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During the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on Syria on September 3, Secretary of State John Kerry and Senator John McCain both cited a Wall Street Journal editorial by Elizabeth O'Bagy to support their assessment of the Syrian rebels as predominately "moderate," and potentially Western-friendly.
"She works with the Institute of War," Kerry said of O'Bagy. "She's fluent in Arabic and spent an enormous amount of time studying the opposition and studying Syria. She just published this the other day. Very interesting [Wall Street Journal] article, which I commend to you."
Kerry added, "I just don't agree that a majority are al-Qaida and the bad guys."
What Kerry and McCain neglected to mention was that O'Bagy had been recently hired as the political director of the Syrian Emergency Task Force (SETF), a little known outfit that functions as a lobbying arm of the Syrian opposition in Washington.
Until today, O'Bagy had failed to note her role as a paid Syrian opposition lobbyist in her Wall Street Journal byline and did not note the position in her official bio at the Institute for the Study of War. Only after a storm of criticism did the Wall Street Journal insert a note in O'Bagy's recent op-ed disclosing her paid position at SETF. O'Bagy was also compelled to amend her bio with a lengthy clarification about her work at SETF.
But her work at the Institute for the Study of War should have been enough to set off alarm bells.
"Logrolling for war"
The Institute for the Study of War's (ISW) board of directors is led by William Kristol. Kimberly Kagan, the group's president, was on General Stanley McChrystal's strategic review team in 2009, advocating for a dramatic expansion of the US presence in Afghanistan. Her husband is Frederick Kagan, the AEI fellow who is the uncle of fellow neocon Robert Kagan.
In its 2011 annual report [PDF], the Institute for the Study of War (ISW) detailed its close working relationship with Palantir Technologies, a private surveillance firm contracted by Bank of America in 2011 in an unsuccessful plot to dismantle Anonymous and sabotage Glenn Greenwald.
The report listed New York Times reporter Michael Gordon as "ISW's journalist in residence." Back in January 2013, Gordon published an article pushing claims that Syrian army forces had used sarin gas, thus crossing Obama's "red line" and triggering a US intervention. Noting that the State Department could not confirm the information in Gordon's report, former Defense Intelligence Agency officer Pat Lang accused Gordon of "logrolling for war in Syria."
Despite his past affiliation with a think tank dedicated to pushing for US intervention in Syria, Gordon remains on the Times' Syria beat.
When O'Bagy took to Twitter to boast about McCain's "shout out" to her during the Senate hearing on Syria, the conservative writer Charles C. Johnson (who recently reported on O'Bagy's lobbying) asked her if she was in fact employed by the Syrian Emergency Task Force.
"Yes I do humanitarian aid work through the organization," O'Bagy told Johnson. "Can't go to Syria frequently and not help the people."
But O'Bagy's work has less to do with tending to the needs of war-stricken refugees than it does with leveraging the media to agitate for US intervention. Indeed, she has been among the most prominent and widely cited commentators marketing the Syrian rebels as a bunch of America-friendly moderates.