Friday, April 12, 2024

Heritage Foundation Hit With Cyberattack

Here is more from TechCrunch:

Conservative think tank The Heritage Foundation said on Friday that it experienced a cyberattack earlier this week.

A person with knowledge of the cyberattack told TechCrunch that efforts at Heritage were underway to remediate the cyberattack, but said that it wasn’t immediately known what, if any, data was taken.

Politico, which first reported the news of the cyberattack on Friday, cited a Heritage official as saying the organization “shut down its network to prevent any further malicious activity while we investigate the incident.”

The news outlet quoted the Heritage official as saying that the cyberattack likely came from nation-state hackers, but did not provide evidence of the claim.

 

TechCrunch notes that the Heritage Foundation was hit by a cyberattack in 2015 in which hackers stole internal emails and and the personal information of its donors.

Thursday, April 11, 2024

Little-Known Australian Think Tanker is "The China Whisperer"

Here is s short clip from The Wire China:

Garnaut Global is, in many ways, a typical “strategic consultancy” firm: For decades, former government officials like Pottinger and Garnaut have cashed in by serving as political or regulatory advisors for the private sector. Attempting to read the tea leaves of open-source Chinese Communist Party (CCP) texts, meanwhile, is commonplace in think tanks and academia. But Garnaut has married the two approaches in a kind of Moneyball style, and his clients praise his unique ability to translate deep readings of Marxist ideology into actionable advice.

Garnaut also enjoys special status in the current moment of Western-China relations, because he is one of the men most responsible for bringing the current moment about. Although he was very much a child of the “engagement” era, Garnaut, 49, was one of the first “China watchers” to call foul and argue that a new era was upon us.

 

The firm was founded by John Garnaut, a former journalist-cum-Australian official.  Garnaut was a Senior Fellow at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI).

Matthew Pottinger, a former US deputy national security advisor, is also a part of the firm.  He is a Distinguished Visiting Fellow at the Hoover Institution and the Chairman of the China Program at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD).  He's also a Senior Advisor at The Marathon Initiative.

Wednesday, April 10, 2024

Think Tank Quickies (#495)

  • ECFR launches DC office.
  • TikTok has think tank friends.
  • Trump threatens to kick out "nasty" Australian Ambassador Kevin Rudd, a former PM and think tanker who's been critical of Trump, if he returns to the White House.
  • Ukrainian, British think tanks expose supplies of raw materials to Russia for ammo production.
  • The global elite just gathered at a secretive mini Davos. Meet Global.Minds.
  • Billy Pizer will be the next president and CEO of Resources for the Future (RFF).
  • Rush Doshi and Sue Mi Terry (formerly as the Wilson Center) joined CFR as fellows.
  • Biden Labor Dept. relies on union-funded think tanks to push pro-union agenda.
  • New York think tank taps Martin Kimani, Kenya's outgoing Permanent Representative to the UN, to build bridges of justice.
  • DoD: "Table of Knowledge acts as think tank for Project Convergence Capstone 4."

Tuesday, April 9, 2024

Trump's Secret Plan to End the Ukraine War Hatched at Think Tank Event?

Here is more from the Washington Post:

Former president Donald Trump has privately said he could end Russia’s war in Ukraine by pressuring Ukraine to give up some territory, according to people familiar with the plan. Some foreign policy experts said Trump’s idea would reward Russian President Vladimir Putin and condone the violation of internationally recognized borders by force.

Word of Trump’s plan for Ukraine circulated in Washington last November at a meeting at the Heritage Foundation between right-of-center foreign policy figures and a visiting delegation from the European Council on Foreign Relations. Former Trump White House aide Michael Anton described the expected contours of Trump’s peace plan as Ukraine ceding territory in Crimea and Donbas, limiting NATO expansion and enticing Putin to loosen his growing reliance on China, according to multiple people present for the meeting, who like others spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe a private discussion.

 

WaPo notes that James Carafano, a Heritage fellow and senior counselor to the think tank's president, convened the meeting.  Meanwhile, Jeremy Shapiro, head of the Washington office of the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR), brought the group's delegation to the November meeting.

