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Jack Idema

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Idema at his trial in Kabul.
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[Idema was] a true sociopath. A charmer who was omnipotent and the epitome of evil.
—Penny Alessi, who was Idema's ex-girlfriend.[1]
According to an aid director, Idema announced that his aim in the country was “to kill every Afghan I see.”
New York Magazine[2]

Jonathan "Jack" Idema (who also went by Keith)[2] (1956–2012) was an American former soldier, vigilante, mercenary, and War on Terror grifter who is best known for extrajudicially torturing suspected "Islamists"[note 1] in Afghanistan. He claimed at various times to be a businessman, author, "super-terrorist" hunter, drug and gun smuggler, security consultant, and CIA paramilitary operator. He ran cons from Kabul to Uzbekistan, and died of AIDS in Mexico.[3]

Military service[edit]

A younger Jack Idema, presumably while he was still with the Green Berets.

From an early age Idema was obsessed with the military. As Rolling Stone explains:

As a child, Idema saw the John Wayne Vietnam War movie The Green Berets and immediately decided to drop his dream of becoming a veterinarian in favor of becoming a Special Forces soldier.[4]

Idema liked to claim that he served with distinction in the Green Berets.Wikipedia While it is true that Idema served with the Green Berets, what he actually did was far less glamorous than front-line duty.[5] Idema was reported by the brass as being a lazy and incompetent soldier. In particular he was cited for "failure to obey orders, being derelict in the performance of his duty, and being disrespectful to a superior commanding officer."[6] One officer, Captain John D. Carlson, once remarked that Idema was "without a doubt the most unmotivated, unprofessional, immature enlisted man I have ever known."[7]:241

Idema's qualifications did include identification as a pistol expert and badges for "scuba and parachute training," but as mentioned above there is no evidence Idema ever heard a shot "fired in anger" during his time in the military.[4]

After a very short stint with the Green Berets, Idema entered reserve. He remained in reserve until he was discharged in 1984.[5]

According to Idema, after he left the military he served as a "US military advisor" in El Salvador and Honduras during the mid-1980s, and claimed that while he was supposedly "serving" in Honduras he served as part of an "SMU," meaning "Special Missions Unit."[4] While Idema was never able to actually provide proof for these claims,[note 2] there were supposedly classified military records[note 3] that would prove his claims.[4]

Surprisingly some of Idema's stories can be independently verified. Idema did actually train guards to protect American interests in Haiti during the 1980s, and he "worked in some capacity" with the Thai military.[4] The verification for these exploits came in documentation provided to Peter Bergen by Idema's former business partner Thomas Bumback. During the 1980s Bumback and Idema ran a "counterterrorism training facility" that catered to a diverse clientele, including, of all people, Saint Ronnie's son.[4]

Idema's (domestic) criminal career[edit]

See the main article on this topic: Crime

Idema was wanted by the US government for a standing warrant in North Carolina until the time of his death in Mexico. Idema went into business selling military clothing after being discharged from service, and in the 90s was charged with fraudulently running a shell company bilking suppliers "of items valued more than $200,000." Idema served four years in prison for wire fraud.Wikipedia After Idema was released from prison he would maintain that the FBI were out to get him, a claim he would maintain until his death.[3] To quote McClatchy DC:

According to records, he was charged with more than three dozen other crimes in North Carolina, among them assault on a female, assault with a deadly weapon, passing worthless checks, assault by pointing a gun and reckless driving.[3]

Lithuanian nuke smugglers[edit]

Idema was contacted by the Lithuanian authorities in 1993 to train their police forces. While there, Idema claimed to have uncovered "evidence" of a nuclear weapon smuggling ring.[note 4] This was complete bullshit of course, but that didn't stop Idema from contacting the FBI about this. The FBI requested Idema provide his sources. Idema refused, claiming the FBI was infested with KGB goons who would kill his sources if they were exposed.[2]

Keep in mind that Idema was actively being investigated by the FBI for the aforementioned wire fraud during this time, showcasing just how much of a colossal dumbass Idema really was.[4]

According to David Albright, one of the world's foremost experts on nuclear profileration, the urban legend that nukes were being sold in suitcases was just that: an urban legend.[4] This didn't stop Idema from peddling this nonsense, of course. Never let fact get in the way of a good story and all that.

