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Thursday, September 13, 2007

Beyond Debat (updated)

In the post below, I outlined the controversy over Alexis Debat, the French "terror expert" turned ABC News journalist. Not only did Debat publish a fake interview with Barack Obama, certain claims he has made about his background have proven difficult to verify.

To my eyes, the questionable items in Debat's resume -- not to mention his expertise in the history of the CIA -- indicate that this man may have been recruited by the Agency at some point.

Now, Guillemette Faure of Rue 89 gives us the rest of the story (so far):
To our questions, Jeffrey Schneider, VP communication for the [ABC] network sent us this statement : "In May, officials of the French government told us of problems with Debat's Sorbonne credentials. After an immediate investigation we asked for and received his resignation and initiated a review of all his work as a consultant for ABC News. That review is ongoing. So far our on-going review has uncovered no issues with regard to his work as a consultant for ABC News. We take this matter very seriously and we will continue our exhaustive probe into his work."
Brian Ross has worked closely with Debat. Ross has done some eye-opening work recently -- for example, last July he spoke of a planned "terror spectacular," which he learned about from "law enforcement" sources. Before that, he helped to expose Mark Foley.

But in one high-profile case, Ross acted oddly. In an ABC broadcast, he denied that the DC Madam's client list -- to which he had early access -- included any "newsworthy" names. After Ross filed that report, we learned that the Madam's clients included Senator Vitter and SAIC's Ronald Roughead. Deborah Jeane Palfrey later told me that Ross, speaking off the record, had expressed a very different opinion of that list's newsworthiness. Palfrey seemed puzzled (and, frankly, a bit miffed) by the newsman's apparent turnaround.

Why did he turn? Did someone turn him?

In previous posts, we have discussed the possibility that Palfrey's ladies were used as the bait in a series of "honeytraps" designed to catch out individuals with access to sensitive information.

Yesterday, I outlined my reasons for suspecting that Alexis Debat has connections to the American CIA and, perhaps, French intelligence. This is the kind of story Debat might have learned about from the Agency.

ABC has published an apologetic story on l'affair Debat. They claim that they have yet to find any major errors in his reportage.

Other writers have treated Debat purely in terms of journalistic ethics. They have not discussed the "spooky" aspects of this controversy, even though Debat, in his writings, has evinced an attitude toward the CIA which some would characterize as allegiance. His thesis -- which may or may not have earned a doctorate from the Sorbonne -- was about the CIA. He has already written one book about the Agency and is working on another. I posit, but cannot prove, that Debat was recruited by American intelligence, which seeded him into one of the world's premier news organizations.

Of course, that sort of thing has happened before -- many times.

UPDATE: Another Debat interview, with Alan Greenspan, has been called into question. This fascinating Washington Post story includes a few details relevant to my argument:
Ross said Debat was "very, very knowledgeable" about al-Qaeda and such terror figures as Zacarias Moussaoui, and "his information was spot on. The stuff always checked out."
Ross said he asked Debat for a copy of his doctorate after a French official contacted the network through the embassy here. Debat said some French officials were "trying to take me down and discredit my reporting" because they were embarrassed that he was breaking stories on CIA covert operations.
These "breaking stories" did not seem to injure Debat's good relations with the Agency. So who fed him the information, and why? As this piece makes clear, Debat's reporting has paralleled Seymour Hersh's -- and his scoops have not proven helpful to the Bush administration. (I need not remind readers of the CIA/neocon split.)

I can easily see how some people in France might become infuriated by one of their own who had apparently transferred loyalties to an American espionage agency. Debat's statement implies that someone within French intelligence planted the Rue 89 stories.

Laura Rozen may harbor suspicions about Debat similar to my own. Read between the lines:
Seriously, imagine if a New York Times reporter put an ex NSC or CIA operative on the payroll for about $2,000 to $4,000 a month as a source, cited in articles as a source, and then sometimes let him or her report news stories with a byline, without glaringly indicating to readers what was going on. But this is what ABC was doing with Debat.
As I said earlier, the positioning of spooks within the journalistic community is a very serious matter. Just because this practice has a history does not mean it should have a future.
Comments:
Well, I think you are correct, Joseph. And as you say, this is not new. Anyone who's spent any time at all on the JFK assassination (and I know you have) knows that the CIA has had a heavy presence in the media since the 1950s, and their penetration of the industry in the US was so great by 1963 that they were able to effectively control the overall tone of assassination coverage as time went on, up to the present.

It surprises me only mildly that this story has become a story at all, but it should surprise no one that a mass media "class" that has learned to actively look the other way in such cases has failed to connect the dots and point out the scent of intelligence in this instance.
 
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