France casts doubt on ex-ABC News worker

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PARIS -- The French Defense Ministry on Friday debunked the credentials of a former ABC News consultant who claimed to have worked as an adviser to the ministry, saying the man was just an intern for five months.

Alexis Debat, who was fired by the TV network last year, quit a Washington think tank Wednesday after being accused of faking an interview with Barack Obama.

Previously, he had been identified in stories by a range of media, including the Associated Press, as a former French Defense Ministry official or analyst. The National Interest, an online publication he wrote for, identified him as a "former adviser to the French minister of Defense on Transatlantic affairs."

But the ministry said Friday that the only trace it could find of Debat in its records was a five-month internship at a ministry advisory office in 2000 and one month of military service.

Debat never served in an office directly under the defense minister, and there was no sign that he worked as an official in other branches of the military, Defense Ministry spokesman Col. Patrick Chanliau said.

"He was never a functionary," he said. "In 2000, he did five months as an intern at the Delegation for Strategic Affairs. There you go. That's all I have."

That office is under the direct authority of the defense minister, advising on geopolitical and strategic affairs.

Ministry interns are often young students "who come here to discover a profession or to complement a course they are following," he said. "To go from that to presenting oneself as an adviser to the minister ... there is no such thing as intern adviser to the minister."

ABC News fired Debat because he could not authenticate his academic credentials. He is now at the center of a new dispute over apparently faked interviews with Obama, Bill Gates, Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi and others.

Debat quit the Nixon Center in Washington after Obama's representatives said an interview with the senator appearing under Debat's byline in the French magazine Politique Internationale never happened. The interview quoted the Democratic presidential candidate as saying the Iraq War was "a defeat for America."

Debat acknowledged to the AP on Thursday that he never conducted any of the interviews published under his byline.

The AP quoted Debat in stories in 2001 and 2004.

He was quoted in 2001, identified as a former French Defense Ministry analyst, a former French Defense Ministry official and as a U.S. desk officer for the Defense Ministry until 2000.

In one story, he said the U.S. and France had increased their intelligence-sharing.

He was the main source for another story in which he said police had found a notebook with codes that could help decipher messages within Osama bin Laden's terrorist network.

He was identified as a terrorism consultant in a 2004 story about CIA Director George Tenet's resignation. He was quoted as saying Tenet had a reputation as a yes-man for President Bush.

The AP has launched a review of the stories in which he provided information.
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