New America is an American non-profit, nonpartisanpublic policy institute and think tank focusing on a wide range of issues, including national security studies, technology, asset building, health, gender, energy, education, and the economy. The organization is based in Washington, D.C., in addition to having a significant presence in New York City.
New America was founded in 1999 by Ted Halstead, Sherle Schwenninger, Michael Lind and Walter Russell Mead as a non-profit, public policy institute whose stated mission is to “invest in new thinkers and new ideas to address the next generation of challenges facing the United States”. The organization has a staff of over a hundred employees and fellows with offices in Washington, D.C., and New York City.
The organization continues to “emphasize work that is responsive to the changing conditions and problems of our 21st-century information-age economy” with “big ideas, impartial analysis and pragmatic solutions”.Newsweek‘s Howard Fineman called New America a “hive of state-of-the-art policy entrepreneurship”.
Organization and structure
New America hosts talks and public events on their program topics. Pictured is author Cory Doctorow speaking about copyright in June 2010.
New America houses programs and initiatives that focus on specific domestic, economic and global issues. New America also houses a fellowship program.
New America’s National Security Studies Program researches and analyzes a wide range of global issues, from the inner-workings of al-Qaeda to overall national foreign policy strategy. With the presence of journalists such as Steve Coll and Peter Bergen, New America has carved out a policy niche in the issues of Afghanistan and counter-terrorism. Bergen, who leads the program, is a CNN national security analyst and author of several best-selling books, including, The Longest War: The Enduring Conflict between America and Al-Qaeda. Coll, president of New America, has also written several books on al-Qaeda and Afghanistan, including the 2005 Pulitzer Prize winner for general non-fiction, Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan, and Bin Laden. James Risen in the New York Times complimented Coll on “revealing how Saudi Arabia and its intelligence operations aided the rise of Osama bin Laden and Islamic extremism in Afghanistan”.
New America also has a policy focus on the Middle East with its Middle East Task Force, directed by Leila Hilal, which covers analysis and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa.
New America’s Open Technology Institute (OTI) led by Sascha Meinrath has become one of the largest programs within the organization. Focus areas of OTI include wireless community networks building, the creation and management of an open source platform that supports broadband research tools and speed tests, the development of a platform (called Commotion Wireless) to lower barriers for building distributed communications networks, among other projects.
In the same vein of technology, New America’s Future Tense initiative, a partnership with Arizona State University and Slate Magazine, explores emerging technologies and their effects on society and public policy. Central to the partnership is a series of events in Washington, D.C., that take an in-depth look at issues that, while little-understood today, could reshape the policy debates of the coming decade.
New America’s Economic Growth Program, directed by New America co-founders Sherle Schwenninger and Michael Lind, aims to take a policy look at America and the world’s economic problems. In 2011, the program commissioned a paper “The Way Forward: Moving From the Post-Bubble, Post-Bust Economy to Renewed Growth and Competitiveness” which warned of the severe economic problems America would face if continued on its current path. The program did not believe in immediate government deficit reduction; it believed that will only make the situation worse. Instead, as stated in the paper, it had other suggestions, including investing in a sustained infrastructure program, lasting from five to seven years, to create jobs and demand.
Maya MacGuineas, who has worked at the Brookings Institution as well as on Wall Street, led the Committee and now leads Fix the Debt. After advising politicians from both parties, she serves as a trusted mediator on budget talks between Democrats and Republicans. In addition, in April 2010 the Committee’s policy director, Marc Goldwein, joined President Obama’s bipartisan Fiscal Commission. Goldwein, 26, was also named one of the Forbes‘ “30 under 30”.
Launched in winter 2011–12, New America NYC is a new initiative that aims to further the New America’s goals of research and policy innovation. The space, located in SoHo, hosts several events each month generally focused on politics, media, and culture.
2012 reports included: “The Outlaw” by Steve Coll, which ran in The New Yorker and explores Osama bin Laden’s life and his use of media to get his message out; “Romney Lays Out Weak Obama Attack Line After New Hampshire Primary Win” in The Daily Beast by Peter Beinart; and “An American Hospital: The Most Dangerous Place?” by Shannon Brownlee in TIME magazine.
