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THINK_TANK_WATCH.jpg (10247 bytes)IRmep Think Tank Watch

IRmep closely monitors powerful think tanks active in Middle East policy formulation and lobbying.  Key areas of IRmep concern include think tank funding concentration, funding from military contractors, embedded ties to lobbying organizations, compromised research agendas and behind-the-scenes policy promotion efforts.  The following research notes, analysis, and multi-media presentations dive behind the formidable think tank facade to reveal little known conflicts of interests and realities that jeopardize US policy, credibility, and human lives in the Middle East.   

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11/28/2008 AntiWar
Indicted former AIPAC Official joins a Think Tank
The government has gone easy on the AIPAC defendants, and their former employers. An apparent attempt was made by some in the Justice Department to indict not only Rosen and Weissman, but AIPAC itself. This was quashed by the chief prosecutor, Paul J. McNulty – who has since gone on to graze in greener pastures – and the case was limited from the outset: only Franklin, Rosen, and Weissman were charged.

As Grant F. Smith shows in his recent book, AIPAC's organizational forerunner as Israel's Capitol Hill amen corner – the AZC, American Zionist Council – was financed almost entirely by overseas sources, i.e. Israel, and yet was not required to register as an agent of a foreign government. Particularly fascinating is his original research into the findings of Senator J. William Fulbright, remembered today as an acerbic critic of the Vietnam war, who investigated and uncovered financial conduits running from Israeli government agencies to AIPAC in its AZC incarnation.

Everybody knows AIPAC is indeed an agent of a foreign government, i.e. the Israelis. What most don't know, however, is that, unlike all others, it is exempt from complying with the Foreign Agents Registration Act. This immunity – the legal genesis of which Grant traces in his fascinating account – created an opening for the Israeli government and its various overseas agencies to act with impunity within our borders...More
9/11/2008 WINEP Watch
From Irgun to AIPAC: Israel Lobby's US Treasury Dept. Follies Hurt America

AIPAC and its associated think tank, the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP), were instrumental in lobbying the president for the creation of the Office of Terrorism and Financial Intelligence unit early in 2004. The Israel lobby also vetted Stuart Levey who President Bush approved to lead the new unit. TFI claims to be "safeguarding the financial system against illicit use and combating rogue nations, terrorist facilitators, weapons of mass destruction (WMD) proliferators, money launderers, drug kingpins, and other national security threats." However its actions—and more important, inactions—reveal it to be a sharp-edged tool forged principally to serve the Israel lobby.  

TFI has taken no actions to undercut one nexus of money laundering in the Middle East unveiled in 2005 by Israeli prosecutor Talia Sasson and exposed by USA Today. Even mainstream print outlets such as Reuters continue to wonder aloud why US tax exemptions are offered for illegal overseas activities. Although Stuart Levey has made multiple official visits to Jerusalem to liaise with Israeli government officials, when formally asked under a Freedom of Information Act request to reveal how TFI was tackling the reported $50-$60 billion laundered from the US through Israel and into illegal West Bank settlements, TFI politely demurred. (PDF)  TFI claims that Levey's US-taxpayer-funded missions to Israel must be kept secret from the American public in order to comply with the Bank Secrecy Act, which ironically is an anti-money-laundering law. This is not to say that TFI is a black box to everyone. Invited guests and members of WINEP have received many intimate briefings from TFI officials and consultants—possibly more than the entire US Congress.   More

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11/21/2007 Excerpt from the book "Foreign Agents"
Why AIPAC took over Brookings
By targeting and taking over Middle East policy at Brookings in 2002, Saban and Indyk were able to “leapfrog” AIPAC messaging from second to last in the think tank market (WINEP had only 2%) to first place. Taking over Brookings also made it appear to Americans that there was now an “expert consensus” from “right to left” on the key Middle East policy issue of the year: the US invasion of Iraq on weapons of mass destruction pretexts.  Brookings is often portrayed as a “centrist to left think tank” in the corporate news media. According to FAIR, “Progressive or Left-Leaning” media citations were a small but important segment of the marketplace of ideas, but combined with “centrist,” they represented the majority. For Saban and Indyk, taking over Brookings Middle East policy in 2002 meant penetrating the 63% of the marketplace of ideas that was generally not beating a drum for war in Iraq.
Full Excerpt (HTML)
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Dubai Ports Invests in the US:
Neoconservatives Debate How best to scuttle the deal, Disinformation...or Bigotry?
The British firm P&O, which manages six U.S. ports among other world holdings, is being sold to Dubai Ports World (DP World) of the United Arab Emirates.  The UAE company would control management of ports in New York and New Jersey, Baltimore, Philadelphia, New Orleans and Miami.  The sale of the UK company to DP World should be confirmed by a UK court on March 2, 2006.  The sale received approval from the U.S. Committee on Foreign Investments but has run into a hail of fire from Neoconservatives. 

