Tuesday, March 26, 2024

The Think Tanker Trying to Destroy TikTok

Here is more from The Intercept:

Among the many hawks on Capitol Hill, few have as effectively frightened lawmakers over Chinese control of TikTok as Jacob Helberg, a member of the U.S.–China Economic and Security Review Commission. Helberg’s day job at the military contractor Palantir, however, means he stands to benefit from ever-frostier relations between the two countries.

Helberg has been instrumental in the renewed legislative fight against TikTok, according to the Wall Street Journal. “Spearheading the effort to create the bipartisan, bicoastal alliance of China hawks is Jacob Helberg,” the Journal reported in March 2023. The paper noted collaboration between Helberg, previously a policy adviser at Google, and investor and fellow outspoken China hawk Peter Thiel, as well as others in Thiel’s circle. The anti-China coalition, the Journal reported this past week, has been hammering away at a TikTok ban, and Helberg said he has spoken to over 100 members of Congress about the video-sharing social media app.

At a February 2023 panel event, a representative of America’s Frontier Fund, a national security-oriented technology investment fund that pools private capital and federal dollars, said that a war between China and Taiwan would boost the firm’s profits by an order of magnitude. Private sector contributors to America’s Frontier Fund include both Thiel and former Google chair Eric Schmidt, whose China alarmism and defense-spending boosterism rivals Thiel’s — and who similarly stands to personally profit from escalations with China.


Helberg is an Adjunct Fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) and an Adjunct Senior Fellow for the Technology and National Security Program at the Center for a New American Security (CNAS).  He is also co-chairing the Brookings Institution China Strategy Working Group, as well as that think tank's US-France Working Group on China, according to his personal website.

House Select Committee on China Chairman Rep. Mike Gallagher (R-WI) has worked closely with Helberg in recent months as part of the effort to ban TikTok from operating in the US while under Chinese ownership.  Gallagher is leaving Congress to take a job at Palantir.

A leading member of Gallagher's "personal brain trust" is Matthew Turpin, a senior adviser at Palantir.  Turpin is a Visiting Fellow at the Hoover Institution.

Monday, March 25, 2024

Think Tank Quickies (#493)

  • Self-described independent think tank Caspian Policy Center quietly backs Central Asian governments, in particular Azerbaijan. 
  • Conservative Partnership Institute (CPI) described by NYT as a "nerve center for the right wing."
  • France's DGRIS international relations directorate audited as it revamps think tank.
  • "The Centre for Policy Research (CPR), a think tank in Delhi, drafted many of the policies that have made India a laboratory of anti-poverty schemes.  Since coming into power in 2014, Narendra Modi's administration has shut down thousands of [NGOs].  CPR, which produced over 600 articles in 2022-2023, has laid off all but a handful of its 200 researchers and may not survive."
  • The group American Commitment: "Designed to fill the capabilities gap between think tanks engaged in pure public policy work and grassroots organizations engaged in mobilizing citizen activists."
  • Artomatic will take over the former Urban Institute headquarters in Washington, DC.
  • Centennial Institute: "Colorado Christian University's think tank, mobilizing ideas on faith, family, and freedom to strengthen America's future."
  • Institute for Progress (IFP): "A think tank for accelerating scientific, technological, and industrial progress." 
  • Is China outpacing the US defense industrial base?  (via CSIS)
  • Flashback: Is the Asia Foundation a front for the CIA?

Friday, March 22, 2024

Conflict Resolution Think Tank Hires Lobbyist for FARA Fight

Here is more from Politico:

NGO HIRES MERCURY: A conflict resolution think tank that three House Republicans accused of potentially acting as an unregistered foreign agent last month has boosted its presence in Washington as it pushes back against the criticism.

International Crisis Group, a Brussels-based NGO, retained Mercury Government Affairs earlier this month for help “introducing the organization to policymakers” and talking the organization up as a “trusted resource on foreign relations matters,” according to a disclosure filing.

Patrick Costello, the head of Mercury’s NGO and think tank practice and former chief executive of the national security think tank American Security Project, will work on the account for Mercury, according to the filing. It’s the first time the group has reported lobbying Washington since 2015, per a PI analysis of disclosures.