New America receives funding from both the private and public sector. Seventy percent of its financing comes from private companies and individuals, while the rest comes from public institutions, including the U.S. government. The list of organizations and individuals that supported New America in 2013 includes more than 140 contributors.
William W. Gerrity, CEO of the retail company the Gerrity Group
Lenny T. Mendonca, former director/senior partner of McKinsey & Company. Authored the White Papers that Campaign backers used to sell Congress on Department of Energy funding for Tesla, Solyndra, Fisker, etc.
New America’s Leadership Council, chaired by Scott Delman, recognizes those individuals who contribute $25,000 or more to the Foundation each year. As members of the Leadership Council, they participate in the intellectual life of the Foundation in numerous ways. For instance, they are invited to attend a special annual retreat with New America senior staff, Fellows and Board of Directors, as well as a series of salon dinners. The Leadership Council currently has 17 members, which includes Craig Newmark (Customer Service Rep and founder, craigslist.org), Leo Hindery, Jr. (Managing Partner, InterMedia Partners), and Neal Baer, M.D. (Executive Producer of the television series A Gifted Man).
New America’s National Security Studies Program has an advisory council which directly works with Peter Bergen and Steve Coll to help advance the creativity and impact of the its national security policy work. Co-chairs of the group are board member Fareed Zakaria, and Charles R. Kaye (co-president of Warburg Pincus).
Jump up ^Peter Bergen et al.: “Do NSA’s Bulk Surveillance Programs Stop Terrorists?”, ibid.: “An in-depth analysis of 225 individuals recruited by al-Qaeda or a like-minded group or inspired by al-Qaeda’s ideology, and charged in the United States with an act of terrorism since 9/11, demonstrates that traditional investigative methods, such as […], provided the initial impetus for investigations in the majority of cases, while the contribution of NSA’s bulk surveillance programs to these cases was minimal. Indeed, the controversial bulk collection of American telephone metadata, which includes […], under Section 215 of the USA PATRIOT Act, appears to have played an identifiable role in initiating, at most, 1.8 percent of these cases. NSA programs involving the surveillance of non-U.S. persons outside of the United States under Section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act played a role in 4.4 percent of the terrorism cases we examined, and NSA surveillance under an unidentified authority played a role in 1.3 percent of the cases we examined.” Retrieved January 28, 2014.
The New America Foundation is a Washington D.C.-headquartered think tank which states that it “invests in new thinkers and new ideas to address the next generation of challenges facing the United States … With an emphasis on big ideas, impartial analysis and pragmatic solutions, New America invests in outstanding individuals whose ability to communicate to wide and influential audiences can change the country’s policy discourse in critical areas, bringing promising new ideas and debates to the fore.”
The foundation, which was launched in 1999, has as its CEO Steve Coll, a staff writer with The New Yorker magazine while the chairman of the Board of Directors is the Chairman & CEO of Google, Eric Schmidt.
2014 Policy Brief Insisting that Colleges Align with the Common Core
In July 2014, the New America Foundation released a policy brief recommending that, rather than primary and secondary school education aiming to prepare students for post-secondary education, higher education providers should change their teaching methods in order to accommodate Common Core State Standards. The report, titled “Common Core Goes to College: Building Better Connections Between High School and Higher Education,” suggests that “the widespread adoption of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) and assessments presents a new opportunity to bridge the gap between high school and higher education.” The report argues “that states’ new college- and career-ready assessments should, at the very least, provide an additional avenue for students to meet minimum college eligibility requirements, qualify for state financial aid, and place into the assortment of first-year credit-bearing coursework offered by institutions.”
The report concludes by providing recommendations to higher education institutions in order to align teaching methods, teacher preparation, financial aid dissemination, and course placement decisions with Common Core standards. Recommendations include that:
Institutions with minimum standards for admission should amend those standards to include college- and career-ready assessment cut scores.
Institutions offering developmental coursework should base this instruction upon their state’s college- and career-ready standards, and determine the success of those programs using the state’s high school assessments
For those states which continue to award financial aid on the basis of demonstrated academic merit, amend any criteria relating to assessment scores to include those from the state’s high school college- and career-ready assessments.
