It works both ways: American Think Tanks and Foundations Manipulate German Politics

4 May 2015

[Editor’s Note: This post was written by Till Bruckner and originally published at]

As American pundits are discussing the Clinton Cash affair and worrying about possible undue foreign influence on U.S. foreign policy via donations to the Clinton Foundation, including donations from Germany, a similar debate is unfolding in Berlin with regard to possible undue American influence via US-funded foundations and think tanks operating in Germany.

The discussion is driven by a highly critical book about media manipulation that is rapidly climbing the bestseller lists in Germany, written by a former pillar of the journalistic establishment.

Udo Ulfkotte, the author of the book Gekaufte Journalisten (“Bought Journalists”), is decidedly a mixed bag.

One the one hand, he spent 17 years working as a foreign correspondent for the Frankfurther Allgemeine Zeitung, one of the most respected and widely read broadsheets in Germany, which lends him considerable credibility. On the other hand, the book’s ranting style and Ulfkotte’s frequent off-colour remarks do sometimes make him appear like a slightly unhinged conspiracy theorist.

Ulfkotte’s background, style and idiosyncrasies aside, the book’s wide readership in a key European state alone means that media pundits, think tankers and foreign policy wonks in the United States, the European Union and elsewhere should take note. However, so far, coverage in the English language has been minimal, and largely restricted to fringe media.

In this spirit, in advance of the book’s planned publication in English, below my translation of some choice book passages on what Ulfkotte calls “transatlantic think tanks” and foundations:

  • “In 2014, transatlantic organizations with a seat in Germany could apply for S. government funds to influence Germany so that they would support American interests, for example regarding free trade agreements.” (page 43)
  • “The truth is that all the transatlantic think tanks have the sole purpose of supporting NATO. And NATO is led by the U.S.” (page 144)
  • “What is clear is that since the 1950s, US. intelligence agencies have set up and financed a whole series of private non-profit foundations which above all had one aim: to set up intelligence agency branch offices under a cover story, to place agents there as supposed foundation employees, and to influence future German elites in a pro-American direction, and, wherever possible, make them blackmailable.” (page 146)
  • Discussing a six week study trip to the US organized by the German Marshall Fund in which Ulfkotte had participated upon invitation: “It is no secret that the German Marshall Fund maintains excellent relationships with intelligence agencies… The GMF gave each of us [participants] an envelope with cash for the stay in the United States. I could choose a climatized rental car, the petrol was paid for as well of course. Ditto the hotels, the laundries, the meals. And there were… presents. (…) At some point during this U.S. trip, I became unable to tell who really was only from the GMF and who was from U.S. intelligence. (pages 147-148)
  • “Nearly all pro-American organizations or those close to intelligence services mentioned in this book have blogs, on which German journalists regularly write. (…) And these conformist journalists frequently receive invitations for trips to the U.S. There, they can then give paid-for presentations, thus closing the circle [of corruption]. (…) The extended press office of NATO writes in the guise of German journalists.” (page 180) [He goes on to note parallels to alleged Russian lobbying practices.]
  • George Soros primarily places “former employees of American intelligence agencies, of organizations close to these, or of the U.S. military” in leading positions in his “supposedly charitable” organizations abroad, where they foment ‘colour revolutions’ and Arab Spring type uprisings. (page 192) [Background for American readers: While Soros is often painted as an un-American liberal by critics inside the U.S., his critics abroad often view him as a direct DoS and/or CIA proxy, including during Republican administrations.]

Ulfkotte lists the following think tanks and advocacy groups as having large undue influence in Germany: American Academy, American Jewish Committee, Aspen Institute, Atlantik-Bruecke, Altantische Initiative, Deutsche Atlantische Gesellschaft, Deutsche Gesellschaft fuer Auswaertige Politik (DGAP), and George Soros’ European Council on Foreign Relations. (page 187)

Whatever you make of all these claims, one very valid question does crop up.

If Americans get so worried about the comparatively small amounts of foreign money in their political system, as seen in the current Clinton Cash debate and previous episodes involving alleged undue foreign influence via think tanks, what about the influence of American funding abroad?

Maybe citizens and leaders of other, smaller countries sometimes have a point when they get concerned about American influence via foreign-funded foundations, think tanks and NGOs on their own democratic systems?

Disclaimer: While the author of this blog works part-time for Transparify, an initiative advocating for greater think tank transparency and research integrity, this blog was written in a private capacity and should not in any way be taken to reflect the views of Transparify. The blog above should not be taken to imply that the author endorses (or rejects) any of Ulfkotte’s concrete claims or broader theories. The author did not fact-check any of Ulfkotte’s claims.