We have learned that an influential D.C.-based think tank, which employed concealed CCP members and people with Chinese government connections, was previously led by the Central Intelligence Agency’s William Burns.
During Burns’ term at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace as president from Feb. 2015 until Nov. 2021, the organization employed around at least 20 policy experts who have been identified by DCNF as CCP members. The CCP members that worked at Carnegie’s Washington, D.C., headquarters and Carnegie-Tsinghua, a Beijing center launched in 2010 in collaboration with Tsinghua University by Burns’ predecessor, Jessica Mathews.
Carnegie’s website does not show the ties these individuals have to the Chinese Communist Party. The DCNF discovered their communist affiliations after reviewing many records and personnel profiles from CCP-related organizations.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) was becoming increasingly concerned about the CCP’s “malign influence operations” against important American institutions during Burns’ term at Carnegie. In July 2020, FBI Head Christopher Wray emphasized that the CCP is looking to “influence our lawmakers” and “control our public opinion” by exploiting America’s “openness.”
Given such warnings, hiring CCP members and those with responsibilities in the Chinese government raises concerns, according to national security experts.
Yates said that finding himself in the situation Burns is currently in “is pretty much a dead-end cul-de-sac.”
“It seems as though he either allowed government-connected experts from a hostile nation to associate with an organization that has many former and future U.S. appointees, or he was unaware and didn’t bother checking–which is a remarkable lack of operational security for a top-level former U.S. official,” said Yates. “If you can not keep track of who is in your think tank, then running an even larger intelligence agency isn’t the right line of work for you,” he concluded.
According to the Constitution of the Communist Party of China, members of the CCP take an oath swearing to fight for communism and sacrifice everything for the party and the Chinese citizens. Additionally, as part of China’s intelligence-gathering strategy known as the “Thousand Grains of Sand,” often overseas members of the Chinese community are recruited by state intelligence agencies to collect information.
According to Yates, if any Communist Party members have access to sensitive information, they will be visited by Chinese intelligence and forced to disclose the information on a regular basis.
Brandon Weichert, a national security expert who consults for the U.S. Air Force, said that members of the CCP will go to great lengths to avoid suspicion while conducting influence operations against foreign institutions.
“Weichert said that you will not be aware they are Chinese agents of influence until Beijing decides they need something. He added that they could exist idly for years beforehand.”