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Woman who wrote op-ed cited in Syria hearing fired for lying about credentials

- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 11, 2013

The woman whom Secretary of State John F. Kerry cited for evidence that the rebels aren't infiltrated by al Qaeda-linked fighters has been fired from her think tank job for lying about her academic credentials, her employer said Wednesday.

The Institute for the Study of War said Elizabeth O'Bagy, who billed herself as the think tank's Syria expert, didn't have a doctorate from Georgetown University, "contrary to her representations."

"ISW has accordingly terminated Ms. O'Bagy's employment, effective immediately," the institute said.

Ms. O'Bagy did not respond to requests for comment Wednesday.

The 26-year-old found herself at the center of a brewing media storm last week after two congressional hearings in which Mr. Kerry and Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, cited an Aug. 30 opinion article she had written for The Wall Street Journal.

Rather than citing official U.S. intelligence assessments, both men pointed to Ms. O'Bagy's work as their best evidence that the Syrian opposition trying to overthrow President Bashar Assad is not rife with al Qaeda-linked extremists.

When pressed by lawmakers at a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing who said they had received classified briefings offering contrary assessments — that Syria's opposition rebels were filled with Islamist extremists — Mr. Kerry responded by commending Ms. O'Bagy's work and asking the lawmakers whether they were familiar with it.

The secretary of state's comments thrust Ms. O'Bagy into the spotlight, with news outlets poring over her record and questioning her ties to Syria's opposition.

At issue was the fact that, in addition to working for the Institute for the Study of War, Ms. O'Bagy, has been paid to work on behalf of the Syrian Emergency Task Force, an organization whose website touts its efforts to lobby on Capitol Hill "for greater U.S. action in Syria."

In a defensive Twitter message last week Ms. O'Bagy said she wasn't trying to hide those ties, though The Wall Street Journal op-ed she penned last month initially did not mentioned them. The newspaper later posted a correction on its website, acknowledging Ms. O'Bagy's work for the group.

"I have never tried to hide that Ive worked closely with opposition & rebel commanders. Thats what allows me to travel more safely in Syria," Ms. O'Bagy later wrote on Twitter.

The Obama administration's use of her work, meanwhile, was an about-face. For months, the administration had rejected arming the Syrian rebels, arguing it was too difficult to distinguish between moderates and extremists, and fearing American hardware would fall into the wrong hands.

But as Mr. Obama began his push for U.S. military strikes on the Assad regime, lawmakers questioned whether that would end up helping the rebels — and by extension the Islamists. The administration countered that it no longer believed the rebellion was so heavily defined by the extremists.

"I just don't agree that a majority are al Qaeda and the bad guys. That's not true," Mr. Kerry said at last week's hearing, adding that there are between 70,000 and 100,000 rebels, and "maybe 15 to 25 percent might be in one group or another who are what we would deem to be bad guys."

House Homeland Security Committee Michael T. McCaul, Texas Republican, said he was stunned by the remarks because briefings he had received said the number was closer to "50 percent and rising."

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