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Emet m'Tsiyon

Monday, August 31, 2015

Do US Think Tanks Violate US Law Mandating Registration of Foreign Agents?

It is no secret that many area studies centers and institutes specializing on the Middle East (or other subject areas for that matter) at American universities are subsidized by some of those that they are supposed to study. That is, by super-rich Arab oil kingdoms and sheikdoms, especially on the Persian Gulf. But it is not only the university-based Middle East studies centers that are funded by Arabs and their friends, it is many of those Washington think tanks. The first institute in the United States specializing on the modern Middle East was likely the Middle East Institute located in Washington, long funded by friends of the Arabs, a large part of the US petroleum industry, and still going strong. Iran too has its own lobby in Washington, DC, especially but not only in the NIAC [see previous blog post]. Jan Sokolovsky asks whether any of the respected think tanks [perhaps wrongly respected] that infest DC are violating US law by not registering as foreign agents under the FARA, foreign agents registration act. Here is her article:

Do Major Think Tanks Violate US Law?

Prominent American research organizations may have violated the Foreign Agents Registration Act, (FARA), by failing to register and to disclose lavish donations they have received from foreign governments, as documented in a recent major report in the New York Times, “Foreign Powers Buy Influence at Think Tanks”, by Eric Lipton, Brooke Williams and Nicholas Confessore. Such funding by foreign governments, especially when not disclosed, is extremely detrimental to the interests of the United States, since their goal is to influence our policies.
 “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 donor’s priorities.”
Although receipt of such funding is not illegal, failure to report it is.
“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”
FARA requires registration and disclosure by persons who are funded by foreign nations if they engage in “political activities” which is defined as an attempt to influence public opinion or any part thereof, in the United States on matters of policy.  That is precisely what these think tanks do, as Martin Indyk of the Brookings Institute explicitly states in this article. “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 Indyk. To assume that the researchers and the think tanks are not influenced by the agenda of their donors belies common sense.
Norway, Japan, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates are among nations identified as heavy donors to these think tanks

Indyk’s problematic role as an envoy of the United States to Israel during the early stages of its campaign against Hamas in Gaza, Protective Edge, is a perfect example of conflict of interest, because of the financial role of Qatar.   At that time, Indyk was the Vice President and director of foreign policy for Brookings; Qatar gives extensive support to both Brookings and Hamas.
Qatar is widely accepted to be Hamas’ main financial backer.   The New York Times reported that Qatar gave Brookings $14 million, making Qatar also its largest donor.  Neither Brookings nor Indyk disclosed this financial connection during Protective Edge.
The entire purpose of the FARA law is to ensure transparency when foreign nations try to influence American policy.  Unfortunately, no reference to Qatar was found either on the Brookings website or in its annual report. From the NYT article, one may reasonably infer that the same invisibility is true for donations from foreign governments received by the other think tanks.
Shortly before Attorney General Eric Holder announced his imminent resignation, he ordered investigations into the Ferguson, Missouri police department, and domestic violence within the ranks of the NFL.  As important as these issues are, it is incumbent upon his soon to be appointed successor to promptly initiate an investigation into the funding of major research organizations by foreign nations. Clearly, there is ample cause for the Justice Department to open an investigation promptly into violations of FARA both by these institutions and the individuals involved, and if warranted by their findings, to commence judicial proceedings to impose the full extent of the civil and criminal penalties provided.

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