Elizabeth O’Bagy, a Syria researcher who, after her reporting earned the endorsements of Senator John McCain and Secretary of State John Kerry, faced criticism for her connections with a Syrian-rebel advocacy group, has been fired from the Institute for the Study of War (ISW) for allegedly lying about her academic credentials. The institute issued a statement on their decision:
The Institute for the Study of War has learned and confirmed that, contrary to her representations, Ms. Elizabeth O’Bagy does not in fact have a Ph.D. degree from Georgetown University. ISW has accordingly terminated Ms. O’Bagy’s employment, effective immediately.
A recent op-ed by O’Bagy in the Wall Street Journal was cited by both Kerry and McCain during last week’s congressional hearings as evidence that the Syrian rebels were more moderate and less dominated by Islamists than many contended; she’d also attracted plenty of media attention with appearances on Fox News and elsewhere making a similar case.
But O’Bagy came under scrutiny when it came to light that she is employed by the Syrian Emergency Task Force (SETF), a group that advocates in the U.S. on behalf of the Syrian rebels (a fact the Journal didn’t make known when publishing the article). Foreign Policy wrote in June that SETF “boasts extensive contracts with rebel commanders” and had “spent months lobbying congress, the State Department, and the White House” for more aid to the rebels. While O’Bagy is officially SETF’s political director, she’d said she is paid as a contractor and is not involved in the political lobbying the group does.
In December, O’Bagy publicly advocated against designating the al-Nusra Front, one of the five main Syrian rebel groups, a terrorist organization, as the Obama administration eventually did: “I’m not saying they aren’t a terrorist group,” O’Bagy said. “But given the circumstances and their cooperation with the opposition as a whole, designating them now would be disastrous.” Only four months later, al-Nusra pledged loyalty to al-Qaeda.
O’Bagy defended herself in an interview with the Daily Caller, saying, “The point I was trying to make in terms of al-Nusra being designated a terrorist organization was that at the time they had been embraced to a large degree by certain aspects of the population and they were very much seen as fighting for the cause,” she said. “I knew that designating them as a terrorist organization would have a very radicalizing impact on the ground.”
O’Bagy continues to be a fierce advocate of U.S. aid to opposition forces in Syria.
UPDATE: O’Bagy has a master from Georgetown and was enrolled for a Ph.D., but had not yet defended her dissertation. Kim Kagan, the founder and president of ISW, made clear that O’Bagy’s termiation had nothing to do with her employment at SETF. “I have no proglem with her affiliation, I approved it.” Kagan defended O’Bagy’s research, describing it as “rock solid” even if it stands alone.