"As I've had occasion to note over the past few years, Dubai is home to billions of mullahdollars, and the black market through which all manner of illegal arms shipments and money-being-laundered have passed." Michael Ledeen, AEI

"Critics claim that the UAE recognized the Taliban, and al Qaeda used it in 9/11 preparations. " Peter Brookes Heritage Foundation

"From the very beginning in the 1970s, the UAE has been a key source of financial support for Saudi-controlled organizations like the Islamic Solidarity Fund, the Islamic Development Bank (IDB)" Alex Alexiev, CSP

Among Neoconservatives, the debate is no longer whether to scuttle the sale, it's whether disinformation or bigotry will do the best job.  Oddly enough, DP World's record of investing in underdeveloped ports from Yemen to Romania has played a vital role in kick-starting moribund economies with desperately needed foreign direct investment.  Neocons should hail DP World's role as an example of how to fight terrorism, conflict and desperation through economic development.  Instead, pundits from Michael Ledeen to Alex Alexiev have reached into the mud...more.

Full Policy Research Note (HTM)
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1/5/2006 Mainstream Think Tanks Ignore the Energy Demand Curve
Their missteps have been heralded by the simplistic, yet erroneous, drumbeat of supply side mythologies promoted by mainstream American policy think tanks. Their misconceptions are echoed by politicians throughout the news media. The core mainstream think tank analysis is threefold. First, they would have Americans believe that energy prices are primarily a supply side phenomenon. Second, they propose that the price of Middle East petroleum is too high and could return to lower levels if only the demands of state owned national oil companies managing the majority of global production could be reigned in. Finally they postulate that US energy demand can and should shift away from Arab producers as an effective way to "fight terrorism". (See Exhibit #2) These fundamentally flawed, and somewhat racist, arguments put basic economic principles on the defensive by ignoring demand side factors.
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7/27/2005 The American Enterprise Institute and David Frum: Policy from the Data-Free Bubble
Don't ask David Frum about Iraq's civilian  war casualty statistics.  This and other data points are only broached by "Publicists for Jihad."  Instead, the former speechwriter (most famous for coining the phrase 'axis of evil') would rather that you join him in a make-believe world of moral clarity, that shuns empirical data, causality and real-world statistics as the dangerous hand-maidens of "moral equivalence."

Frum is upset that British and other newspapers are linking the London tube bombings with the UK's occupation of Iraq.  The true costs of that occupation, in terms of Iraqi, British and American lives, should not be part of polite civic debate, according to Frum.  Rather, we must "rediscover the reasons we are proud to be ourselves" for intervening in Iraq in the name of "changing the Islamic world."  Funny, most Americans signed up for the Iraq invasion to rid Saddam Hussein of weapons of mass destruction.  

Frum, and the American Enterprise Institute where he resides, are losing their edge.  By screeching platitudes and slogans instead of facing up to the numbers, AEI studies and  analysis endlessly recirculated through the mainstream media are losing any veneer of credibility they may have formerly enjoyed.  Real "American Enterprise" is a "by-the- numbers" operation.  If Frum doesn't have the stomach to face reality and crunch the numbers, he should go back to forging clever marketing slogans to tout monumentally bad policy initiatives.  Not that Americans will be listening a second time around.

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6/2/2005 Middle East Forum is starting “Islamist Watch” to combat and marginalize "non-violent extremists"
Swinging Pipewrench: Academics should Prepare to be "Shunned" for Studying Motives and Movements
Middle East Forum director Daniel Pipes has announced a new addition to the McCarthyite toolbox brandished by his organization.  Purportedly a think tank, MEF's core function has morphed into smearing and marginalizing highly regarded scholars and academics who refuse to toe a Likudnik line in academia: 
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"The Forum is starting “Islamist Watch” to combat and marginalize non-violent extremists.
It focuses on legal activities by Islamists in the United States and (to a lesser degree) in
Western Europe, Canada, and Australia. Islamist Watch's goal is the delegitimation of
Islamists through exposure of their activities and goals. Our aim is have them shunned
by government, the media, religious institutions, the academy, and the corporate world."
-Daniel Pipes - 6/2/2005