Marriage and 9/11[edit]

While in prison for the aforementioned wire fraud, Idema began a correspondence with a woman he never met, named Viktoria Running Wolf. Running Wolf eventually married Idema.[4] After being released from prison, Idema and Running Wolf, both being dog lovers, decided to start a pet hotel business. Of course, 9/11 came and went, and Idema lost his fucking mind.[4] Idema became "obsessed" with the idea of vengeance against nebulous brown-skinned foreigners after that:

I had a house and a hot tub, and I had a beautiful wife. I was making good money... And then they blew the fucking World Trade Center up; my whole life changed. I’m a fucking New Yorker. I’m going to kill every goddamn one of them until I drop dead.[4]

Afghan misadventures[edit]

The Road to El Dorado[edit]

Shortly after 9/11, Idema contacted a friend of his from National Geographic, a television producer by the name of Gary Scurka. Idema asked Scurka if he "wanted to document some humanitarian work [Idema] was planning in Afghanistan."[4] Scurka said yes, of course. However, almost from the get-go things went to shit. In October Idema and Scurka had arrived in Uzbekistan, only to be detained for "not having passports."[4] Idema worked his contacts in the American government and got the intrepid duo released.[4] Idema and Scurka then traveled to Tajikistan, where they met up with cameraman Neil Barret. Barret recalled thinking, upon meeting Idema:

This is the guy who is going to take us into Afghanistan? ... One of his first comments to me was: Did I have an exit strategy? And I’m thinking, ‘I have walked into a fucking movie.'[4]

Idema and co had finally managed to cross the border into Afghanistan when they met up with Ed Artis, a man who ran a private charity dedicated to providing relief work to "some of the most dangerous places in the world."[4] However, Artis quickly came to hate Idema, once calling him "the dumbest fuck I have ever met."[4]

Idema, according to Artis, actually intended to provide military supplies to the Northern Alliance,Wikipedia which was a coalition representing the anti-Taliban resistance at the time. This ended up jeopardizing Artis' humanitarian work in a big way.[4] On the fourth day of filming, Scurka got shot in the leg, and had to be flown back to the US.[4] This quickly ended Idema's documentary prospects,[note 5] but Jack was not to be deterred. A few weeks later Idema sauntered up to journalists covering the Battle of Tora Bora,Wikipedia where bin Laden and al-Qaeda were holed up at the time. Many journalists were "pleasantly surprised" to find a dude who looked like a special forces operator willing to talk to the press.[4]

Among Idema's many dubious exploits, one particular amusing, if telling, one was when he once fooled an Afghan warlord into believing he was training his men on the US military's behalf, only to instead use these men as security detail for foreign journalists.[3] Another one of the many dubious honors Idema can lay claim to is his successful hoodwinking of the mainstream media over alleged "tapes" he supposedly caught of Al-Qaeda training footage showing men in balaclavas training for raids[note 6] and hostage-taking. 60 Minutes was incredibly eager to get their hands on this obviously fake footage. In reality Idema hired local civilians to cosplay as terrorists so he could milk a fuck-ton of cash from credulous "journalists" in the heavily Islamophobic environment of post-9/11 America.[2]

Idema's most infamous dishonor was where he ran an unsanctioned private prison in Kabul where he kidnapped Afghan civilians and tortured them in what has been called a "miniature Abu Ghraib."[2] To quote The New Yorker:

Early press reports indicated that three prisoners found in Idema’s custody during the raid were blindfolded and beaten and strapped to the ceiling by their feet; five others were tied to chairs with rope in a small, dark room down a hall that was littered with bloodied clothing.[2]

None of the men abducted and tortured by this wannabe vigilante psychopath were found to have connections to Al-Qaeda.[2][note 7] Just days before Idema's arrest, CBS received a video of Idema brandishing an assault rifle showing off his victims. CBS reporter Dan Rather hoped to travel to Afghanistan to interview Idema's supposed "terror suspects," and Idema had been in regular contact with Rather since 2002.[2]

What allowed such a conman to operate so freely and openly? Part of the blame can be laid at Idema's charisma. He had managed to worm his way into even American military bases, but a lot more of it can be blamed on the frankly unregulated and unmonitored environment brought about by the hysteria following 9/11. Dan Rathers describes Idema as fitting right in with Afghanistan's "Wild West" character, and with it being difficult to tell if any uniformed agent was who they said they were, Idema did indeed fit right in.[2][note 8]

The Fraudulent Hunt for bin Laden[edit]

How to successfully grift a world famous author in three simple steps!