Michael Anton is a Senior Fellow at the Claremont Institute.

Monday, April 8, 2024

How a Right-Wing Texas Think Tank Ducked Property Taxes

Here is more from Texas Monthly:

The Texas Public Policy Foundation, a right-wing think tank with ties to the state’s most powerful politicians and political donors, has long lobbied legislators to abolish property taxes. So far, this effort has failed. But TPPF has succeeded in another ambitious goal: ducking its own property taxes.

For the past decade, Texas Monthly has learned, the think tank hasn’t paid a single dollar in taxes on its lavish, limestone-fronted, six-story headquarters, just two blocks from the Capitol in downtown Austin. The building’s appraised value is $18 million. How did TPPF manage this feat? 

Under state law, exemption from property taxes is reserved only for some nonprofit organizations, including orphan-aid groups and animal shelters. A well-funded think tank that promotes the interests of the oil-and-gas industry and undermines support for public schools, among other causes, would not seem to qualify. Indeed, TPPF was twice denied an exemption. But it persisted by appealing to the comptroller’s office, the statewide tax agency.

 

The article notes that TPPF, which has an annual budget of around $21.5 million and 150 staffers, has so far avoided paying around $3 million in taxes on its headquarters.

TPPF's former CEO, Brooke Rollins, now runs America First Policy Institute (AFPI).  Another former TPPF CEO, Kevin Roberts, now runs the Heritage Foundation.

Friday, April 5, 2024

How Billionaire Megadonors Use Think Tanks

Here is more from CNN:

When Missouri Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft jumped into the state’s gubernatorial race last year, the Republican vowed to tackle a slew of culture war issues, promising to fight the “woke politics” of “left-wing” banks and touting how he used his position to enact a regulation targeting those financial firms.

Ashcroft also said candidates shouldn’t focus on issues that let the one percent “force their beliefs on 99 percent of the population.”

While Ashcroft positioned himself as a champion for working class voters, emails obtained by CNN and the progressive watchdog group Documented show that he was steered toward adopting his “anti-woke” investment regulation by a little-known, right-wing think tank with deep ties to conservative billionaires. The communications show that officials with the Foundation for Government Accountability suggested regulatory language to Ashcroft and even wrote an op-ed article that Ashcroft published in a national conservative magazine under his own name. 

The emails not only reveal FGA’s influence over Ashcroft, they offer a snapshot of the group’s growing influence across the country, particularly in red states. And that influence can carry a high cost for workers and taxpayers. 

The group’s communications with Ashcroft...give a rare glimpse into how billionaire megadonors use think tanks like FGA to advance their causes out of public view. Federal tax laws allow such donors to channel millions of dollars anonymously, through nonprofit foundations, to activist organizations that lobby for and work behind the scenes to enact legislation that reflects partisan political goals. 

 

CNN notes that even though FGA's tax exempt status requires it not to engage in "substantial" lobbying, the group has closely coordinated with a variety of state officials and legislators to advance their causes. 

The Heritage Foundation is one of the many allies of FGA, and it is one of the 100+ coalition partners on Heritage's Project 2025.

FGA, based in Naples, Florida, was founded in 2011 by Tarren Bragdon, a former Maine legislator and past CEO of the free-market think tank Maine Heritage Policy Center.

Major FGA donors include the Sarah Scaife Foundation, the Searle Freedom Trust, Donors Trust, the Ed Uihlein Family Foundation, the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, and The 85 Fund, a nonprofit connected to conservative legal activist Leonard Leo.