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Not content to engage in a war of policy ideas, MEF's new field operations could result in IRS tax exempt status revocation if too many complaints by targeted professors land on the Tax Exempt/Government Organization director's desk.  As prosecutor, judge, jury and executioner, MEF is setting itself up for failure as it gropes to identify "non-violent extremists" to flummox and defame.  As the recent FBI sting against AIPAC operatives engaged in espionage against America proves, when organizations cross the line and begin to engage in hostile field operations, they are no longer operating within an acceptable non-profit charter.
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The Wahhabis Are Coming! An AEI Fear & Smear Production 2/16/2005

wahhab201.jpg (19956 bytes)AEI: US should use "Hard Power" to Curb Wahhabi Texts

WASHINGTON, 16 February 2005--The American Enterprise Institute (AEI) is troubled by Wahhabi texts distributed to US Mosques that are subsidized by the Saudi government.  An expert panel convened at 4PM in the Wohlstetter Conference Center in downtown Washington DC before a packed crowd of lobbyists, military consultants and interested members of the public. 

The conference title was as provocative as the public persona of Danielle Pletka, the conference chair.  "Saudi Government Propaganda in the United States: Avowed Ally or Secret Enemy" presented findings from the Freedom House study titled "Saudi Publications on Hate Ideology Fill American Mosques".  Short on quantitative and statistical analysis, the study provided rich fodder for panelists to outline a new threat they feel is descending upon America:  "Hate ideology" texts distributed by the Saudi government.

James Woolsey, former CIA director now Head of Freedom House and director of consulting firm Booz Allen in Virginia attempted to describe the impact of Wahhabi Islamic texts in a way pious Christians could understand.  It would be the equivalent of the US government modifying the Lord's Prayer to read "Give us this day, our daily bread, except for Muslims" and distributing printed copies to churches across the globe, stated Woolsey theatrically.  

Nina Shea from the Center for Religious Freedom admitted that the study did not attempt to "assess the impact" of religious texts in American mosques.  She then proceeded to read a laundry list of extracts from Saudi subsidized texts warning Muslims not to take citizenship in the US, to reject the ways of "infidels" and then excoriated the hubris of self-appointed religious Saudi Wahhabi authorities ruling on proper ways of Muslims.

Hedieh Mirahmadi, now an AEI scholar, reclaimed her past Muslim credentials as having raised money for Islamic charities before proceeding.   Her most damning assertion was that the Wahhabi texts distributed to US mosques were a "crude manipulation of text, designed to exert control over otherwise diverse" and peaceful populations.  Her final recommendation was the most hawkish of all the panel: The US should use "hard power" to confront the Saudi ruling family which should then somehow "undo" years of "propagandizing" in the US and around the world.

Some members of the audience posing questions to the panel objected to the "MEMRI" approach of the research.  There was no statistical sample, and no quantitative data.  The Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) in Washington, DC practically invented the game of selective retrieval, whereby after sifting mountains of data, objectionable texts can be extracted and translated to place their authors in the worst possible light.  Others were perplexed by the lack of any sort of damage assessment.  If the alleged "hate literature" distribution has been going on for decades in America, what were all of the negative consequences?  The panel was unable to provide answers.

One conclusion is perfectly clear to students of religion.  All religions are structured to diminish outsiders and build a spirit of community through exclusivity.   Perhaps the varied groups congealing around AEI's conference weren't really interested in the role of religion, or much offended about content Saudi Arabia distributes to American mosques.  Otherwise they'd have been on the record going after the nefarious "gangsta" rappers plying the US airwaves and audio CDs with lyrical tales of running drugs, prostitution, and shooting police.  That music genre is a hundred million dollar revenue generator in the US and far more prevalent than any groups' religious texts.  

The motives lurking beneath the calm waters at AEI are perhaps more nefarious.  Is Woolsey and the AEI crew now assembling an "Arabian National Congress" to liberate Saudi Arabia of "Weapons of Misleading Deities? (WMD)?"  Only time and American credulity will tell.

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US MidEast Policy Formulation Overhaul Project 10/10/2003
CLASSIFIED: AEI's Contributions from Defense Contractors
american_enterprise.jpg (23530 bytes)Top tier policy think tanks formulating and advocating Middle East policy directly influence US defense spending, future theatres of conflict, and the profits of defense contractors.  As merchandise exports to the Middle East plunge, high technology and other fruits of US industry increasingly enter the market atop precision guided munitions, unwanted by the market, and paid for by US taxpayers.

Key pundits such as Richard Perle wax rhapsodic with specific technical details and defense spending recommendations. Yet the question of how much think tanks such as the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) receive from defense contractors remains a highly classified figure.  It remained elusive even when a key defense industry donor and the President of AEI  were questioned directly by IRmep at an AEI policy event covered live on C-Span.

