Think tank knew about O’Bagy’s Ph.D. question long before firing her

Charles C. Johnson | Contributor

The Institute for the Study of War knew that controversial Syria analyst Elizabeth O’Bagy lacked a Ph.D. long before it fired her, according to the group’s own website.

The Institute announced Wednesday that it had fired O’Bagy, ostensibly for faking her PhD credentials. The termination came after a series of articles in The Daily Caller revealed O’Bagy’s connection with a pro-rebel lobbying group that was not disclosed in a Wall Street Journal op-ed by O’Bagy. (Related: Woman informing Kerry, McCain’s opinions on Syria also an advocate for Syrian rebels)

In fact, the neoconservative think tank knew she was in a joint Ph.D. program all along. The author bio from her March 2013 study of the Free Syrian Army says O’Bagy is “in a joint Master’s/PhD program in Arab Studies and Political Science at Georgetown University and is working on a dissertation on women’s militancy.”

O’Bagy explained to TheDC last week that she had written her dissertation but had not defended it. When Sen. John McCain called her “doctor,” the ISW did not correct him. O’Bagy herself did not claim to have completed her Ph.D. study. “You can call me doctor, if you want,” O’Bagy told The Daily Caller in a recent interview. (Related: Who funds Syrian rebel advocate O’Bagy and the Syrian Emergency Task Force? You do)

The ISW, however, now claims that O’Bagy made false claims about her education status.

“Ms. O’Bagy told me that she had successfully defended her dissertation in May 2013,” Kim Kagan, director of the ISW and former advisor to Gen. Stanley McChrystal, told TheDC. “But she hadn’t. She misrepresented that she had successfully defended it.”

Kagan also says that O’Bagy told her she was in a joint Ph.D./M.A. program and that it “continued to be [her] understanding” that O’Bagy was in that program. She graduated from Georgetown’s master’s program in 2013.

O’Bagy did not respond to a request for comment for this article.

O’Bagy has worked for the Institute for the Study of War on both Iraq and Syria. According to her policymic page, “Besides Iraqi politics which is the main focus of my work at the ISW, I’m also interested in Arab pop culture and resistance, and I’m working on a number of small research projects that focus on Arab film and music in this context.”

According to the ISW’s website, O’Bagy started working at least as early as 2011. Prior to the announcement Wednesday, there was nothing on the ISW site leading one to believe that O’Bagy had received her Ph.D.

A press release that referred to O’Bagy as a “doctor” did appear on the website of the Syrian Emergency Task Force website, a pro-rebel lobbying group that O’Bagy quietly worked for while making the case for intervention in Syria, but this mention has been deleted.

O’Bagy’s advocacy for intervention had brought her remarkable clout at the age of 26. Her Wall Street Journal op-ed was recently cited by Secretary of State John Kerry, and she accompanied Sen. John McCain on a visit to Syria this spring. (Related: McCain wanted to have sleepover with Syrian kidnappers)

But her close relationship with a front group for the Sunni rebels, many of whom are unreconstructed Islamists and al-Qaida affiliates, became a political issue after The Daily Caller uncovered her work with the Syrian Emergency Task Force.

The ISW, however, maintains that it fired O’Bagy not because of her ties to the Task Force but because of her putative misrepresentation of her credentials.

“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 message on the website confirmed.

The ISW’s board of directors is a sort of who’s who of neoconservatives pushing the Syrian war, including William Kristol of the Weekly Standard, Professor Dennis Showalter, General Jack Keane and management consultants Hal Hirsch, and Bill Roberti. ISW also contracts with Dubik Associates, an Arlington consultancy firm run by former Lieutenant General James Dubik.

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