Thursday, April 4, 2024

Think Tank Quickies (#494)

  • Heritage Foundation raised a record-breaking $150 million in 2023. 
  • Heritage announces formation of National Task Force to Combat Antisemitism.
  • Heritage Foundation's Oversight Project sues DHS for targeting the think tank.
  • Former AEI president Christopher DeMuth becomes Distinguished Fellow at Heritage.
  • Former ODNI Director John Ratcliffe becomes Visiting Fellow at Heritage.
  • What are think tanks thinking about EU defense issues?
  • Event: How can think tanks make themselves heard in the election campaign?
  • Wilson Center launches Indo-Pacific program.
  • Meet Cecilia Rouse, new Brookings president; official announcement from 2023.
  • Brookings appointed Colin Kahl as the Sydney Stein, Jr. Scholar in Foreign Policy.
  • Brookings launches Center for Economic Security and Opportunity.
  • Brookings unveils new website.

Wednesday, April 3, 2024

Report Attacking Nippon Steel Tied to Think Tank Pair

In a bid to sink Nippon Steel's acquisition of US Steel, Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) recently used a report from a pair of think tankers to urge the White House to investigate Nippon's ties to China.

Brown reportedly raised those concerns based on a report by consultancy Horizon Advisory.  Brown sent Horizon's report to President Biden.

Horizon Advisory was co-founded by two senior fellows at the hawkish think tank Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD): Nathan Picarsic and Emily de La Bruyere.  

FDD was founded in 2001 by Clifford May, who writes a weekly "Foreign Desk" column for The Washington Times.  Its sister lobbying arm, FDD Action, was founded in 2019.  FDD has close ties to Israel and Gulf Arab states. 

In 2022, Horizon published a report on forced labor risks in China's aluminum sector.  In 2021 it published a pair of reports on China's industrial policy for the automotive sector as well as steel sector.  In 2020 it published a report on the so-called "China Standards 2035" strategy.

This year it published a report on China's dominance in the global solar market, which received praise from a number of anti-China groups, including the Coalition for a Prosperous America (CPA).

Tuesday, April 2, 2024

Think Tanks Unearth Efforts by China to Influence US Election

Here is more from the New York Times:

Covert Chinese accounts are masquerading online as American supporters of former President Donald J. Trump, promoting conspiracy theories, stoking domestic divisions and attacking President Biden ahead of the election in November, according to researchers and government officials.

The accounts signal a potential tactical shift in how Beijing aims to influence American politics, with more of a willingness to target specific candidates and parties, including Mr. Biden.

“I’ve never seen anything along those lines at all before,” said Elise Thomas, a senior analyst at the Institute for Strategic Dialogue, a nonprofit research organization that uncovered a small group of the fake accounts posing as Trump supporters.

Ms. Thomas and other researchers have linked the new activity to a long-running network of accounts connected with the Chinese government known as Spamouflage. Several of the accounts they detailed previously posted pro-Beijing content in Mandarin — only to resurface in recent months under the guise of real Americans writing in English.

In a separate project, the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a research organization in Washington, identified 170 inauthentic pages and accounts on Facebook that have also pushed anti-American messages, including pointed attacks on Mr. Biden.

 

The Institute for Strategic Dialogue (ISD) is a London-based think tank specializing in combating alleged online disinformation.  Here is its recent report on Spamouflage.

The Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD) is a Washington, DC-based think tank focusing on national security and foreign policy.

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."

Thursday, February 29, 2024

Atlantic Council Axes Major Donor

Here is more from Politico:

The Atlantic Council terminated its relationship with a major donor, Gaurav Srivastava, after the think tank couldn’t confirm important details of his background in its donor vetting process, Daniel reports. Srivastava and his wife Sharon donated at least $1 million to the think tank for its Global Food Security Forum in Bali in November 2022.

— Srivastava last October was the subject of an unflattering profile by the news outlet Project Brazen that suggested misconduct on his part; a lawyer for Srivastava, who was granted anonymity because they were not authorized to speak on the record, told PI that the allegations in the article were “categorically false.” Bradley Hope, a co-author of the story and a former Wall Street Journal reporter, told PI in an email that “we stand by our story.” The termination of the relationship with the Atlantic Council has not been previously reported.

— “All funds received by the Atlantic Council from Mr. Srivastava for the Global Food Security Forum were dedicated to and used for the event,” a spokesperson for the Atlantic Council told PI. “We did, however, return funding received from Mr. Srivastava in 2023 for future collaboration.”

