The woman whose opinion lawmakers are relying on to go to war in Syria is also a paid advocate for the war-torn country’s rebels.
On Wednesday, Secretary of State John Kerry encouraged members of the House of Representatives to read a Wall Street Journal op-ed by 26-year-old Elizabeth O’Bagy — an analyst with the Institute for the Study of War — who asserted that concerns about extremists dominating among the Syrian rebels are unfounded.
“Contrary to many media accounts, the war in Syria is not being waged entirely, or even predominantly, by dangerous Islamists and al-Qaida die-hards,” O’Bagy wrote for the Journal on Aug. 30. “Moderate opposition groups make up the majority of actual fighting forces,” she wrote.
But in addition to her work for the Institute for the Study of War, O’Bagy is also the political director for the Syrian Emergency Task Force (SETF), a group that advocates within the United States for Syria’s rebels — a fact that the Journal did not disclose in O’Bagy’s piece.
In an interview with The Daily Caller, O’Bagy said that despite her title as the group’s political director, she is paid as a contractor.
She insisted that she is not involved in the political lobbying that SETF does. “They kind of have two departments within the Task Force — one focused on working with the government on the Hill on advocacy and then the other working inside Syria and directly implementing government contracts,” she said.
O’Bagy’s relationship with SETF is a serious conflict of interest, according to David Reaboi, vice president for strategic communications at the Center for Security Policy.
“While there’s been a lot of worthwhile effort to expose activists considered pro-Assad or pro-Hezbollah — or, at least, to consider their analysis as coming from an interested party — O’Bagy seems to pass herself off as an impartial observer of the situation. Her access to Congress, intelligence services and to think tanks should be regarded as what it really is, which is a reflection of the Syrian rebels’ cause and aspirations,” Reaboi said.
In speaking with TheDC, O’Bagy regularly insisted that she was not a salaried employee of SETF, but a paid contractor acting in an advisory role.
“I’m the political director and aid coordinator, and that’s my official title at the organization, but that’s mostly because it provides me an opportunity to engage on humanitarian issues and to be a part of some of these larger government contracts going to humanitarian aid,” O’Bagy said.
The Foreign Policy news site reported in June that SETF “boasts extensive contacts with rebel commanders” and “spent months lobbying Congress, the State Department and the White House for everything from small arms to anti-tank and and anti-aircraft weapons to body armor to advanced communications equipment for the rebels.”
O’Bagy is quoted in the Foreign Policy piece saying that the Obama administration’s June decision to openly arm Syrian rebels didn’t go far enough. ”Small arms and ammunition really only get you so far against airplanes,” she said then.