Idema had even managed to hoodwink famous author and wartime correspondent Robin Moore,Wikipedia[note 9] who wrote a book based on Idema's bullshit titled The Hunt For Bin Laden. It portrays Idema as a "titanic presence" on the front, even claiming Idema was the "only Special Forces agent on the ground conducting intelligence."[2] Idema had actually provided most of the photography for the book, and could even be credited with ghost-writing the abomination.[4] Moore had even thanked an "anonymous Green Beret"[note 10] for constant "day-and-night rewrites in the final months."[4]

To give an example of Idema's excessive self-aggrandizement, we're going to quote a section from the book as follows:

In January, Jack uncovered an al-Qaida plot to kill President Clinton. In March, standing in the middle of a Kabul street armed with a Russian assault rifle and six hundred rounds of ammunition, Jack held off Islamic fundamentalists for four hours as they tried to take eighteen foreign citizens hostage, keeping them at bay until Engineer Ali and the Northern Alliance arrived to back him up. By the end of March, Jack was in a Northern Alliance helicopter on his way to the Nahrin earthquake, where the Associated Press photographed the lone American rescuing a little girl. She wasn’t the first child he would save, or the last.[2]

Idema claimed that all of this was true, despite there being no independent evidence for it.[4] Of course, one thing Idema did leave out that can be independently verified is when he shot at a skeptical journalist at a Kabul bar.[4] We even have the testimony of the journalist Idema had shot at:

This reporter was five feet away from Mr. Idema on April 20, 2002, when he drew a pistol during an argument and fired a bullet that went through a couch and lodged in a wall behind me … missing my heart by about eight inches.[4]

When asked if this was true, Idema said it was, although he stressed that the journalist was on the other side of the room from Idema when it happened.[4][note 11]

The book quickly became a best-seller, but Moore was soon to learn that he had been scammed. Critical reviews (including by some Special Forces agents) led Moore to seek review and advice from actual operators, but when Moore went to his publisher to try to get them to issue these changes, they refused. Idema retaliated, as usual, by alleging conspiracy, claiming that a shadowy cabal of special forces agents had "allegedly threatened and coerced 77-year-old Robin Moore, who suffers from Parkinson’s disease, into submitting the changes to the already copyrighted bestseller."[2] Idema filed suit against these and several other groups, including Fox News, who had dropped Idema as an expert consultant when they realized he was too full of shit even for them.[2]

Coasting off the financial success of this book, Idema founded a company called "The Hunt for Bin Laden LLC." Over time, Idema's behavior became "increasingly erratic." He reportedly bulldozed his apartment living room with a "samurai sword," choked his girlfriend, and forged a letter from Fox News to justify his lawsuit against the network.[2] Idema would soon be charged with mail fraud for all this bullshit.[2]

Idema responded by fleeing the country, back to his usual stomping grounds in Kabul. Once there, Idema was quick to set up his own paramilitary group/gang of thugs ostentatiously called "Task Force Saber 7" consisting of him, another former soldier named Brent Bennet, and TV cameraman Eddie Caraballo, who Idema had hired to film a "documentary" featuring Idema's "exploits" in the war against Al-Qaeda. Idema hired four local mercenaries, and began rounding up Afghan civilians as "suspected terrorists."[2] Horrifyingly, NATO forces assisted Idema in at least three of his raids, and on at least one occasion US troops took into custody a "suspect" Task Force Saber 7 had abducted from the streets.[2]


Idema being escorted to a Kabul courtroom by Afghani policemen.

