Digital Page-Shredding on SETF’s Website?

By Ben Barrack

There have definitely been some changes over at the Syrian Emergency Task Force (SETF) website since Senator John McCain and Secretary of State John Kerry put an op-ed by the group’s political director under a national spotlight last week. It began when McCain pointed to a Wall Street Journal article by Elizabeth O’Bagy in a September 3rd Senate Committee hearing. Kerry then referenced it in a House Committee hearing the following day.

Ahmad Soliman: Out at SETF

Ahmad Soliman: Out at SETF

While a page on SETF’s website relating to O’Bagy has apparently been digitally shredded, the group has apparently – and suddenly – lost a Research Associate named Ahmad Soliman. Check out the SETF Staff as of September 7th:


Just a short time later, the SETF Staff has apparently been downsized. And then there were three…


This reduction in staff – without so much as a press release announcing Soliman moving on to bigger and better things – begs a question. Why is O’Bagy still there when she has become the lightning rod and Soliman is quietly gone? There doesn’t appear to be any past information about Soliman available on the website either. One thing we can determine is where he went to College – the University of Michigan. A search for “SETF” “University of Michigan” and “Ahmad Soliman” yields one result but the link goes to a different page. The screenshot, however, reveals Ahmad’s status as a Wolverine alum:

Ahmad Soliman: Attended University of Michigan

Ahmad Soliman: Attended University of Michigan

This leads us to an Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) University of Michigan Reunion that took place one year ago in Washington, D.C. “Ahmad Soliman” was listed as an attendee.

Here is a video trailer promoting the event:

Of course, the ISNA is a Muslim Brotherhood group in America. In fact, when it comes to the Muslim Brotherhood in America, the Detroit / Dearborn area may be the primary hotbed. An Eventbrite site was created to promote the reunion. The guest speaker was identified as Mohammed Tayssir Safi, who was touted as the first “Muslim chaplain” of the University, hired by the Michigan Muslim Alumni Association (MMAA), the group who sponsored the event.

In an article published by the Michigan Daily on 9/10/12, Safi spoke about his role with the Muslim Student Association (MSA), another Muslim Brotherhood group:

Safi’s other responsibilities include advocating on behalf of the Muslim Student Association, working with religious figures on campus to encourage cooperation and tolerance, and assisting MSA with miscellaneous tasks — be it finding a speaker or offering advice.

He said he is a conduit both to and from the University’s Muslim community, not only raising MSA’s ambitions and concerns to the University but returning to MSA with the University’s thoughts and responses. {emphasis mine}

Safi: First Muslim Chaplain at Michigan

Safi: First Muslim Chaplain at Michigan

According to Discover the Networks, the MSA Chapter at the University of Michigan has “paricipated actively” with the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), another Muslim Brotherhood group.

In either 2011 or 2012, MMAA held the Tariq Ramadan Chaplain Fundraiser; Tariq Ramadan is the grandson of Hassan al-Banna, the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood.

We also know – thanks to another link which now goes to a different SETF webpage – that Soliman was once a Senior Policy fellow at the Defense and Diplomacy Center:

Ahmad Soliman: at Defense and Diplomacy Center before joining SETF

Ahmad Soliman: at Defense and Diplomacy Center before joining SETF

That leads to this video of Soliman from 2012 in which he can be seen with a Defense and Diplomacy poster behind him. Pay close attention beginning at the 1:00 mark. Soliman divulges that he is from Egypt and goes back there each summer. He also appears to have been a supporter of the Arab Spring:

The Egyptian Student Association (ESA) listed Soliman as its Vice President in 2010-2011.

With all the problems in Egypt today, why would Soliman – an Egyptian – be a Research Associate for the Syrian Emergency Task Force? Perhaps his ties to the Muslim Brotherhood go a long way toward answering that question.

The role of Soliman should be damaging for McCain, who says he knows who the rebels are and that they are “moderate”. Soliman’s role with the SETF is another in a long line of examples that would indicate McCain is very wrong, especially in light of Soliman’s sudden departure from the group.

As we noted, O’Bagy’s role with the SETF – as well as that role not being disclosed in her Wall Street Journal article – became a point of interest after McCain and Kerry referred to it without disclosing her role with SETF. Neil Cavuto pressed O’Bagy on that very issue on September 5th. A short time later, Fox’s Bret Baier distanced himself from having previously identified her as an independent expert, saying he was unaware of her relationship with the SETF (h/t JWF).

O’Bagy has had quite the time attempting to distance herself from being paid by SETF, especially since the group issued a press release announcing her joining SETF as Political Director (as Bryan Preston points out, this usually means “lobbyist”). As of September 7th, that press release was still up on the website. As of this posting, it is gone:

SETF Press Release announcing O'Bagy as Political Director digitally shredded?

SETF Press Release announcing O’Bagy as Political Director digitally shredded?

Here is a link to the archived version of the press release, via Wayback Machine. In case that version gets shredded too, here is the text of the entire press release:

SETF Welcomes Dr. Elizabeth O’Bagy to DC Staff

May 13, 2013

Washington,DC–The Syrian Emergency Task Force is excited to announce the addition of Elizabeth O’Bagy as Political Director to our team in Washington, D.C. She joins us from the prestigious Institute for the Study of War, where she served as a Senior Research Analyst for Syrian politics and security.

“We are thrilled to have Elizabeth on board. Her skill set, expertise on the situation in Syria, and experience in Washington and abroad are invaluable to the work of the Syrian Emergency Task Force both domestically and in Syria,” said SETF Board of Trustees Chairman Dr. Mohamed Kawam.

During her time at ISW, she traveled often to Syria where she earned her reputation as the leading expert on the armed opposition in the Syrian revolution. She has authored a number of publications on the topic including: “Jihad in Syria: The Rise of Jabhad al-Nusra, “Syria Update: Jabhat al-Nusra Aligns with Al-Qaeda”, and “Governance in Rebel-Held Syria.” She recently gained a Master’s in Arab Studies from Georgetown University. Prior to ISW, she received a Critical Language Scholarship to study arabic in Tangier Morocco and studied Arabic at the American University in Cairo.

The Syrian Emergency Task Force is a D.C. based non-profit organization created in March 2011 to convey the democratic aspirations of the Syrian people to Americans and the United States government. SETF also seeks to bring perpetrators in the Assad regime to justice through legal avenues in the United States. SETF provides policymakers with analysis and access to both the external and internal Syrian opposition. {emphasis mine}

Digital document shredding at the SETF indeed.

What say you, Mr. McCain?

McCain: Why did I cite O'Bagy?

McCain: Why did I cite O’Bagy?