— “We made the decision to terminate our relationship with Mr. Srivastava in May 2023 upon learning new information because of our donor review process. For example, we learned that The Gaurav & Sharon Srivastava Family Foundation was not an established 501C3 in April of 2023, despite Mr. Srivastava’s representation to the Council that this was a registered foundation,” the spokesperson continued.

 

Here is a link to the Gaurav & Sharon Srivastava Family Foundation, which says it was founded in 2015.

The above-mentioned Project Brazen news outlet says that Gaurav Srivastava is an "alleged serial con man who pretended to be part of a little-known CIA program to swindle an oil trader."

Tuesday, February 27, 2024

Think Tank Used to Defeat Trump in 2020 is Relaunched

Here is more from Axios: 

Veterans of the Obama administration are re-launching an advocacy group, National Security Action, to make the case for President Biden's re-election based on his foreign policy, according to a memo obtained by Axios.

Driving the news: National Security Action was originally co-founded in 2018 by Jake Sullivan — now Biden's national security adviser — and Ben Rhodes, the former deputy national security adviser for Barack Obama.

Zoom out: The group's leaders didn't expect to get involved in campaigns after Biden beat Trump in 2020, but the former president's resurgence led them to try to get involved in the 2024 election.

 

Here is the website for National Security Action.

Monday, February 26, 2024

Leaked Files From China Show Think Tanks as Targets of Hacking Campaign

Here is more from the Washington Post:

A trove of leaked documents from a Chinese state-linked hacking group shows that Beijing’s intelligence and military groups are attempting large-scale, systematic cyber intrusions against foreign governments, companies and infrastructure — with hackers of one company claiming to be able to target users of Microsoft, Apple and Google.

The cache — containing more than 570 files, images and chat logs — offers an unprecedented look inside the operations of one of the firms that Chinese government agencies hire for on-demand, mass data-collecting operations.

Most of the targets were in Asia, though iSoon received requests for hacks further afield. Chat logs included in the leak describe selling unspecified data related to NATO in 2022. It’s not clear whether the data was collected from publicly available sources or extracted in a hack.

Another file shows employees discussing a list of targets in Britain, including its Home and Foreign offices as well as its Treasury. Also on the list were British think tanks Chatham House and the International Institute for Strategic Studies.

 

Entities linked to Chinese state hacking groups have targeted NGOs and think tanks across Asia, Europe, Central America, and the US.

Monday, February 19, 2024

Head of Washington Policy Center Resigns Amid Turmoil

Here is more from the Seattle Times:

The head of the Washington Policy Center, a prominent conservative think tank, has resigned in a move he said was voluntary but which followed complaints by some staff of a toxic workplace and poor financial stewardship.

Michael Gallagher, the president and CEO of the Seattle-based nonprofit since March 2022, announced his departure in a news release and statement this week.

Over the past year, Gallagher had been the subject of some staff complaints alleging verbal abuse and questioning his work ethic and expenses, according to internal documents obtained by The Seattle Times.

Gallagher's annual compensation was $374,000 is 2022.

The article notes that WPC is an affiliate of the State Policy Network, a 50-state association of like-minded free-market groups.

Tuesday, February 6, 2024

Arson Suspected at Offices of Conservative Think Tanks in MN

Here is more from CCX Media:

A fire ripped through a Golden Valley office complex early Sunday morning, damaging the offices of several conservative organizations.

The building is located south of Interstate 394 and east of Highway 169. Tenants in the building believe their offices were targeted.

“I think there’s some disruption and some uneasiness about somebody who would want to do this to our building,” said Bill Walsh, director of marketing and communications for the Center of the American Experiment, a conservative think tank.

Walsh says his office, along with two other conservative organizations — TakeCharge Minnesota on the first floor, and the Upper Midwest Law Center on the third floor — all sustained damage in a fire that occurred around 2 a.m. on Jan. 28.

 

The conservative groups are calling the fire an act of "political terrorism."

