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 on 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, said Col. Patrick Chanliau, a Defense Ministry spokesman.
"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."
In a telephone interview from the Washington area, Debat insisted Friday he was not an intern but a paid contractor for the Defense Ministry's Delegation for Strategic Affairs.
"I was not a Defense Ministry employee. I had a short-term position" as a contractor on the Transatlantic affairs desk from January to June 2000, Debat told the AP.
"I was the only one on that desk," he said. "I had an office, I had a paycheck, I had a status."
A Defense Ministry duty officer said late Friday that ministry officials would not be immediately available to respond to Debat's version of events.
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 Barack 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 United States 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.
Associated Press Writer Angela Charlton contributed to this report.