozens of young journalists, public policy specialists, and newly minted graduate students at annual events in Russia over the course of four years -- a program that "was funded in part by the FSB, a fact never disclosed to the public," according to the FBI. The organization's website prominently features an interview with a Russian couple who were kicked out of the United States in 2010 after the FBI identified them and eight others as "sleeper agents" for Russian intelligence.

"Burlinova provided extensive information to the FSB about the U.S. citizen participants in the Meeting Russia programs, including biographical information, their interests, and their political opinions," the FBI alleged. "The FSB subsequently monitored the career developments of these U.S. citizen participants with an aim that some would become influential public figures."


PICREADI was founded in 2010, and its website, which is still being updated, can be found here.

Monday, October 2, 2023

Think Tank Quickies (#485)

  • Think tanks draft plans for GOP president (and here).
  • British think tank Institute for Strategic Dialogue found 114 Wagner-linked accounts across Facebook and Instagram glorifying the group or posting recruitment information to fill its ranks.
  • Nathaniel Fick, former CEO of think tank CNAS, selected as State's inaugural cyber ambassador.
  • The Pirate Bay was founded in 2003 by Swedish think tank Piratbyran.
  • Lee Zeldin is now chair of America First Policy Institute's Pathway to 2025 initiative.
  • Audrey Kurth Cronin to lead Carnegie Mellon Institute for Security and Technology.
  • Dmitri Alperovitch, "a cybersecurity expert who co-founded Silverado Policy Accelerator think tank and has advised governments on satellite internet."
  • Fidelity Investments, best know for managing mutual funds, also runs a think tank that focuses on futuristic ideas (Fidelity's Center for Applied Technology, or FCAT).
  • A group of prominent media, tech, and research executives have raised $3 million to launch an independent policy research center (Center for News, Technology & Innovation) focusing on addressing global internet issues.  Funding is coming from Craig Newmark Philanthropies, John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the Lenfest Institute, and private companies.
  • Institute for Strategic Dialogue (ISD): "A think tank which focuses on disinformation."