$200,002 grant from the Gates Foundation in order “to conduct research on the effectiveness and utility of exit exams and develop and distribute policy options for states as they develop their Common Core assessment systems.”
According to the organization, “New America’s Leadership Council, chaired by John C. Whitehead, recognizes those individuals who contribute $25,000 or more to the Foundation each year. As members of the Leadership Council, they participate in the intellectual life of the Foundation in numerous ways. For instance, they are invited to attend a special annual retreat with New America senior staff, Fellows and Board of Directors, as well as a series of salon dinners across the country.”
An open, distributed server platform for researchers to deploy Internet measurement tools. The goal of M-Lab is to advance network research and empower the public with useful information about their broadband connections. By enhancing Internet transparency, M-Lab helps sustain a healthy, innovative Internet.
Application Deadline Extended to October 1 The Open Technology Institute is pleased to announce its first call for proposals from groups interested in implementing Commotion-based wireless mesh networks. Due to funding restrictions, projects must be located outside of the United States.
As a consumer of communications services, you’re undoubtedly concerned about monthly fees that seem to constantly creep upward; about the quality of the programming in your cable package or the consistency of your Internet connection; and about your ability to both communicate with users around the…
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has been busy lately. In addition to reviewing comments about important issues like network neutrality, the proposed Comcast-Time Warner Cable merger, and spectrum auctions, the FCC has also invited comments on two petitions that, if approved, could help…
WASHINGTON — Prominent Washington think tanks that routinely provide Congress with policy advice should refrain from taking foreign government donations, particularly from nations like Qatar that have been associated with financing extremist groups, a senior House lawmaker wrote this week in a letter to the president of the Brookings Institution.
The letter from Representative Frank R. Wolf, Republican of Virginia, was in response to an article on Sunday in The New York Times that examined the relationship between think tanks and foreign governments that have donated tens of millions of dollars in recent years to the nonprofit groups, often with an explicit goal of influencing American foreign policy.
“When a lobbyist comes before an office, it is well known that they are representing a client or foreign government — and under the law they have to disclose it,” Mr. Wolf wrote in his letter to the Brookings president, Strobe Talbott. “However, think tanks are supposed to be different; they are considered to be independent sources of information, and their policy recommendations are expected to be in the national interest rather than their special interest.”
Brookings collects about 12 percent of its annual budget from foreign governments, with the biggest donations in recent years coming from Qatar, which in 2013 made a four-year commitment to provide $14 million.
Mr. Wolf said Brookings should reject that money in particular because Qatar has been identified as supporting Qaeda-affiliated groups in Syria and Libya as well as Hamas, the militant Islamist faction in Gaza that led the recent battle against Israel.
A Brookings spokesman and the Qatar Embassy in Washington declined to address Mr. Wolf’s criticism. The congressman made similar remarks on Tuesday during an appearance on Capitol Hill, where he spoke to a group of federal employees at an event sponsored by Brookings.
“We’ve received a letter from Representative Frank Wolf,” the Brookings spokesman, David Nassar, said. “We will respond to Representative Frank Wolf.”
Brookings executives, in a series of statements this week, strongly rejected any suggestion that their scholars’ reports were influenced by donors in any way, or that it was acting as a foreign agent, which would require it to register with the Justice Department.
“We do not sell influence to anyone, foreign or domestic,” Mr. Talbott said. “If we were for hire to advance outside interests, we would be in violation of the academic freedom of our scholars’ work and our institutional mission.”
The focus on foreign donations has led some think tanks, like the Council on Foreign Relations, to point out this week that they operate without direct support from foreign governments. “These policies were put in place to maintain and underscore the organization’s independence as regards to its agenda and what is written and said by its fellows, authors and speakers,” Richard N. Haass, the council’s president, said in an email to members.
The Times investigation found that some Washington think tanks, like Brookings, have signed agreements with foreign governments that explicitly request research work that often overlaps with their foreign policy agendas. The most detailed request was included in the Norwegian government’s agreement with the Center for Global Development. It called on the group to target White House officials and members of Congress, among others, to persuade them to double federal spending for an environmental program.