Thursday, February 1, 2024

Think Tank Quickies (#490)

  • Heritage Foundation President Kevin Roberts says he sees the think tank's role as "institutionalizing Trumpism."   [WaPo's Josh Rogin calls the interview "disgraceful."]
  • Hansjorg Wyss, the Swiss billionaire cast by US conservatives as the "New Soros," is a member of the board of the Center for American Progress (CAP).
  • "That may be the real lesson at Davos: Everyone is winging it, experts and schlubs alike, muddling through with at best fragmentary understandings of a fast-moving world and its inscrutable future," notes Politico's John Harris in a piece entitled "Why the Davos Smart Set Sounds Dumb."
  • A think tank run by former Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz is leading a $1 billion effort to spur US hydrogen production.
  • Chaguan (Economist) attended the Stockholm China Forum, a private gathering in Singapore of American, Chinese and European officials and scholars convened by the German Marshall Fund and Sweden's foreign ministry. 
  • Jens Stoltenberg speaks at Heritage Foundation - "the latest pilgrimage by a global ally to appeal to increasingly isolationist conservatives."
  • PIIE scholar Chad Bown becomes chief economist at the US State Department.
  • Meet the think tank behind the agribusiness' legislative wins in Brazil. 
  • President of the Center for China and Globalization, Henry Huiyao Wang, has a new book on think tanks.
  • Nippon Steel sent delegation to Washington to talk with think tank analysts about CFIUS review related to its acquisition of US Steel.
  • Companies are re-thinking the in-house think tank.

Tuesday, January 30, 2024

Two Think Tanks Targeted by Pro-Israel Group for Improper PPP Loan

Here is more from Politico:

The Middle East Institute plans to settle a lawsuit alleging the think tank obtained a pandemic relief loan under the Paycheck Protection Program for which it was not actually eligible, according to court filings unsealed last week (h/t our Kyle Cheney). The Zionist Advocacy Center, a litigious pro-Israel advocacy group run by attorney David Abrams, brought a qui tam, or whistleblower, complaint in December 2021 under the False Claims Act to challenge a $359,000 PPP loan MEI received earlier that year.

MEI isn’t the only firm facing consequences for PPP’s political prohibition. In December, PR firm MikeWorldWide, run by Democratic fundraiser Michael Kempner agreed to pay back $2.3 million in PPP loans that it was ineligible for due to being a registered foreign agent. The Institute for Policy Studies reached a deal in June to pay more than $500,000 to settle a lawsuit that was also brought by TZAC alleging fraudulent receipt of a PPP loan.

The Institute for Policy Studies has long been critical of Israel, while MEI has received funding in recent years from the governments of the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman and Libya, according to disclosures — all of whom, with the exception of the UAE and Bahrain, still have no diplomatic relations with Israel.

 

The Zionist Advocacy Center (TZAC) has historically challenged the tax exempt status or federal funding to nonprofits and other organizations that have done charitable work with Palestinians, notes Politico.

Friday, January 19, 2024

Think Tank Run by Former Obama Official to Lead $1 Billion Hydrogen Effort

Here is more from Politico:

The Department of Energy announced a consortium Wednesday to set up a hydrogen purchase program as the U.S. increasingly looks to the fuel to slash greenhouse gas emissions economy-wide.

DOE says the program authorized by the 2021 bipartisan infrastructure law is meant to spur production at seven proposed U.S. hydrogen hubs announced in October.

EFI Foundation, a think tank run by former Obama administration DOE Secretary Ernie Moniz, is leading the effort alongside market intelligence firm S&P Global, financial exchange operator Intercontinental Exchange, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Energy Initiative and law firm Dentons.

 

EFI Foundation build on the work of Energy Futures Initiative (EFI), established in 2017 by former US Energy Secretary Ernie Moniz.

Thursday, January 18, 2024

Top Indian Think Tank Banned from Receiving Foreign Donations

Here is more from AFP:

A leading Indian think tank confirmed Wednesday it had been banned from taking foreign funding, the latest organisation among foreign charities, rights watchdogs and others similarly targeted after criticising the government.

