Michael O’Hanlon — an appointee to the Central Intelligence Agency External Advisory Board under the Obama-Biden administration — visited a Chinese Communist Party-run think tank identified by the U.S. government as conducting “undercover intelligence gathering” operations and seeking to coerce foreign actors into backing the Chinese Communist Party’s “preferred policies.”
Also the Director of the Brooking Institute’s Foreign Policy Research Team and adjunct professor at Georgetown and Columbia Universities, O’Hanlon visited the China Association for International Friendly Contact (CAIFC) on August 23rd, 2012 – the same year his Central Intelligence Agency’s (CIA) External Advisory Board stint ended.
Under President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden, O’Hanlon served on CIA External Advisory Board, the brainchild of then-CIA Director Leon Panetta. It counted O’Hanlon as an advisor from 2011 to 2012.
Specifically, he paid a visit to the CAIFC’s Peace and Development Research Center, whose summary of O’Hanlon’s appearance noted he praised the center as one of the “most famous in China” and was “attracted by its reputation.”
“He came and hoped to hear opinions on Sino-U.S. relations and regional hot-spot issues from scholars of the center. The opinions he got may provide references for his book about Sino-U.S. relations which he was writing with Steinberg, former U.S. Deputy Secretary,” the summary added.
O’Hanlon’s praise and open ears, however, were deeply misguided. The U.S. government now identifies the CAIFC as an integral component of China’s United Work Front, which aims “to co-opt and neutralize sources of potential opposition to the policies and authority of its ruling Chinese Communist Party.”
“The United Front strategy uses a range of methods to influence overseas Chinese communities, foreign governments, and other actors to take actions or adopt positions supportive of Beijing’s preferred policies,” the U.S.-China Security and Economic Review commission’s report added.
The report singled out CAIFC, noting it is a “front” for the Chinese military:
“CAIFC is a front for the former PLA GPD which may now report directly to the PLA Central Military Commission’s Political Work Department.”
“CAIFC has additional ties to the Ministries of State Security, Civil Affairs, and Foreign Affairs, and it is a platform for deploying undercover intelligence gatherers,” the commission adds.
While the organization’s website describes its goals to establish “close ties with [foreign] government agencies, political parties, and prominent political and military figures” to “promote China’s policies, achievements, and goals,” John Garnaut—a former journalist and adviser to Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull—argues is intended to outsource the CCP’s messaging to “self-interested or naïve intermediaries.”
This unearthed connection follows reports that Chinese intelligence operatives targeted high-profile Democratic politicians such as Eric Swalwell.