— At the beginning of February, Reps. Jim Banks (R-Ind.), Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.) and Michael Waltz (R-Fla.) wrote a letter to Attorney General Merrick Garland to request an investigation into whether International Crisis Group’s ties to Iranian groups — around the time that Crisis Group was lobbying on the Iran nuclear deal — had violated FARA.

— The lawmakers cited reporting from Semafor about an agreement the group had struck with a think tank run out of Iran’s foreign ministry to work together on research. Months earlier, Semafor had reported that Crisis Group researchers “were involved in an Iranian-backed research group … which Tehran hoped to use to advance its positions on the nuclear issue beginning in 2014.”


Costello was hired by Mercury in 2022 to lead the firm's NGO/Think Tank engagement practice.  Costello spent more than a decade at the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), including as director of its Washington External Affairs.  He is a Life Member at CFR.  In 2021, he became the CEO of American Security Project (ASP).

Wednesday, March 20, 2024

Taiwan Gets Slew of Think Tank Delegations

A number of think tank delegations have been visiting Taiwan in recent weeks, as the US says that all signs suggest that China is sticking with its ambitions to be ready to invade Taiwan by 2027.

On March 11, President Tsai Ing-wen received a delegation of think tankers from Washington, DC.  That group, led by Bonnie Glaser, Managing Director of the German Marshall Fund's Indo-Pacific program, included American Enterprise Institute (AEI) Senior Fellow Zack Cooper and Jude Blanchette, Freeman Chair in China Studies at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS).  It also included Rick Waters of Eurasia Group.

Blanchette recently co-wrote a piece for CSIS along with Brookings Institution scholar Ryan Hass and CSIS scholar Lily McElwee entitled "Building International Support for Taiwan."  That report was sponsored by the Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office in the United States (TECRO).

The next day, Tsai received a delegation from the Center for American Progress (CAP), led by Tom Daschle, chair of CAP's board of directors.  Daschle is the Founder and CEO of The Daschle Group (TDG), which has a $25,000 per month contract with TECRO.  In that contract, TDG says it will help TECRO and the administration in Taipei with outreach to think tanks and others.  TDG is a public policy advisory of Baker Donelson.

Meanwhile, a delegation from the US Naval War College recently visited Taiwan, holding a joint seminar with the Institute for National Defense and Security Research (INDSR), a military-backed think tank in Taipei.  The two sides reportedly discussed China's People's Liberation Army and its Navy.  The CEO of INDSR recently participated in a CSIS event on Taiwan.

Scholars have noted that Taiwan's absence of diplomatic relations with most countries means that think tanks play an increasingly important role in bringing Taiwan closer to other countries.

Here is a 2020 piece from Eli Clifton entitled "Taiwan Funding of Think Tanks: Omnipresent And Rarely Disclosed."  China's media often comments on the flood of Taiwanese money going to US think tanks.

Tuesday, March 19, 2024

How the Heritage Foundation Came to Love Viktor Orban

Here is more from a piece by Casey Michel entitled "How Viktor Orban Conquered the Heritage Foundation":

But there was one other meeting that [Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor] Orbán took while in the U.S. that hasn’t received enough attention—and points directly to how Orbán has cultivated American conservatives to his cause and created a beachhead for Hungarian influence in Washington. On Friday, he spoke at a closed-door meeting at the Heritage Foundation’s headquarters in the nation’s capital. Joined by Heritage president Kevin Roberts and failed presidential candidate Vivek Ramaswamy, Orbán spoke, according to a readout, in front of an audience that “included renowned U.S. right-wing politicians, analysts and public personalities.”

The event was, on paper, a somewhat dull affair, with Orbán covering matters ranging from Hungary’s “conservative family and economic policies” to the state of the war in Ukraine. Pulling back, however, the talk was nothing short of shocking. Instead of meeting with the White House, Orbán traveled to Washington to sit with the leadership of a think tank, using them as a platform to access and influence conservative Americans about both foreign and domestic policy. 

All of which leads to one question: How, and why, did the Heritage Foundation become the go-to vehicle for Budapest’s budding autocracy to target Americans?