The Centre for Policy Research (CPR) is one of the country's most highly regarded public policy forums.

Its staffers are prominent talking heads and columnists who have been rare dissenting voices in the media on sensitive political issues, including national security policy and governance in the restive territory of Kashmir.

The home ministry had already provisionally suspended the CPR's licence to receive foreign donations after raids in 2022 by the tax department, severely curtailing its operations.

 

AFP notes that the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the US State Department were among CPR's prominent foreign donors.

Tuesday, January 16, 2024

Think Tank Quickies (#489)

  • Ukraine's Zelensky makes appeal to US think tanks.
  • Tony Blair think tank revenue hit $140 million.
  • Politico: "There was a secretive meeting at the Heritage Foundation that reportedly included allies of Hungarian Prime Minister Victor Orban."
  • Myron Ebell, a leading climate change denier for 2+ decades, is set to retire from think tank CEI.
  • Eric Schmidt's think tank, Special Competitive Studies Project (SCSP), urges moonshot chase to keep US ahead.
  • Heritage Foundation using questionnaire to test the ideology of potential recruits for the next Republican presidential administration.
  • OpenAI's Sam Altman confronted board member Helen Toner, a director of CSET, for co-writing a paper that seemingly criticized OpenAI for "stoking the flames of AI hype."
  • House Republican Conference invited Capitol Hill staffers to a briefing with the Conservative Partnership Institute (CPI).
  • Thomas Spoehr, previously director of the Heritage Foundation's Center for National Defense, is now a senior adviser at CSIS.
  • "The list of former high CIA officers now affiliated to GU/CSIS is indeed impressive."  [GU referring to Georgetown University.]

Monday, January 15, 2024

Billionaire Bill Ackman Starting New Think Tank to Probe Higher Ed

Here is more from Bloomberg:

Bill Ackman slammed the performance of Harvard University’s endowment and said he’s forming a think tank to continue his scrutiny of US education in a wide-ranging interview Friday on CNBC.

To continue his scrutiny of antisemitism and diversity, equity and inclusion policies on US campuses, Ackman plans to form a team that will go “after these issues in a very aggressive way,” he said.

With his new think tank, Ackman is poised to deploy familiar tactics on unfamiliar targets. At Pershing Square Capital Management, he used a scorched-earth approach to activist investing that resulted in both big wins and shattering losses.

“It’s going to be a think-and-do tank,” he said. “We’re going to study these issues and come up with solutions to problems, and we’re going to implement them.”

Ackman has a personal net worth of $2.5 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index. 

 

No word yet on the name of the new think tank, but Ackman has said that he plans to rent additional space for the new entity and hire a CEO and board of directors.

Tuesday, January 9, 2024

Think Tanks Need Deeper Bench of China Experts, Says New Report

The national security think tank MITRE Corp. warns in a new report that more China experts are needed at think tanks.  Here is more from the Washington Times:

Intelligence agencies should also do more to track Chinese global influence campaigns, the report said.

The spy agencies also lack the expertise and language capabilities needed for improved targeting of intelligence efforts against China, MITRE analysts said. The lack of personnel with deep expertise on China is faced by both analysts and clandestine operators.

Currently, education and think tank programs devoted to China are expanding in the United States but the report said it will take time to build a deep bench of China experts.

 

MITRE Corp. was founded in Massachusetts in 1958 as a military think tank spun off from the MIT Lincoln Laboratory.  It has been described as a "government-linked Skunk Works."

Wednesday, January 3, 2024

VCs Working With Think Tanks to Help Fund Defense-Tech Companies

Here is more from Eric Lipton of the New York Times:

More than a dozen [venture capitalists], assisted by think tanks and other nonprofits that get funding from venture capital groups, have been pushing Congress and the Defense Department to accelerate spending with defense-tech companies, or to make policy changes that make it easier for them to get Pentagon money.

