❮ Return to Our Work

Blog Post | March 23, 2021

Revolver Spotlight: Elizabeth Rosenberg

ClimateExecutive BranchForeign PolicyRevolving DoorTreasury Department
Revolver Spotlight: Elizabeth Rosenberg

Elizabeth Rosenberg, a lesser-known Obama-era official who served as a Senior Advisor on Terrorist Financing and Financial Intelligence in the Treasury Department from 2009 to 2013, has recently returned to the Treasury Department as a Counselor to the Deputy Secretary. According to recent reports, she also remains under active consideration to lead Treasury’s Terrorism and Financial Intelligence unit. The position, which would require Senate confirmation, is responsible for developing strategies for combating lines of financial support to rogue nations, domestic and international terrorists, and other threats to national security. 

Rosenberg’s work both during and after the Obama administration should raise significant concerns. She has designed and repeatedly defended punitive sanctions that have caused profound humanitarian suffering, helped powerful corporations gain close access to the highest levels of government, and championed environmentally-harmful policies as vital to national security. 

Here are just a few of the most concerning highlights from Rosenberg’s work in and out of government:

Rosenberg helped design and defend draconian economic sanctions regimes.

  • In a 2016 CNAS Report, Rosenberg and co-author Peter Harrell broadly praised the “success of sanctions in advancing U.S. policy toward Iran, Russia, and other key national security priorities in recent years” and argued for ensuring that sanctions remained “a valuable, vital, and effective asset for the next president.” As Peter Beinart noted, sanctions have supplemented missile strikes and raise as a “less visible form of coercion and death.” . These economic blockades make life much harder for citizens in the countries the United States targets, but are largely ineffective on adversary governments. 
  • While serving in the Obama Treasury Department’s Office of Terrorism and Financial Intelligence (TFI), Rosenberg helped develop and implement financial and energy sanctions against several nations, including Iran. While Rosenberg praised these sanctions for compelling Iran to begin nuclear talks, researchers at Human Rights Watch and Stanford have found that Obama-era sanctions on Iran devastated the Iranian people, causing mass unemployment, skyrocketing food prices, and medicine shortages.
  • After leaving the Treasury, Rosenberg continued to praise punitive sanctions policy, writing in 2015 that a bipartisan Venezuelan sanctions bill “effectively and efficiently achieved U.S. foreign policy goals while avoiding harm to the innocent.” That same year, President Obama cited the precedent of the Venezuela sanctions bill to impose sweeping further sanctions against Venezuela and declare the country a national security threat. A 2019 UN Report by rapporteur Alfred de Zayas criticized these sanctions as “economic warfare” and concluded they could amount to “crimes against humanity.”
  • In 2017, Rosenberg testified before Congress in support of stronger sectoral sanctions on North Korea, urging lawmakers to target the country’s “mining, energy, light manufacturing, transportation, and construction sectors.” A 2019 report from humanitarian watchdog organization Korea Peace Now blasted sectoral sanctions against North Korea for “directly contributing to the deaths of innocent civilians” by causing medical shortages, diminished agricultural production, lack of access to clean water, and an inability to access humanitarian assistance. 

Rosenberg was a senior fellow at the hawkish, corporate-funded think tank Center for a New American Security (CNAS), where she repeatedly pushed for environmentally-destructive policies that would benefit dirty energy companies.