What would finally do Idema in, however, was when he fell for the same hubristic trap that the soldiers at Abu Ghraib did. He took photos and then sent them to various US-based friends. These photos contained graphic content of Idema and his hired thugs brutally torturing Afghan civilians, and one of these friends forwarded the files to American authorities. Soon afterwards, wanted posters of Idema would be posted all over Kabul. Idema was arrested on May 5th, where Afghan police found the incriminating evidence.[2]

Idema claimed throughout his trial to be acting with NATO sanction[note 12] but the judge presiding over the case summarily dismissed these arguments and found Idema guilty. There was some footage presented that had audio of Idema engaging in talks with US General William Boykin's office over a planned raid on a terrorist facility. Of course, this should be taken with a grain of salt as Idema is demonstrably not a reliable character, having faked footage before for his own gain.[2]

The trial itself would prove especially surreal. There was "only one good microphone," which would be moved from lawyer to judge depending on "who was talking." Idema would often light cigarettes and then give impromptu news conferences while he was supposed to be at trial.[8] At one point, Idema grabbed a copy of the Qur'an and kissed it, prompting the largely Afghan audience to break out into a cheer of applause. One of Idema's accusers even shouted out "God is great!" at the sight of this absurd display.[8]

On the sixth day of the trial Idema would on occasion take control of the entire courtroom. At one point he even explained the "goals" of his Afghan adventurism to the judges in a manner as if they were children.[8] Idema's world was "one of spies and intrigue, of good guys and bad guys." Idema would mention that his passport was given by a "special agency in Washington, DC" that he could not name. He would talk about his missions, including one mission to deliver a "package," a supposed term of art for "high-value target".[8] His defense even featured footage of a blacked out person, who remained anonymous for "security reasons".[8]

As mentioned above, the judges would summarily dismiss Idema's defense. At one point the chief judge Abdul Baset Bakhtiari told the defense team that the judge team could not read the statements of the defense team. Bakhtiari also refused to allow Idema's defense to provide documentation that Idema alleged would show evidence of NATO sanctioning.[8] According to the Chicago Tribune the only sign of "recent communication" between the FBI and Idema was a package sent by the Feds to Idema, but it is "unknown" what the package contained.[8][note 13]

Idema's defense team declared that the trial of the "Kabul trio" (Idema and his two American allies/co-conspirators) were not up to international standards.[8] The American authorities, however, declared that Idema and his fellow defendants should be tried by Afghan, and not American, law. In addition the US military, who had previously received inmates from Idema, distanced themselves from Idema and declared him to be a "fraud."[8]

One wonders if this is because Idema's actions were "embarrassing" for the US. However, the US was not the only nation embarrassed to be associated with Idema. Afghan governmental officials were caught on camera meeting with Idema.[8] To be fair to these Afghan officials, Idema actively styled himself as a special forces operator, and many people did believe his bullshit.[8]

Upon being sentenced, Idema threatened violence:

After being sentenced, Idema, a former U.S. Special Forces soldier once convicted of fraud, swore several times, suggested that he might kill a couple of people before any appeal and mentioned a "bloodbath."[8]

Idema proceeded to insinuate that the prosecution and presiding tribunal were affiliated with the Taliban.[8] He even went as far as to call insinuate that the prosecution had the "same sick sense of justice" as the Taliban, which is particularly ironic coming from a man who ran a private torture facility.[8]

Idema would ultimately be sentenced to ten years in prison. His co-conspirator Brent Bennet received the same sentence, while the journalist Idema had hired, Eddie Caraballo, received eight years.[8]

After the trial and sentencing, Idema and his co-conspirators were sent to Pul-e-Charkhi prison, one of the most dangerous jails in the world. Idema's stay in Afghani jail, however, was comparable to living in a mansion suite. To quote McClatchy DC:

Idema, though, somehow managed to land in an apartment-style cell with luxurious carpets, satellite television and a private bathroom and dining area. He had a pet dog, a phone and access to the internet, which he used to make more mischief, tormenting his enemies and threatening legal action.[3]


Idema's attorney, the New Jersey-based John Tiffany, also implicated the US government itself for enabling people like Idema to thrive:

It’s unconscionable. The government announces $25 million rewards for terror suspects, then acts surprised when people run over to Afghanistan to hunt them. People like Keith Idema are indispensable to this war.[2]

Long before the War on Terror ever started, Idema had dreamed of being a "real-life Rambo."Wikipedia The New Yorker argues that Idema's childhood fantasy is what led him on this stupid and pointless quest long past the point of reasonability.[2] To quote The New Yorker again:

Instead, he replenished his morale with another tour of far more dubious duty on the Afghan fronts. There’s a certain tragic symmetry in Idema’s goading himself into ever greater and more reckless acts of self-dramatizing valor; in that sense, Idema was very much his own worst enemy.[2]