IRmep: "...In the interest of disclosure, and allaying these fears to the American people now, when defense purchases are so critical, could you give us an idea, and this is as much for the AEI people as you, how much of the policy research telling us who we should shoot at and what we should shoot at them with, particularly produced by Mr. Perle, how much of this AEI policy research is being funded by the defense industry?

Ron Sugar, CEO Northrop Grumman: ...I don't know the specific numbers....." Full Transcript

IRmep Segment: Ron Sugar and AEI President DeMuth (3 minutes) Full C-Span Event
(2 Hours)
IRmep Transcript (HTML)
IRmep Transcript (PDF)
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IRmep Policy Analysis (8/20/2003)
StrobeLite: Jittery Reflections from the Brookings Institution
ON Tuesday, August 19, 2003 at 11:00 AM, Strobe Talbott, President of the Brookings Institution participated in an online chat with the Washington Post. IRmep, which has published a great deal lately about American think tanks in general and Middle East think tanks in particular, was not invited, but provides annotated comments to our readers that help explain the crisis of credibility now engulfing Brookings and other formerly vaunted American think tanks.

Exhibit 1 Citations of Think Tanks in Media
(Source: FAIR and IRmep 2003)

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Iowa: Any thoughts on the breaking news out of Baghdad? What are your thoughts on the administration's policies in Iraq?

Strobe Talbott: The continuing violence, including today's and the earlier bombing of the pipeline, shows that while Saddam is down (and let's hope out) and Iraqis are vastly freer than they've been for decades, there is a nasty guerrilla war of attrition underway. I refer you to the day-in-and-day-out good work being done by our Saban Center for Middle East Policy, which has really dominated the think tank world's commentary and analysis on Iraq. You'll see in the Center's work some big-picture explanations of why the post-war has been in some ways more difficult than the war itself. A crucial question is whether the Bush administration, having gone into Iraq without the UN, will now be able to bring the UN -- and key regional countries like India -- into the stabilization and reconstruction phase now underway.

IRmep: The Saban Center for Middle East Policy is a microcosm for everything that is wrong with most U.S. Middle East policy think tanks. The Center was created by a $13 million dollar contribution from a single donor, Fox Television executive Haim Saban to "promote effective US policies in the Middle East".  Saban also funded a center for the study of the American political system in Israel.

The Saban Center would not even qualify for non-profit status were it not connected with the larger Brookings Institution. The center is directed by Martin Indyk, a former AIPAC lobbyist who both obtained U.S. citizenship and was later stripped of security clearances under highly questionable circumstances. If the fate of American influence in the Middle East depends on thinking from centers like Saban, we are in very deep trouble.

Full Policy Analysis HTML

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IRmep Policy Research Note (7/23/2003)
America's Middle East Policy Think Tanks: What Went Wrong? 
America's Middle East foreign policy think tanks are experiencing a monumental crisis of confidence. Citizens and the news media are clamoring for ever more information and insight into the region. However, think tank luminaries formerly hailed as Iraq or Middle East policy experts on broadcast news networks suddenly have few answers. Many have simply fled the media circuit. With think tank research frameworks backing America's new preemptive military strategy increasingly resembling a hopeless dot-com fantasy, the process of American foreign policy formulation itself is facing increased scrutiny. As Americans look nervously at postwar Iraq, looming confrontations with Syria and Iran, and staggering Israeli-Palestinian peace process, never before has solid, credible and relevant research about the region been so desperately needed.

Exhibit 1: Funding Concentration: Top Three Donors
(Internal Revenue Service and IRmep 2003)
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has identified three core failures of America's foreign policy think tanks: research funding that is too highly concentrated, lack of peer review by credible, knowledgeable and independent outsiders; and highly reactive, tactically driven research agendas with little strategic focus. Adequately addressing these shortcomings will improve the quality of think tank research and contribute to future US foreign policy success in the region.

Full Research Note HTML PDF

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U.S. MidEast Policy Formulation Overhaul Project 6/21/2003
Errors of Omission: Martin Indyk and the Brookings Saban Center for Middle East Studies

With key think tank pundits gearing up for new U.S. military interventions in Iran and Syria, Americans are becoming increasingly concerned about the architects of U.S. Middle Eastern policy.  Who are they?  What are their qualifications and backgrounds?  Where did they come from?   In this first of a series of reports, the U.S. MidEast Policy Overhaul Project examines the Brookings Saban Center for Middle East Policy, and the center's director, Martin Indyk.   This requires a REAL Media Player and current generation MS Internet Explorer or Netscape browser. 

Full Real Presentation

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