State Dept-cited expert on Syrian rebel "moderates" never was in doctorate program

That would be 26-year-old Elizabeth O’Bagy, who worked her way up from intern at the Institute for the Study of War to the house expert on Syrian rebels — providing helpful analyses to those arguing for American intervention on their behalf against Bashar al-Assad.  Both John Kerry at State and John McCain in the Senate relied on “Dr.” O’Bagy’s conclusions that al-Qaeda affiliates comprised only “15-20 percent” of the Syrian “oppositionists.”  After the discovery last week that O’Bagy had misrepresented her doctoral status, ISW fired her, but Josh Rogin gets O’Bagy to admit that she’d never been accepted in the doctoral program at Georgetown at all (via Mediaite):


Elizabeth O’Bagy, the Syria researcher at the center of a week-long controversy surrounding her academic credentials and her work with the Syrian opposition, admitted for the first time to The Daily Beast she was never enrolled in a Ph.D. program despite representations she made to the press and multiple organizations for whom she worked.

O’Bagy, whose work on the Syrian opposition was hailed by Secretary of State John Kerry and Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), was fired from her job as the lead Syria researcher at the Institute for the Study of War on Sept. 10  after it was revealed that she misled her bosses by telling them she had completed a dissertation defense for a Georgetown Ph.D. Subsequently, questions arose as to whether or not O’Bagy was ever enrolled in the joint MA/Ph.D. program that she claimed in her official biography.

O’Bagy confirmed to The Daily Beast that she was only enrolled in a master’s program at Georgetown and had applied to join the joint MA/Ph.D. program but was never accepted.

What does this mean for her claims about the Syrian opposition?  It’s certainly possible that she has a good grip on the situation.  O’Bagy traveled to Syria, speaks Arabic, has talked with some of the players in the Free Syrian Army, and so far no one has asserted that she faked any of that.  Kimberly Kagan, who founded ISW, continued to defend her work even after firing her for lying about her education.


However, her credibility had already been foundering even before that revelation.  O’Bagy had worked on behalf of the Syrian Emergency Task Force on behalf of the rebels, which gave her plenty of motivation to emphasize any “moderate” nature they may have.  The Wall Street Journal was unaware of that affiliation when it ran one of her essays shortly before her termination, although Paul Gigot still declined to dissociate the Journal from the essay entirely:

“We also were not aware of her affiliation with the Syrian Emergency Task Force, and we published a clarification when we learned of it,” Gigot said. “We are investigating the contents of her op-ed to the best of our ability, but to date we have seen no evidence to suggest any information in the piece was false.”

O’Bagy started at the institute as an unpaid intern and was pulled into their work on Syria when a researcher needed a fluent Arabic speaker, which transformed her internship into a much longer gig. Kagan hired O’Bagy as an analyst around August or September 2012, and said her understanding was that O’Bagy was working toward her Ph.D. at Georgetown.

And her credibility isn’t boosted much by her admission to Rogin, either.  Rogin points out that O’Bagy willfully falsified her status at Georgetown:


O’Bagy’s latest admission, that she was never a Ph.D. student in any way, comes after a series of articles in which O’Bagy claimed, falsely, that she was enrolled in the joint MA/Ph.D. program. Kim Kagan, the president of ISW, told The Daily Beast that when she made the decision to fire O’Bagy, she was still under the impression O’Bagy’s deception was solely about defending her Ph.D. dissertation.

O’Bagy insists that it’s all just a misunderstanding:

“There is little I can do to assuage the lack of credibility this misrepresentation has created, as well as the confidence my colleagues and others who have relied on me may have lost the past several weeks. Their anger and distrust is understandable, however, I never intended to willfully deceive anyone,” O’Bagy said.

That seems patently false itself, and certainly misleading.  If O’Bagy represented herself as a Georgetown doctoral-program student several times after being rejected by Georgetown, that is a willful deception — and one intended to maintain her credibility as an analyst.  That colors everything else she has written, especially with her ties to the SETF, which O’Bagy says she always disclosed but somehow never got through to Gigot at the Journal.


Why does this matter?  The Obama administration has decided to waive the restriction on arms transfers to terrorists in order to ship guns to O’Bagy’s “moderate” clients:

President Obama waived a provision of federal law designed to prevent the supply of arms to terrorist groups to clear the way for the U.S. to provide military assistance to “vetted” opposition groups fighting Syrian dictator Bashar Assad.

Some elements of the Syrian opposition are associated with radical Islamic terrorist groups, including al Qaeda, which was responsible for the Sept. 11 attacks in New York, Washington, D.C., and Shanksville, Pa., in 2001. Assad’s regime is backed by Iran and Hezbollah.

The president, citing his authority under the Arms Export Control Act, announced today that he would “waive the prohibitions in sections 40 and 40A of the AECA related to such a transaction.”

Those two sections prohibit sending weaponry to countries described in section 40(d): “The prohibitions contained in this section apply with respect to a country if the Secretary of State determines that the government of that country has repeatedly provided support for acts of international terrorism,” Congress stated in the Arms Control Export Act.


This isn’t exactly a confidence-builder, especially with sources within the US intel community insisting that the rebels are rapidly becoming more extreme, and the most effective force in the field is a declared al-Qaeda affiliate.

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