As Mother Jones first reported last week, Alexis Debat, the terrorism expert and former ABC News consultant who published alleged interviews with the likes of Barack Obama that he had not in fact conducted, has claimed to associates over the past year to have received “a large chunk of money” from the Pentagon for a study concerning radical Islam. I have since been told that Debat was preparing a study on Islamic warfare, and that his client, albeit indirectly, was Andrew Marshall, head of the Pentagon’s Office of Net Assessment, a kind of in-house think tank.
Here’s the story. On September 17, Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Karen Finn, a spokeswoman for the policy office, told me that the Defense Department did not have a direct contract with Debat, but “DOD does have a contract with the company [Debat] works for … I suggest you contact his employer for additional information.” The employer she referred me to was the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments (CSBA), a think tank headed by defense analyst Andrew Krepinevich (Debat also, until last week, had a relationship with the Nixon Center, a think tank that describes itself as “America’s realist voice”).
Krepinevich told Mother Jones that he had hired Debat as a consultant in April 2007 to provide analytical support overseeing a contract from the Pentagon Office of Net Assessment, but that he was in the process of severing it; he later sent me an email saying that the “relationship has been terminated, effective today.”
“We had a contract with the Pentagon to do some work,” he told me. “We hired Alexis to support us in that work. His sole arrangement with us was as a consultant.”
“We didn’t know the extent to which his background was misrepresented,” Krepinevich added. “Once we identified and confirmed it, like others, we severed it.”
Krepinevich did confirm that the contract in question was from the Pentagon Office of Net Assessment, but would not reveal the exact topic. Two other sources who had heard of the contract told me it concerned a study of Islamic warfare.
Krepinevich’s online bio indicates that he formerly worked in the Pentagon Office of Net Assessment. He has also written an account of the Army’s failures in Vietnam. CSBA “gets a significant percentage of our revenue from government and also foundations,” he said.
“One of the concerns you might have is that he was somehow influencing U.S. policy,” Krepinevich said. “We were fortunate in a sense that in this circumstance, it was discovered before things proceeded very far. The reports he provided to us don’t exist.”
“I feel badly,” Krepinevich added. “This was a person at the Nixon Center. He did work at ABC.” At the time, he said, he felt that, “If they vetted him, I don’t need to worry so much.”
“One thing: the Nixon center, ABC, CSBA—we are all in the information business,” Krepinevich added. “We are in the business of looking at what’s going on in the world and adding some value to that. In the information business, if the information is blatantly wrong, I can’t count on the credibility of it.”
Krepinevich also expressed concern about Debat’s wellbeing, a point raised by other associates and sources. Some suggested that Debat might move to the Middle East; others that he should take his story to Hollywood.
I asked Krepinevich what the moral of the story might be. He thought about it, and responded: “We live in the information age, in a time when people’s demand for instant and insightful and incisive analysis of issues is at all time high. And you have this voracious competition between various news services, on the air 24 hours a day, seven days a week, competing who can break the story first. … And the person who in a sense says I have the special access, I can provide tremendous value added—the temptation is to buy the sizzle before you inspect the steak.”