Organizations that receive money from foreign governments and then, working at their request, try to influence public policy or public opinion in the United States are generally required to register with the Justice Department as a foreign agent. That requirement was included in a 1938 law over concerns that Germany was trying to spread Nazi propaganda.
The Times asked four lawyers with expertise in the 1938 law to review agreements between Norway and the Center for Global Development, and all four said the center should have filed under the Foreign Agents Registration Act, often referred to as FARA.
“There were definitely plans to implement and shape both opinion and policy in the United States — which is the very basis of FARA registration and disclosure,” said Cleta Mitchell, a lawyer specializing in political law in the Washington office of Foley & Lardner.
Two other lawyers said the Justice Department was almost certainly investigating the matter. “At a minimum, they will look into it,” said Joseph Sandler, with the firm Sandler Reiff Lamb Rosenstein & Birkenstock, which advises clients on the foreign agents law.
A Justice Department spokesman declined to comment, other than to say that it routinely examines any evidence that suggests a party may have acted as a foreign agent without registering.
“If information reviewed raises a FARA concern, the FARA unit will communicate with the entity for resolution,” the spokesman, Marc Raimondi, said in a statement.
The Center for Global Development issued a statement on Friday reiterating that its research and advocacy work “never has been and never will be compromised by the sources of our funding.” Earlier in the week, it said that it was “reviewing our procedures with the help of outside counsel.”
The Times investigation found that at least 64 foreign governments, state-controlled entities or government officials had given a minimum of $92 million to a group of 28 major United States-based research organizations in the last four years. The total is almost certainly to be higher, since only those donations made public by the think tank or foreign government could be counted.
WASHINGTON — The agreement signed last year by the Norway Ministry of Foreign Affairs was explicit: For $5 million, Norway’s partner in Washington would push top officials at the White House, at the Treasury Department and in Congress to double spending on a United States foreign aid program.
But the recipient of the cash was not one of the many Beltway lobbying firms that work every year on behalf of foreign governments.
It was the Center for Global Development, a nonprofit research organization, or think tank, one of many such groups in Washington that lawmakers, government officials and the news media have long relied on to provide independent policy analysis and scholarship.
More than a dozen prominent Washington research groups have received tens of millions of dollars from foreign governments in recent years while pushing United States government officials to adopt policies that often reflect the donors’ priorities, an investigation by The New York Times has found.
The money is increasingly transforming the once-staid think-tank world into a muscular arm of foreign governments’ lobbying in Washington. And it has set off troubling questions about intellectual freedom: Some scholars say they have been pressured to reach conclusions friendly to the government financing the research.
The think tanks do not disclose the terms of the agreements they have reached with foreign governments. And they have not registered with the United States government as representatives of the donor countries, an omission that appears, in some cases, to be a violation of federal law, according to several legal specialists who examined the agreements at the request of The Times.
As a result, policy makers who rely on think tanks are often unaware of the role of foreign governments in funding the research.
Joseph Sandler, a lawyer and expert on the statute that governs Americans lobbying for foreign governments, said the arrangements between the countries and think tanks “opened a whole new window into an aspect of the influence-buying in Washington that has not previously been exposed.”
“It is particularly egregious because with a law firm or lobbying firm, you expect them to be an advocate,” Mr. Sandler added. “Think tanks have this patina of academic neutrality and objectivity, and that is being compromised.”
Most of the money comes from countries in Europe, the Middle East and elsewhere in Asia, particularly the oil-producing nations of the United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Norway, and takes many forms. The United Arab Emirates, a major supporter of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, quietly provided a donation of more than $1 million to help build the center’s gleaming new glass and steel headquarters not far from the White House. Qatar, the small but wealthy Middle East nation, agreed last year to make a $14.8 million, four-year donation to Brookings, which has helped fund a Brookings affiliate in Qatar and a project on United States relations with the Islamic world.
Some scholars say the donations have led to implicit agreements that the research groups would refrain from criticizing the donor governments.
“If a member of Congress is using the Brookings reports, they should be aware — they are not getting the full story,” said Saleem Ali, who served as a visiting fellow at the Brookings Doha Center in Qatar and who said he had been told during his job interview that he could not take positions critical of the Qatari government in papers. “They may not be getting a false story, but they are not getting the full story.”