Many of the venture capitalists keep ties to Washington.  [Mark] Esper is co-chairman of a commission set up by the Atlantic Council that is studying ways to accelerate the Pentagon’s embrace of new technology. The Atlantic Council staff set up a series of 70 briefings for Pentagon and congressional officials to promote their ideas.

The staff director of the report, Stephen Rodriguez, is an executive at a defense venture capital firm. He also serves as an adviser to Applied Intuition, a software startup and military contractor that helped fund and promote the report. Funding for the Atlantic Council report also came from several other venture-backed defense startups and Mr. Philippone’s Snowpoint Ventures.

 

Relatedly, it has become quite common for consulting firms, public relations (PR) firms, and lobbying shops to use think tanks to promote reports that benefit their clients.

Tuesday, January 2, 2024

New 2024 Trend: Think Tank Tasting Menus?

Here is more from Axios:

A pioneering "nonprofit fine dining restaurant" M. Frances is opening near Union Market this spring from The LEE Initiative.

Why it matters: Think tanks and tasting menus rarely coexist — the founders are touting the restaurant as "the first of its kind in America" — and the place has lofty goals to create solutions for the many issues independent restaurants face.

Catch up fast: Kentucky-based celebrity chef Edward Lee (who's also behind D.C.'s Succotash) and industry veteran Lindsey Ofcacek co-founded The LEE [Let's Empower Employment] Initiative in 2017 with the goal of creating programs to make the hospitality industry more diverse, equitable, sustainable, and compassionate.

Zoom in: LEE's mentorship program for women in food and spirits — which includes six months of training and funded externships — inspired the idea for M. Frances.

How it works: The intimate restaurant and cocktail bar aims to recruit top chefs — locally and nationally — to run a yearlong residency program for up-and-coming talents. The collective will create local, seasonal tasting menus throughout the year.

  • Price is TBD, but Ofcacek says, "We're tapping out at $175. We want to be fine dining, not super luxury."

Zoom out: M. Frances is designed to be a live experiment and think tank. The nonprofit is teaming up with schools and big-name sponsors like Chase Sapphire and OpenTable to test best business and employment practices, from fair wage modeling to environmental sustainability.

 

While this will not be a traditional think tank, Think Tank Watch would rather visit this than most of the 400+ "think tanks" currently in Washington, DC.

Tuesday, December 19, 2023

RAND Corp. Received Millions From Facebook Co-Founder to Influence AI Policy

Here is more from Politico:

The RAND Corporation — a prominent international think tank that has recently been tied to  a growing influence network backed by tech billionaires — played a key role in drafting President Joe Biden’s new executive order on artificial intelligence, according to an AI researcher with knowledge of the order’s drafting and a recording of an internal RAND meeting obtained by POLITICO.

The provisions advanced by RAND in the October executive order included a sweeping set of reporting requirements placed on the most powerful AI systems, ostensibly designed to lessen the technology’s catastrophic risks. Those requirements hew closely to the policy priorities pursued by Open Philanthropy, a group that pumped over $15 million into RAND this year.

Financed by billionaire Facebook co-founder and Asana CEO Dustin Moskovitz and his wife Cari Tuna, Open Philanthropy is a major funder of causes associated with “effective altruism” — an ideology, made famous by disgraced FTX founder Sam Bankman-Fried, that emphasizes a data-driven approach to philanthropy.

At RAND, both CEO Jason Matheny and senior information scientist Jeff Alstott are well-known effective altruists, and both men have Biden administration ties: They worked together at both the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and the National Security Council before joining RAND last year.

RAND spokesperson Jeffrey Hiday confirmed that RAND personnel, including Alstott, were involved in drafting the reporting requirements and other parts of the AI executive order.

 

The article notes that RAND employees having started to raise concerns about the think tank's new association with effective altruism.

