The Washington Post

Report: Think tanks targeted by hackers

Hackers from China and other countries are targeting American think tanks, according to Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.), chairman of the House Intelligence Committee.

Shawn Henry, the FBI’s former top cybersecurity official, told USA Today: “Most major organizations have been infiltrated. The value of data is such that it just makes sense for our adversaries to get involved. There are dozens of countries involved, not just China.”

Think tanks that work on defense issues, have contact with the Pentagon and have staff with high-level security clearances are particularly vulnerable. Their potential access to what ordinarily would be highly secure information within the Pentagon puts think tanks at a larger risk.  

Think tanks with access to members of Congress, the White House and other key governmental agencies are also subject to attacks. And the revolving door between think tanks and government, especially on election years, increases the attraction for hackers.

Last year, much attention was given to Stratfor (not a think tank, but labeled as such in media accounts) when its Web site was hacked and customer credit cards and other information was stolen. 

Hacking is not the kind of thing that think tanks are necessarily equipped to deal with. But they seem to have come to the realization it’s now part of think tank life:

Mike Gonzalez, spokesman for the conservative Heritage Foundation, said his organization had determined that an attack it fended off most likely came from China. He would not say when it happened except that “it was not 10 years ago.”

“We dealt with it when we had it, quickly and efficiently,” Gonzalez said. Think tanks sometimes consult with each other on such threats, he said.

The Center for American Progress is populated with scholars with ties to the Obama and Clinton administrations and to Democrats on Capitol Hill.

“While we don’t comment on any specific incidents, we are continually vigilant about our security and are regularly targeted in cyberattacks that originate both inside and outside the U.S.,” said Andrea Purse, the think tank’s vice president of communications.


Allen McDuffee writes about politics and policy and covered think tanks for The Washington Post from 2011 to 2013. He freelances and hosts a podcast at and is currently working on a book about the influence of think tanks in Washington.

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