In interviews, top executives at the think tanks strongly defended the arrangements, saying the money never compromised the integrity of their organizations’ research. Where their scholars’ views overlapped with those of donors, they said, was coincidence.
“Our business is to influence policy with scholarly, independent research, based on objective criteria, and to be policy-relevant, we need to engage policy makers,” said Martin S. Indyk, vice president and director of the Foreign Policy Program at Brookings, one of the oldest and most prestigious think tanks in Washington.
“Our currency is our credibility,” said Frederick Kempe, chief executive of the Atlantic Council, a fast-growing research center that focuses mainly on international affairs and has accepted donations from at least 25 countries since 2008. “Most of the governments that come to us, they understand we are not lobbyists. We are a different entity, and they work with us for totally different purposes.”
In their contracts and internal documents, however, foreign governments are often explicit about what they expect from the research groups they finance.
“In Washington, it is difficult for a small country to gain access to powerful politicians, bureaucrats and experts,” states an internal report commissioned by the Norwegian Foreign Affairs Ministry assessing its grant making. “Funding powerful think tanks is one way to gain such access, and some think tanks in Washington are openly conveying that they can service only those foreign governments that provide funding.”
The think tanks’ reliance on funds from overseas is driven, in part, by intensifying competition within the field: The number of policy groups has multiplied in recent years, while research grants from the United States government have dwindled.
Foreign officials describe these relationships as pivotal to winning influence on the cluttered Washington stage, where hundreds of nations jockey for attention from the United States government. The arrangements vary: Some countries work directly with think tanks, drawing contracts that define the scope and direction of research. Others donate money to the think tanks, and then pay teams of lobbyists and public relations consultants to push the think tanks to promote the country’s agenda.
“Japan is not necessarily the most interesting subject around the world,” said Masato Otaka, a spokesman for the Japanese Embassy, when asked why Japan donates heavily to American research groups. “We’ve been experiencing some slower growth in the economy. I think our presence is less felt than before.”
The scope of foreign financing for American think tanks is difficult to determine. But since 2011, at least 64 foreign governments, state-controlled entities or government officials have contributed to a group of 28 major United States-based research organizations, according to disclosures by the institutions and government documents. What little information the organizations volunteer about their donors, along with public records and lobbying reports filed with American officials by foreign representatives, indicates a minimum of $92 million in contributions or commitments from overseas government interests over the last four years. The total is certainly more.
After questions from The Times, some of the research groups agreed to provide limited additional information about their relationships with countries overseas. Among them was the Center for Strategic and International Studies, whose research agenda focuses mostly on foreign policy; it agreed last month to release a list of 13 foreign government donors, from Germany to China, though the organization declined to disclose details of its contracts with those nations or actual donation amounts.
In an interview, John J. Hamre, president and chief executive of the center, acknowledged that the organization’s scholars at times advocate causes with the Obama administration and Congress on the topics that donor governments have funded them to study. But Mr. Hamre stressed that he did not view it as lobbying — and said his group is most certainly not a foreign agent.
“I don’t represent anybody,” Mr. Hamre, a former deputy secretary of defense, said. “I never go into the government to say, ‘I really want to talk to you about Morocco or about United Arab Emirates or Japan.’ I have conversations about these places all the time with everybody, and I am never there representing them as a lobbyist to their interests.”
Several legal experts who reviewed the documents, however, said the tightening relationships between United States think tanks and their overseas sponsors could violate the Foreign Agents Registration Act, the 1938 federal law that sought to combat a Nazi propaganda campaign in the United States. The law requires groups that are paid by foreign governments with the intention of influencing public policy to register as “foreign agents” with the Justice Department.
“I am surprised, quite frankly, at how explicit the relationship is between money paid, papers published and policy makers and politicians influenced,” said Amos Jones, a Washington lawyer who has specialized in the foreign agents act, after reviewing transactions between the Norway government and Brookings, the Center for Global Development and other groups.
At least one of the research groups conceded that it may in fact be violating the federal law.