The answer follows several different tracks. On the one hand, Hungary has been shedding lobbying outfits for the past few years, dropping a range of P.R. shops and Twitter influencers to focus solely on Heritage. On the other hand, internal transformations at Heritageand a willingness to shred its reputation as a bastion of Reaganite, and even democratic, credentialsled the think tank’s leadership directly into Orbán’s lap, allowing it to become little more than a mouthpiece for a strongman and a leading proponent for Orbán-style rule in the U.S.


The article notes that the Heritage Foundation has finalized a cooperation agreement with the Danube Institute, a Hungarian think tank that praises Orban's government.

The Danube Institute is currently being run by John O'Sullivan, a British conservative who once served as director of studies at Heritage.

Here is a previous Think Tank Watch piece mentioning the Danube Institute.

Monday, March 11, 2024

Think Tank Quickies (#492)

  • Center for Renewing America preparing to infuse "Christian nationalism" in 2nd Trump term. 
  • New RAND report warning: Most significant threat to US financial system is not an abrupt event akin to a "financial 9/11," but rather a slow and steady process, akin to "financial climate change."
  • Rep. Lance Gooden (R-TX) introduced the Think Tank and Nonprofit Foreign Influence Disclosure Act (H.R. 7169). 
  • Stimson Center's Matthew Burrows: "Nasty, Brutish, and Short: Scholars, Think Tanks, and Influence on Policymaking."
  • CNAS event: Deep Dive into Think Tanks. 
  • Niskanen Center warns of the Heritage Foundation's Project 2025.
  • CCP is urging the Global Times to complain about a Hudson Institute video.
  • Wargaming in Japan's policy think tanks.
  • "As for the Chinese public, Zhu Junwei - director of American research at Grandview Institution, a Beijing think tank, and a former researcher in the People's Liberation Army - carried out an informal online survey to find out how they view the upcoming vote. About 60% preferred Trump."
  • Flashback: Jake Sullivan married Margaret Goodlander, who was a Next Generation National Security Fellow at CNAS from 2011-2012.

Sunday, March 3, 2024

McKinsey-Led Think Tank Helped Chinese Government Compete With US

Here is more from the Financial Times:

A McKinsey-led think-tank advised China to deepen co-operation between business and the military and push foreign companies out of sensitive industries as part of a project for the central government in 2015.

The recommendations in a book by the Urban China Initiative, commissioned by the Chinese government’s central planning agency, were among dozens of policies it proposed to boost the country’s technological prowess, according to a review of the work, which has not previously been reported in western media.

The UCI’s book — with a foreword by one of McKinsey’s most senior partners in China and drawing on work by McKinsey’s in-house research arm — formed part of the Chinese government’s research for its 13th Five-Year Plan covering 2016-20. The Five-Year Plan included the “Made in China 2025” policy that increased tensions between Beijing and Washington.

McKinsey shut down UCI in 2021 and has played down its relationship with the Chinese government since coming under political pressure in the US, where lawmakers have questioned if consulting in China conflicts with the firm’s work for the US Department of Defense.


In light of the FT reporting, Republican lawmakers are now calling for McKinsey to be banned from securing federal contracts.

Friday, March 1, 2024

Think Tank Quickies (#491)

  • President Biden pays particular attention to - and has consulted with - former Council on Foreign Relations President Richard Haass.
  • How Jake Sullivan launched "Bidenism" at Brookings. 
  • Climate scientist Michael Mann wins million-dollar verdict against right-wing bloggers connected to CEI.
  • Republican lawmakers are requesting the DOJ to open an investigation into the International Crisis Group to determine if it acted as an unregistered agent for the government of Iran.
  • Japan's endeavors to connect to Donald Trump have included outreach by Japanese diplomats with think tanks.
  • What the Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies' wargame revealed about a key USAF concept.
  • Williams Institute: "A UCLA Law think tank focused on sexual orientation and gender identity law and public policy."
  • Last month, former CFR head Richard Haass approached top Biden Administration officials with an "audacious" plan for changing politics around the Israel-Hamas war: Distance Biden from Netanyahu by making his case directly to the Israeli people.
  • The Carter Center has registered to lobby.
  • Narrative Strategies says it's the "only think-and-do tank currently postured to deliver both operationalized narrative services and training at the most elite level."