The coverage of the downfall of Elizabeth O’Bagy, a very influential expert on Syria who was found to have lied about her credentials, is missing an important element: O’Bagy based her assessments on the notion that not all Islamists are enemies of the West.
O’Bagy burst onto the scene as the leading Syria expert for the Institute of the Study of War at age 26. She was the center of attention when her August 30 editorial in the Wall Street Journal argued that concern about the composition of the Syrian rebels is overblown. It was subsequently cited by Senator John McCain (R-AZ) and Secretary of State John Kerry.
“Contrary to many media accounts, the war in Syria is not being waged entirely, or even predominantly, by dangerous Islamists and al Qaeda die-hards,” O’Bagy wrote.
The Wall Street Journal was hammered for not disclosing O’Bagy’s position with the Syrian Emergency Task Force, an opposition group linked to the rebels and who facilitated a meeting between Senator McCain and rebel commanders in Syria in May.
O’Bagy was fired by the Institute for the Study of War for falsely claiming she had a doctorate from Georgetown University.
More importantly, O’Bagy wasn’t merely tied to the Syrian opposition, a connection that shouldn’t necessarily disqualify her as an expert (though it should be disclosed), the advice she gave top U.S. officials did not treat the terms “Islamist” and “moderate” as mutually exclusive terms. This inflated the numbers of the so-called “moderates” and deflated the number of extremists.
On September 7, she tweeted, “Islamist groups [are] very different than AQ linked groups and extremists. Different outlook, ideology, relations with people, etc.”
Her Twitter account has since been deleted but the Clarion Project has a screenshot.
Contradicting her analysis, Clarion reported in June that 10 of 12 rebel groups are Islamist with another one linked to Kurdish terrorists. The remaining force also has Islamists in its ranks. There is indeed a power struggle between Islamist and non-Islamist rebels, but the secular forces are outmatched by their Islamist competitors.
O’Bagy’s perception of what qualifies as “moderate” falls in line with the agenda of the Syrian Emergency Task Force, an opposition group linked to the Syrian rebels that paid her as a contractor.
The executive director of the Syrian Emergency Task Force is Mouaz Moustafa, who admitted that his antagonism against Israel is stronger than his feelings against Al-Qaeda. He tweeted on June 5: “nothing hurts me more than being called pro Zionist, ive been called al Qaeda and terrorist etc but being called Zionist kills me when my family are n camps just come see where I grew up Palestine lives in me”
Moustafa also reportedly “liked” a video on YouTube that shows Hamas terror leader in Gaza Ismail Haniyeh praying. Moustafa’s playlist of “favorite” videos include explicitly pro-terrorist music videos that have a montage of photos celebrating Hamas and Hezbollah. One is titled "A LA INTIFADA !!!" and the other is named "INTIFADA!!!" It opens with the text, “Palestine will be free, from the river to the sea.” That implies the elimination of Israel.
O’Bagy is still listed as the Syrian Emergency Task Force’s Political Director.
Daniel Greenfield discovered three members of the Syria Emergency Task Force Board of Trustees/Board of Directors are linked to U.S. Muslim Brotherhood entities: Dr. Jihad Qaddour was a trustee of the Muslim American Society; Bassam Estwani is a former imam of the radical Dar al-Hijrah mosque and Zaher Saloul is chairman of the Council on Islamic Organizations of Chicago.
In September 2011, the Los Angeles chapter of the group held an event with the Los Angeles chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), a U.S. Muslim Brotherhood entity. A State Department official was one of the speakers.
Cassie Chesley was listed as the Syria Emergency Task Force’s Communications, but his name has since been removed from the group’s website, as was the name of Research Associate Ahmad Soliman, who attended an event of the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) at the University of Michigan about one year ago. ISNA is a U.S. Muslim Brotherhood entity.
These organizations as a whole are impacting U.S. policy, not just O’Bagy. As mentioned, the Syrian Emergency Task Force acts as a middle-man for Senator McCain’s meetings with the rebels. The organization also gets funding from the State Department. The Syrian Support Group, a separate but linked organization, is the main liaison for the U.S. government to the rebels.
These are the groups and experts that are informing our leaders. Did anyone in the U.S. government do a basic background check?
Ryan Mauro is the ClarionProject.org’s National Security Analyst, a fellow with the Clarion Project and is frequently interviewed on Fox News.