THINK TANKS TARGETED
Foreign governments are conducting covert operations against American think tanks in a bid to influence U.S. government policies, according to a veteran intelligence analyst.
Darren E. Tromblay, a U.S. intelligence analyst, writes in the new issue of the International Journal of Intelligence and Counterintelligence that think tanks are vital elements of U.S. policymaking and thus for decades have been targeted by foreign intelligence services and other government agents.
Mr. Tromblay said China and Russia — along with the Soviet Union before it collapsed — are among the most active foreign powers working to exploit American public policy groups. Examples include a covert Soviet effort in the 1980s uncovered by the FBI to discredit the Reagan administration’s Strategic Defense Initiative by cooperating with the liberal think tank, the Center for Defense Information.
“Russia has continued to seek out sympathetic think tank-affiliated individuals who will promote Russian narratives, which Moscow promotes in concert with a variety of other subversive measures,” Mr. Tromblay wrote.
China, too, is aggressive in seeking to influence think tanks to support Beijing’s policies. A Washington think tank that was not named “has maintained a strategic partnership with an entity that belongs to the Chinese Ministry of State Security and sponsors a fellow from that institution,” Mr. Tromblay wrote.
In a third case, the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a major Democratic-oriented think tank, in 2015 was paid up to $199,000 by a U.S. subsidiary of the Chinese telecommunications giant ZTE, Mr. Tromblay wrote. A House Intelligence Committee report later identified ZTE as “a security threat to the United States and to [U.S.] systems.”
The United States “needs to protect these resources from foreign exploitation by fostering counterintelligence awareness,” Mr. Tromblay concluded.
Foreign influence operations against think tanks also should be disrupted to prevent subverting government decision making, he said.
Additionally, the operations can be monitored and exploited to support U.S. interests. “The U.S. can seek to introduce its own disinformation via channels that governments perceive to be authoritative,” Mr. Tromblay said. “Protecting think tanks and other research organizations from foreign manipulation contributes to securing the United States’ information advantage and to Washington’s ability to protect and promote American interests.”