  • From 2013 to 2021, Rosenberg was a Senior Fellow and Director of the Economics and Security Program at the Center for a New American Security (CNAS), a hawkish think tank designed to be a hub for the Democratic Party establishment’s foreign policy. CNAS is heavily financed by major defense, tech, and fossil fuel companies, including Northrop Grumman, Lockheed Martin, BAE Systems, Raytheon, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Amazon, Palantir, Chevron, BP America, and Exxon Mobil. A recent report from the Revolving Door Project found that CNAS has routinely advocated for policies that would directly benefit their donors. 
  • While at CNAS, Rosenberg co-authored policy papers and testified before Congress in support of accelerated American liquefied natural gas (LNG) exports and pipeline infrastructure investment in Europe as a means of countering Russia during the Crimean annexation crisis. The Sierra Club and other climate organizations, who maintain that fracking and LNG extraction are incompatible with sustainable climate goals, blasted the push for LNG exports as a “red herring” and argued it would mainly benefit the fossil fuel industry at the expense of “American families’ health, land, water and air.” 
  • Rosenberg co-authored a 2015 CNAS Paper and testified before Congress in support of repealing the 1975 crude oil export ban, arguing that repeal would “expand [U.S.] economic vitality and national security.” Rosenberg’s position was fiercely opposed by the United Steelworkers and the Sierra Club, who sent a joint letter to Congress urging against lifting the ban due to its catastrophic environmental and labor effects. Progressive Democrats in Congress similarly opposed the repeal effort, with 11 Democratic Senators writing a letter to then-President Barack Obama urging against lifting the ban. When the ban was eventually lifted in 2016, the fossil fuel industry lobbying group American Petroleum Institute praised the repeal as an “important first step” in modernizing America’s energy infrastructure.
  • In a 2016 CNAS paper, Rosenberg and her co-authors called for increased federal public investment and incentives for private sector investment in energy technologies like carbon capture and sequestration, a proposed method of reducing carbon emissions by capturing, transporting, and storing emitted carbon dioxide deep underground. While federal support for initiatives such as carbon capture would help control overall emissions levels, climate analysts such as Kate Aronoff have noted how these initiatives easily become public relations tools of the fossil fuel industry.  

Rosenberg was a senior advisor at corporate consultancy WestExec Advisors, an “administration-in-waiting” whose alumni have gone on to accept powerful positions in the Biden administration.

  • From 2019 to 2021, Rosenberg was a senior advisor at the Tony Blinken-founded corporate consultancy WestExec Advisors. WestExec has carefully avoided registering as a lobbying firm to avoid disclosing its clients, despite doing much of the work that traditional lobbying shops do. The firm has previously come under fire for failing to openly disclose their clients by journalists, activists, and lawmakers.
  • A partial list of WestExec clients has been revealed by financial disclosures filed by former firm partners who have since joined the Biden Administration. They include investment giant Blackstone, Bank of America, Facebook, Uber, McKinsey & Company, Softbank, Gilead Pharmaceuticals, investment bank Lazard, Boeing AT&T, Royal Bank of Canada, LinkedIn, and Sotheby’s Auction House. 
  • Among WestExec’s most controversial clients was Google, which employed WestExec to help secure the lucrative Project Maven contract with the Defense Department for deploying AI technology in drone warfare. Google faced intense scrutiny over this initiative, with many of Google’s own employees protesting the contract 

Rosenberg mischaracterized the U.S. role in the Saudi-Yemen war and pushed for continued U.S. support for the Saudi Coalition. 

  • Rosenberg, in both a 2017 op-ed and 2019 CNAS paper, characterized American support for the brutal Saudi-led military intervention in Yemen as “limited” and claimed that the Obama administration “chose for the most part to stay out” of the conflict. Rosenberg’s claims flew directly in the face of well-documented evidence that the Obama administration — including then-Deputy Secretary of State Tony Blinken — wholeheartedly provided the Saudi-UAE coalition with intelligence, refuelling support, and tens of billions of dollars in weapons.  
  • In a 2019 CNAS paper on US-Iran relations, Rosenberg and her colleagues proposed offering Saudi Arabia a “take-it-or-leave-it deal” with two options: granting the United States greater responsibility in the Yemeni Civil War or a suspension of US military aid. The authors claim that increased U.S. involvement, which would involve redeployment of U.S. troops and advisors would ensure more humanitarian wartime conditions and bring a quick end to the conflict. They argue that instability in Yemen threatens global trade and U.S. national security, hence, the executive branch should work on building support for a more interventionist approach in the conflict. 

PHOTO: “CNAS 2017 Annual Conference: Navigating the Divide” by Center for a New American Security is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0.

ClimateExecutive BranchForeign PolicyRevolving DoorTreasury Department

Related Articles

More articles by Vishal Shankar

❮ Return to Our Work