The 26 year old advocate for US aid to Syrian rebels granted an interview to the Daily Caller today. That interview evidently followed her interview on Fox this afteroon, during which Neil Cavuto asked her about her connection to the Syrian Emergency Task Force. Cavuto’s interview followed our report and FrontPage’s, which exposed the SETF as an Islamist front and advocate for the Syrian rebels. O’Bagy’s connection to the SETF represents, at a minimum, a massive conflict of interests.
Cavuto was evidently the first interviewer to ask O’Bagy about the SETF, as she appeared to be caught a little off guard. By the time the Daily Caller’s Charles C. Johnson got to her, she had her lines ironed out.
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 bottom line: She is paid in one way or another by the SETF and is its political director. In Washington-speak, political director usually means lobbyist. Not an unbiased observer and dealer of facts, but an advocate for hire to push a point of view.
We documented that point of view — support for the Syrian rebels, criticism for Israel when it took out a Hamas leader. Johnson teased out a bit more on that point of view.
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.
She also spent time pushing against the drive to designate Syria’s al Nusra as a terrorist group, late last year.
In December, O’Bagy opposed the Obama administration’s attempts to designate al-Nusra — a powerful Syrian rebel group — as a terror organization because of its ties to al-Qaida.
“I’m not saying they aren’t a terrorist group. But given the circumstances and given their cooperation with the opposition as a whole, designating them now would be disastrous,” O’Bagy said to McClatchy newspapers in December 2012.
In April 2013, al-Nusra pledged loyalty to al-Qaida.
O’Bagy told TheDC that she had opposed the terrorist designation because she feared it would damage the rebellion against Bashar al-Assad’s dictatorship.
“The point that I was trying to make in terms of al-Nusra being designated a terrorist organization was that at the time they had been embraced to a large degree by certain aspects of the population and they were very much seen as fighting for the cause,” she said. “I knew that designating them as a terrorist organization would have a very radicalizing impact on the ground. I wasn’t sure if that trend could be reversed. I was terrified that this could be an irreversible process of radicalization.”
O’Bagy told TheDC that she was wrong to consider al-Nusra anything but a terror group.
“I can admit when I’m wrong. In many ways al-Nusra has revealed its true face and many see it as a foreign influence and an outside group… Designating them a terrorist group has helped empower more moderate groups,” she said.
Here we go again with the “moderate” groups. What is a “moderate” in the context of Middle East politics and Syria’s civil war? That word is evidently being used here by a lobbyist to push a point of view that the facts do not support.
Fox News Channel corrected its use of O’Bagy as an expert tonight on Special Report. Anchor Brett Baier showed a photo of O’Bagy and noted her association with the SETF in detail. Now Congress needs to take a step and ask Secretary of State John Kerry and Sen. John McCain if they still stand by O’Bagy’s advocacy on behalf the “moderate” rebels. FrontPage’s article, ours, and the Daily Caller’s should be entered into the congressional record.
On an even more basic level, Kerry needs to be asked why he touted the work of a previously unknown policy advocate over the findings of US and other intelligence services.