Published December 20, 2015
Embattled Syria analyst Elizabeth O'Bagy now admits she was never enrolled in a Ph.D. program despite claims to the contrary as she rose -- and quickly fell -- as a prominent scholar whose writings were used to make the case for military intervention in Syria.
O'Bagy also has resigned from a Washington-based, pro-Syrian opposition group in the wake of the controversy.
The resignation and the admission, made in a statement to The Daily Beast, caps a remarkable turn of events for O'Bagy, who a little more than a week ago was traveling in rarified circles, as a frequently quoted analyst whose work was also cited on Capitol Hill. Both Secretary of State John Kerry and Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., touted her analysis that the Syrian opposition was mostly moderate, as they pushed for a strike on the Assad regime.
Yet O'Bagy was fired last week from the Institute for the Study of War after the think tank alleged she lied about her education credentials. The institute claimed O'Bagy did not have a Ph.D. degree from Georgetown University as she had claimed.
O'Bagy reportedly countered that she had defended her dissertation, and was simply waiting for the university to confer the degree.
But in a statement to The Daily Beast, O'Bagy reportedly admitted she was never enrolled in that program. She apparently applied to a joint master's/Ph.D. program, but was not accepted. She was only in the master's program.
"I would like to deeply apologize to every person with whom I have worked, who has read and depended upon my research, and to the general public," O'Bagy said in a statement. "While I have made many mistakes and showed extremely poor judgment, I most particularly regret my public misrepresentation of my educational status and not immediately disclosing that I had not been awarded a doctorate in May 2013."
She went on to say that the damage she caused was "irreparable" and that she has resigned from the Syrian Emergency Task Force. She said she nevertheless stands by her findings from her work inside Syria.
The task force also released a written statement on Monday announcing it had cut ties with O'Bagy following an "internal investigation."
"Although Syrian Emergency Task Force deeply regrets the poor judgment exercised by Ms. O'Bagy in misstating her credentials, we stand by her research on the realities from on the ground in Syria," the group said. "The mission of Syrian Emergency Task Force is to educate the American public and policymakers on the Syrian crisis and to provide humanitarian assistance to Syrians in need."
During discussions about military action in Syria last month, O'Bagy wrote an influential piece in The Wall Street Journal that was used to push for punishing the Assad regime for using chemical weapons.
The Aug. 30 piece disputed claims that the opposition is heavily populated by extremist factions. "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," she wrote, while calling for a "comprehensive strategy" to destroy Assad's military capability and boost the opposition.
But questions were soon raised about O'Bagy's connection with the Syrian Emergency Task Force. The Journal, after the op-ed was first published, included a clarification noting she is "affiliated" with that group, and that the organization subcontracts with the U.S. and British governments "to provide aid to the Syrian opposition."
O'Bagy also appeared several times to discuss Syria on Fox News, CNN, NPR and other media outlets.
O'Bagy later claimed on Twitter that she never "tried to hide" her affiliation with the task force. Indeed, an article she co-wrote on Syria that was published by The Atlantic in June did include a line acknowledging her ties with the Syrian Emergency Task Force.
The misrepresentations about her academic credentials, though, appear to be what led to her fallout with both the Institute for the Study of War and the task force.