“Yikes,” said Todd Moss, the chief operating officer at the Center for Global Development, after being shown dozens of pages of emails between his organization and the government of Norway, which detail how his group would lobby the White House and Congress on behalf of the Norway government. “We will absolutely seek counsel on this.”
The line between scholarly research and lobbying can sometimes be hard to discern.
Last year, Japan began an effort to persuade American officials to accelerate negotiations over a free-trade agreement known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership, one of Japan’s top priorities. The country already had lobbyists on retainer, from the Washington firm of Akin Gump, but decided to embark on a broader campaign.
Akin Gump lobbyists approached several influential members of Congress and their staffs, including aides to Representative Charles Boustany Jr., Republican of Louisiana, and Representative Dave Reichert, Republican of Washington, seeking help in establishing a congressional caucus devoted to the partnership, lobbying records show. After those discussions, in October 2013, the lawmakers established just such a group, the Friends of the Trans-Pacific Partnership.
To bolster the new group’s credibility, Japanese officials sought validation from outside the halls of Congress. Within weeks, they received it from the Center for Strategic and International Studies, to which Japan has been a longtime donor. The center will not say how much money the government has given — or for what exactly — but an examination of its relationship with a state-funded entity called the Japan External Trade Organization provides a glimpse.
In the past four years, the organization has given the center at least $1.1 million for “research and consulting” to promote trade and direct investment between Japan and the United States. The center also houses visiting scholars from within the Japanese government, including Hiroshi Waguri, an executive in the Ministry of Defense, as well as Shinichi Isobe, an executive from the trade organization.
In early December, the center held an event featuring Mr. Boustany and Mr. Reichert, who spoke about the importance of the trade agreement and the steps they were taking to pressure the White House to complete it. In addition, at a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing later that month, Matthew P. Goodman, a scholar at the center, testified in favor of the agreement, his language driving home the very message Japan’s lobbyists and their congressional allies were seeking to convey.
The agreement was critical to “success not only for the administration’s regional economic policy but arguably for the entire Asia rebalancing strategy,” Mr. Goodman said.
Mr. Hamre, the center’s president, acknowledged that his organization’s researchers were pushing for the trade deal (it remains pending). But he said their advocacy was rooted in a belief that the agreement was good for the United States economy and the country’s standing in Asia.
Andrew Schwartz, a spokesman for the center, said that language in the agreements the organization signs with foreign governments gives its scholars final say over the policy positions they take — although he acknowledged those provisions have not been included in all such documents.
“We have to respect their academic and intellectual independence,” Mr. Otaka, the Japanese Embassy spokesman, said in a separate interview. But one Japanese diplomat, who asked not to be named as he was not authorized to discuss the matter, said the country expected favorable treatment in return for donations to think tanks.
“If we put actual money in, we want to have a good result for that money — as it is an investment,” he said.
Qatar and the United Arab Emirates — two nations that host large United States military bases and view a continued American military presence as central to their own national security — have been especially aggressive in their giving to think tanks. The two Persian Gulf monarchies are also engaged in a battle with each other to shape Western opinion, with Qatar arguing that Muslim Brotherhood-style political Islam is the Arab world’s best hope for democracy, and the United Arab Emirates seeking to persuade United States policy makers that the Brotherhood is a dangerous threat to the region’s stability.
The United Arab Emirates, which has become a major supporter of the Center for Strategic and International Studies over the past decade, turned to the think tank in 2007 after an uproar in Congress about the nation’s plan to purchase control of terminals in several United States ports. After lawmakers questioned whether the purchase would be a national security threat to the United States, and the deal was scuttled, the oil-rich nation sought to remake its image in Washington, Mr. Hamre said.
The nation paid the research organization to sponsor a lecture series “to examine the strategic importance” of the gulf region and “identify opportunities for constructive U.S. engagement.” It also paid the center to organize annual trips to the gulf region during which dozens of national security experts from the United States would get private briefings from government officials there.
These and other events gave the United Arab Emirates’ senior diplomats an important platform to press their case. At a round table in Washington in March 2013, Yousef Al Otaiba, the ambassador to the United States, pressed Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, about whether the United States would remain committed to his country given budget reductions in Washington.