Monday, December 11, 2023

Think Tank Quickies (#488)

  • Heritage Foundation paid Ginni Thomas more than $936,000 between 2001 and 2007 (tax filings before 2001 are not available).  Clarence Thomas reported her employment at Heritage in 2011, after left-leaning activists raised questions. 
  • Mexico only has one think tank focused on foreign policy.
  • Conservative Partnership Institute: "The MAGA movement's nerve center."
  • The National Interest: Why is the Heritage Foundation embracing Viktor Orban?
  • Vice President Kamala Harris addressed the CAP IDEAS Conference/20th anniversary celebration at the LINE Hotel.
  • Heritage Foundation reversed its opposition to an Article V convention to endorse Mark Meckler and Convention of States Action (COSA) two days after Mike Johnson became House speaker.
  • "A longtime staple of the liberal Center for American Progress, [Ruy] Teixeira, 71, left last year to take a perch at the American Enterprise Institute, the bastion of pro-market conservatism.  It's an odd place for someone with a social-democratic take on the economy - but a move he said he made because he couldn't stand the cultural climate of liberal think tanks."
  • Heritage is running an ad blasting Senate Republicans for criticizing Sen. Tommy Tuberville's (R-AL) holds on Pentagon nominations.
  • Think tankers arming themselves amid spike in DC violence.
  • Copenhagen Institute for Futures Studies: "An independent, non-profit futures think tank founded in 1969."

Friday, December 8, 2023

Trump-Backed Think Tank Raising Huge Sums Before 2024 Election

Trump-aligned think tanks are raising huge sums of money, including massive amounts from anonymous donors.  Here is more from CNN:

A nonprofit that employs numerous Trump administration officials and is laying the groundwork for the former president’s potential second term raised more than $23 million last year – nearly a third of which came from a single anonymous donor, previously unreported tax documents show.

The documents show that America First Policy Institute – a think tank that’s been described as a “White House-in-waiting” and has released a spate of conservative policy proposals – burned through most of the funds it raised, spending $22 million over the course of the year. That included the rental of Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort for a fundraising gala that featured a keynote speech by Trump himself.

But AFPI’s windfall has also sparked tensions with Trump’s team, with some advisors concerned the group has been taking in donations that would be better routed to the former president’s campaign or affiliated political action committees, a source familiar with the internal conversations told CNN.

AFPI’s board of directors includes several wealthy GOP donors such as Texas energy magnates Tim Dunn and Cody Campbell, Florida philanthropist Trish Duggan, and Goya Foods CEO Bob Unanue, as well as former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich. A new addition to the board in 2022 was Mark Pentecost, a Florida entrepreneur who runs a skincare and nutrition company but does not have as significant a history of political donations. 

The group doesn’t publicly disclose any of its donors. But additional tax documents reviewed by CNN reveal that it received some donations from foundations connected to wealthy businessmen or their estates, including the Jackson Howard Foundation, which gave about $304,000, the Leandro P Rizzuto Foundation, which gave $260,000, the Dunn Foundation, which gave $250,000, and the Herche Family Foundation, which gave $200,000. 

 

The story quotes an AFPI spokesperson as saying that the think tank has received donations from 44,000 donors since its inception in 2021.  The article also notes that AFPI employed 81 people and had 50 volunteers in 2022.

CEO Brooke Rollins made $550,000 in total compensation last year.

Thursday, December 7, 2023

Russia Blacklists US Think Tank RAND Corp.

Here is more from The Moscow Times:

Russia’s Justice Ministry has added the U.S. global policy think tank RAND Corporation to its list of “undesirable” organizations, banning its activities and putting staff at risk of jail in Russia.

RAND’s designation, dated Dec. 6 on the ministry website, is not accompanied by a statement explaining Moscow’s decision to blacklist the research and development nonprofit.

The California-based RAND Corporation has published extensive research into Russia’s military since Russian troops invaded Ukraine in early 2022.

Organizations labeled “undesirable” must cease all operations inside Russia, and it is illegal for individuals and media outlets in Russia to republish or share their content.

The “undesirable” designation also places the organizations' staff and members at risk of jail time.

Russia introduced its “undesirable” list in 2015 to crack down on foreign NGOs and ban Russians from working with or donating to them.

 

As Think Tank Watch has reported, A number of other Western think tanks have been blacklisted by Russia in recent years.