The disgraced ABC consultant and the push for war in Iran

There’s a huge new media scandal breaking this morning, and the headline so far — that a much-used consultant to ABC News published a phony interview with Barak Obama — may well be the tip of the proverbial iceberg. The news about now ex-ABC consultant Alexis Debat (left) is just dribbling out, but I’m surprised people haven’t been connecting the dots. This post will seek to connect a couple of them.

Simply put, Debat – a former French defense official who now works at the (no, you can’t make these things up) Nixon Center — has also been a leading source in pounding the drumbeat for war in Iran, and directly linked to some bizarre stories — reported on ABC’s widely watched news shows, and nowhere else — that either ratcheted up fears of terrorism or that could have stoked new tensions between Washington and Tehran.

Ironically, while Debat’s alleged specialty is foreign affairs, it was a foray into American presidential politics that brought this budding scandal out into the open. This from today’s article by Howard Kurtz in the Washington Post:

A former consultant to ABC’s investigative unit admitted yesterday that he put his name on a purported interview with Barack Obama that he never conducted.

Alexis Debat, a former French defense official who now works at the Nixon Center, published the interview in the French magazine Politique Internationale. He said he had hired a freelance journalist to conduct the interview, in which the Democratic presidential candidate supposedly said that Iraq was “already a defeat for America” that has “wasted thousands of lives.” Debat said he had been unable to locate the intermediary, and the Obama campaign says no such interview took place.

“I was scammed,” Debat said. “I was very, very stupid. I made a huge mistake in signing that article and not checking his credentials.”

But that’s not the only red flag about Debat’s credibility. It turns out that ABC News fired Debat as a consultant in June when it discovered that he had lied about earning a Ph.D. from the prestigious Sorbonne. According to the Post, ABC News also checked our Debat’s work for the network and didn’t find anything wrong. Today they say they’e checking again, and they should. Most recently, since ending his role with ABC, Debat helped raise a big international stir by pounding the drums for a U.S. attack on Iran.

The report came in the Rupert Murdoch-owned Times of London, right after rumors swept through Washington that aides to Vice President Dick Cheney were planning to use friendly news outlets — including several others owned by Murdoch — to whip up popular opinion for attacking Iran.

This story appeared in Murdoch’s Times on Sept. 2, 2007:

THE Pentagon has drawn up plans for massive airstrikes against 1,200 targets in Iran, designed to annihilate the Iranians’ military capability in three days, according to a national security expert.

Alexis Debat, director of terrorism and national security at the Nixon Center, said last week that US military planners were not preparing for “pinprick strikes” against Iran’s nuclear facilities. “They’re about taking out the entire Iranian military,” he said.

Debat was speaking at a meeting organised by The National Interest, a conservative foreign policy journal. He told The Sunday Times that the US military had concluded: “Whether you go for pinprick strikes or all-out military action, the reaction from the Iranians will be the same.” It was, he added, a “very legitimate strategic calculus”.

Needless to say, the new information about Debat calls this story into question — big-time, as Cheney himself might say. But what is really going on? Is Debat pulling sensational stories from thin air, as was the case with Obama, to make a name for himself? Or in his role at the Nixon Center — which still has close ties to Henry Kissinger and others in the conservatve foreign policy establishment like former Secretary of State James Baker, who spoke there recently– is he serving a higher agenda of spin?

If you look at the stories on which ABC News has acknowledged Debat’s work, many of the reports came from left field. Do you remember this report from June, on which ABC has apparently acknowldged Debat was a consultant?

Large teams of newly trained suicide bombers are being sent to the United States and Europe, according to evidence contained on a new videotape obtained by the Blotter on ABCNews.com.

Teams assigned to carry out attacks in the United States, Canada, Great Britain and Germany were introduced at an al Qaeda/Taliban training camp graduation ceremony held June 9.

A Pakistani journalist was invited to attend and take pictures as some 300 recruits, including boys as young as 12, were supposedly sent off on their suicide missions.

How did ABC get this alarmist video — at a time when government officials in Washington seemed to be ramping up fears over new terrorist attacks at home, going into the congressional debate over reauthorizing the government’s eavesdropping program and maintaining troop levels in Iraq? Did Debat play any role?

Ross acknowleged yesterday that Debat was a source on this controversial report regarding U.S. efforts in Iran, back in April:

A Pakistani tribal militant group responsible for a series of deadly guerrilla raids inside Iran has been secretly encouraged and advised by American officials since 2005, U.S. and Pakistani intelligence sources tell ABC News.

The group, called Jundullah, is made up of members of the Baluchi tribe and operates out of the Baluchistan province in Pakistan, just across the border from Iran.

It has taken responsibility for the deaths and kidnappings of more than a dozen Iranian soldiers and officials.

Debat has also reportedly helped ABC analyze terrorism inside Saudi Arabia, and provided his “expert” commentary and information on stories ranging from the 2005 London bombings to the trial of his fellow Frenchman, al-Qaeda member Zacarias Moussaoui. His work should cause a re-examination of all of ABC News’ investigative reporting on both terrorism and Iran over the last couple of years, because — wittingly or unwittingly — no other network has better served the Bush agenda in the Middle East.

For example, no story raised tension on the Iranian front more than this one — which was instantly discredited by several knowledgable experts:

Iran has more than tripled its ability to produce enriched uranium in the last three months, adding some 1,000 centrifuges which are used to separate radioactive particles from the raw material.

The development means Iran could have enough material for a nuclear bomb by 2009, sources familiar with the dramatic upgrade tell ABC News.

The sources say the unexpected expansion is taking place at Iran’s nuclear enrichment plant outside the city of Natanz, in a hardened facility 70 feet underground.

Was Debat — who was aggressively working with Ross on other Iran stories at the time — one of the sources on this, as well? If so, it would fit with Debat’s modus operandi on the Times of London article.

As noted at the top, there are two radically different ways to look at this scandal. Either Debat is a lone wolf, a deluded self-aggrandizer whose main agenda is promoting himself. Or he is acting in his role at the Nixon Center as a conduit, spreading information and occasional disinformation at the behest of others.

Either way, this is unarguably yet another huge black eye for the American media. But if the latter is true, it could also raise major questions about American foreign policy, and about the future of war and peace in the Persian Gulf.

Update: Laura Rozen has a lot more on this.
http://www.attytood.com/2007/09/the_disgraced_abc_consultant_a.html