Mr. Dempsey’s reply was quickly posted on the Facebook page of the United Arab Emirates Embassy: The country, he assured Mr. Al Otaiba and others in the crowd, was one of America’s “most credible and capable allies, especially in the gulf region.”
Access to Power
Small countries are finding that they can gain big clout by teaming up with American research organizations. Perhaps the best example is Norway.
As one of the world’s top oil producers, a member of NATO and a player in peace negotiations in spots around the globe, Norway has an interest in a broad range of United States policies.
The country has committed at least $24 million to an array of Washington think tanks over the past four years, according to a tally by The Times, transforming these nonprofits into a powerful but largely hidden arm of the Norway Foreign Affairs Ministry. Documents obtained under that country’s unusually broad open records laws reveal that American research groups, after receiving money from Norway, have advocated in Washington for enhancing Norway’s role in NATO, promoted its plans to expand oil drilling in the Arctic and pushed its climate change agenda.
Norway paid the Center for Global Development, for example, to persuade the United States government to spend more money on combating global warming by slowing the clearing of forests in countries like Indonesia, according to a 2013 project document describing work by the center and a consulting company called Climate Advisers.
Norway is a major funder of forest protection efforts around the world. But while many environmentalists applaud the country’s lobbying for forest protection, some have attacked the programs as self-interested: Slowing deforestation could buy more time for Norway’s oil companies to continue selling fossil fuels on the global market even as Norway and other countries push for new carbon reduction policies. Oilwatch International, an environmental advocacy group, calls forest protection a “scheme whereby polluters use forests and land as supposed sponges for their pollution.”
Kare R. Aas, Norway’s ambassador to the United States, rejected this criticism as ridiculous. As a country whose territory extends into the Arctic, he said, Norway would be among the nations most affected by global warming.
“We want to maintain sustainable living conditions in the North,” Mr. Aas said.
But Norway’s agreement imposed very specific demands on the Center for Global Development. The research organization, in return for Norway’s money, was not simply asked to publish reports on combating climate change. The project documents ask the think tank to persuade Washington officials to double United States spending on global forest protection efforts to $500 million a year.
“Target group: U.S. policy makers,” a progress report reads.
The grant is already paying dividends. The center, crediting the Norwegian government’s funding, helped arrange a November 2013 meeting with Treasury Department officials. Scholars there also succeeded in having language from their Norway-funded research included in a deforestation report prepared by a White House advisory commission, according to an April progress report.
Norway has also funded Arctic research at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, at a time when the country was seeking to expand its oil drilling in the Arctic region.
Mr. Hamre, of the center, said he was invited to Norway about five years ago and given a presentation on the Arctic Circle, known in Norway as the “High North.”
“What the hell is the High North?” he said in an interview, recalling that he was not familiar with the topic until then.
But Norway’s government soon began sending checks to the center for a research program on Arctic policy. By 2009, after the new Norway-supported Arctic program was up and running, it brought Norway officials together with a key member of Congress to discuss the country’s “energy aspirations for the region.”
In a March 2013 report, scholars from the center urged the Obama administration to increase its military presence in the Arctic Circle, to protect energy exploration efforts there and to increase the passage of cargo ships through the region — the exact moves Norway has been advocating.
The Brookings Institution, which also accepted grants from Norway, has sought to help the country gain access to American officials, documents show. One Brookings senior fellow, Bruce Jones, offered in 2010 to reach out to State Department officials to help arrange a meeting with a senior Norway official, according to a government email. The Norway official wished to discuss his country’s role as a “middle power” and vital partner of the United States.
Brookings organized another event in April 2013, in which one of Norway’s top officials on Arctic issues was seated next to the State Department’s senior official on the topic and reiterated the country’s priorities for expanding oil exploration in the Arctic.
William J. Antholis, the managing director at Brookings, said that if his scholars help Norway pursue its foreign policy agenda in Washington, it is only because their rigorous, independent research led them to this position. “The scholars are their own agents,” he said. “They are not agents of these foreign governments.”
