State Department to Crack Down on Foreign Influence at U.S. Think Tanks

Secretary Of State Pompeo Testifies On Department's Budget Request Before Senate Foreign Relations Committee
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October 13, 2020

The State Department on Tuesday will move to crack down on the foreign funding of American think tanks, which has skyrocketed over the past decade.

Though disclosure is not a legal requirement, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is requesting that think tanks reveal their foreign donors, according to prepared remarks obtained by the Washington Free Beacon.

"To protect the integrity of civil society institutions, the Department requests henceforth that think tanks and other foreign policy organizations that wish to engage with the Department disclose prominently on their websites funding they receive from foreign governments, including state-owned or state-operated subsidiary entities," Pompeo will say in a statement.

The move from Foggy Bottom comes as some of the country's most prominent think tanks, including the Atlantic Council and the Brookings Institution, have been dogged by reports detailing the influence of foreign money on their scholarship. A Free Beacon report earlier this year detailed the influence of the Turkish government at the Atlantic Council, which has removed experts from panels at the behest of the Erdogan government. A 2014 New York Times report cited experts testifying to the influence that Qatar, the small Middle East nation, had gained at the Brookings Institution with a $14.8 million donation.

Those reports made clear how foreign governments and state-controlled enterprises use their financial support for American think tanks to gin up favorable news coverage and suppress criticism—and to launder their reputations and those of key business interests through partnerships with well-respected U.S. organizations.

Pompeo is expected to home in on the attempts by American adversaries Russia and China to gain a foothold in the United States through donations to U.S. think tanks, arguing that they "seek to exert influence over U.S. foreign policy through lobbyists, external experts, and think tanks."

"We hope one day soon that U.S. efforts to promote free and open dialogue about economic and personal liberty, equal citizenship, the rule of law, and authentic civil society, will be possible in places such as China and Russia," Pompeo is expected to say.

CORRECTION: This article has been modified to reflect that it was the Brookings Institution, not the Atlantic Council, that received a $14.8 million donation from Qatar.

Published under: Mike Pompeo