But three lawyers who specialize in the law governing Americans’ activities on behalf of foreign governments said that the Center for Global Development and Brookings, in particular, appeared to have taken actions that merited registration as foreign agents of Norway. The activities by the Center for Strategic and International Studies and the Atlantic Council, they added, at least raised questions.
“The Department of Justice needs to be looking at this,” said Joshua Rosenstein, a lawyer at Sandler Reiff.
Ona Dosunmu, Brookings’s general counsel, examining the same documents, said she remained convinced that was a misreading of the law.
Norway, at least, is grateful for the work Brookings has done. During a speech at Brookings in June, Norway’s foreign minister, Borge Brende, noted that his country’s relationship with the think tank “has been mutually beneficial for moving a lot of important topics.” Just before the speech, in fact, Norway signed an agreement to contribute an additional $4 million to the group.
Limits on Scholars
The tens of millions in donations from foreign interests come with certain expectations, researchers at the organizations said in interviews. Sometimes the foreign donors move aggressively to stifle views contrary to their own.
Michele Dunne served for nearly two decades as a specialist in Middle Eastern affairs at the State Department, including stints in Cairo and Jerusalem, and on the White House National Security Council. In 2011, she was a natural choice to become the founding director of the Atlantic Council’s Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East, named after the former prime minister of Lebanon, who was assassinated in 2005.
The center was created with a generous donation from Bahaa Hariri, his eldest son, and with the support of the rest of the Hariri family, which has remained active in politics and business in the Middle East. Another son of the former prime minister served as Lebanon’s prime minister from 2009 to 2011.
But by the summer of 2013, when Egypt’s military forcibly removed the country’s democratically elected president, Mohamed Morsi, Ms. Dunne soon realized there were limits to her independence. After she signed a petition and testified before a Senate Foreign Relations Committee urging the United States to suspend military aid to Egypt, calling Mr. Morsi’s ouster a “military coup,” Bahaa Hariri called the Atlantic Council to complain, executives with direct knowledge of the events said.
Ms. Dunne declined to comment on the matter. But four months after the call, Ms. Dunne left the Atlantic Council.
In an interview, Mr. Kempe said he had never taken any action on behalf of Mr. Hariri to try to modify positions that Ms. Dunne or her colleagues took. Ms. Dunne left, he said, in part because she wanted to focus on research, not managing others, as she was doing at the Atlantic Council.
“Differences she may have had with colleagues, management or donors on Middle Eastern issues — inevitable in such a fraught environment where opinions vary widely — don’t touch our fierce defense of individual experts’ intellectual independence,” Mr. Kempe said.
Scholars at other Washington think tanks, who were granted anonymity to detail confidential internal discussions, described similar experiences that had a chilling effect on their research and ability to make public statements that might offend current or future foreign sponsors. At Brookings, for example, a donor with apparent ties to the Turkish government suspended its support after a scholar there made critical statements about the country, sending a message, one scholar there said.
“It is the self-censorship that really affects us over time,” the scholar said. “But the fund-raising environment is very difficult at the moment, and Brookings keeps growing and it has to support itself.”
The sensitivities are especially important when it comes to the Qatari government — the single biggest foreign donor to Brookings.
Brookings executives cited strict internal policies that they said ensure their scholars’ work is “not influenced by the views of our funders,” in Qatar or in Washington. They also pointed to several reports published at the Brookings Doha Center in recent years that, for example, questioned the Qatari government’s efforts to revamp its education system or criticized the role it has played in supporting militants in Syria.
But in 2012, when a revised agreement was signed between Brookings and the Qatari government, the Qatar Ministry of Foreign Affairs itself praised the agreement on its website, announcing that “the center will assume its role in reflecting the bright image of Qatar in the international media, especially the American ones.” Brookings officials also acknowledged that they have regular meetings with Qatari government officials about the center’s activities and budget, and that the former Qatar prime minister sits on the center’s advisory board.
Mr. Ali, who served as one of the first visiting fellows at the Brookings Doha Center after it opened in 2009, said such a policy, though unwritten, was clear.
“There was a no-go zone when it came to criticizing the Qatari government,” said Mr. Ali, who is now a professor at the University of Queensland in Australia. “It was unsettling for the academics there. But it was the price we had to pay.”