The New Yorker also argues that the media played a role in enabling Idema just as much as the American government did. To quote John Tiffany:

My client was all over the media. He was an expert on news programs. He was on the cover of a best-selling book.[2]


See the main article on this topic: blowback

Al-Qaeda was all too eager to use Idema's actions to paint all Americans in Afghanistan as "torturers." In at least two videos, they featured footage of Idema torturing his prisoners. One video Al-Qaeda released showed Idema threatening to kill one of his hostages during an "interrogation."[9] Al-Qaeda used these videos to state that Idema's presence in Afghanistan was a case of state-sponsored terror, but the US denied any official connection with Idema.[10]

Life after prison and death[edit]

A picture of Idema provided to Wired by Penny Alessi.
...because of love & stupidity, my life will never be the same, whatever is left of it.
—Idema's ex-girlfriend Penny Alessi, who believes that Idema intentionally infected her with STDs.[1]

Idema's sentence was commuted by the President of Afghanistan at the time. Knowing that he still had outstanding warrants in the States, Idema at first fled to Dubai, where he tried to set up a drug and gun smuggling ring. When this failed, he fled to Mexico.[3] Idema settled in a Middle East-styled turreted house and began piloting a charter boat for tourists. Much of this would be funny if it weren't for the fact that Idema left a trail of victims in his wake. Idema was undeniably intelligent, as his ex-girlfriend Penny Alessi recalls. He would write most of his legal briefs himself.[3] To quote McClatchy DC again:

Few con artists could worm their way into helping Moore, the author of “The Green Berets,” write a book. And few could come up with such strong legal arguments for so many spurious causes, he said.[3]

Idema's problems however "went beyond criminality," as he was a pathological liarWikipedia who needed his victims to believe his bullshit. According to his ex-girlfriend, she was once on the phone with Idema and he said he "couldn't get AIDS" because he had "super-blood".[3] According to Alessi, he really believed this shit:

He told the same stories again and again, and even if he was drunk and stoned out of his mind, the details were always exactly the same, because he really believed these things, even that ‘superblood’ stuff.[3]

Two years before Idema's death, he actually got in a stand-off with the Mexican authorities after allegations surfaced that he had held a woman against her will and raped her over the course of several days.[11] Idema then skipped a court summons, at first fleeing to Belize, but he later returned to Mexico.[1]

Idema regularly had unprotected sex while knowing he had STDs, and Alessi was infected because of it. In a bit of karmic retribution, Idema died of his AIDS infection.[1]

See also[edit]

External links[edit]


  1. Translated from asshole speak: Random schmucks he kidnapped off the streets of Kabul.
  2. Because why would he?
  3. To quote Idema: "The ones they don't want to give to anyone."[4] Convenient, that.
  4. Specifically, a plan by the Russian Mafia to smuggle nukes out of the country.
  5. Especially as Artis refused to associate with this clown.
  6. something that Al-Qaeda doesn't do, as most of their activity consists of bombings.
  7. Which is a major blow to the credibility of a man who fancied himself a "super-terrorist hunter."
  8. It didn't help that any calls for adequate monitoring would've been met with cries of "treason"Wikipedia and "anti-American sentiment."
  9. Who even wrote the book that Idema's favorite movie was based on![4]
  10. No points for guessing who that "anonymous" Green Beret was.
  11. As if that makes literally shooting at someone during a bar argument okay.
  12. To be fair, it's hard to argue against that when NATO partook in some of his raids and accepted some of Idema's captives.
  13. Although the fact that the Feds sent Idema a package at all is fairly suspicious... but not really conclusive evidence in and of itself.


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 "Vigilante torturer dies in Mexico" - The Wired. Published January 2012.
  2. 2.00 2.01 2.02 2.03 2.04 2.05 2.06 2.07 2.08 2.09 2.10 2.11 2.12 2.13 2.14 2.15 2.16 2.17 2.18 2.19 2.20 2.21 2.22 Keith Idema's Operation Desert Fraud[a w]New York Magazine
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 3.5 3.6 3.7 3.8 3.9 "Jack Idema, jailed for torturing Afghans, reportedly dies in Mexico" - Raleigh News and Observer. Pub. Jan. 2012. By Jay Price.
  4. 4.00 4.01 4.02 4.03 4.04 4.05 4.06 4.07 4.08 4.09 4.10 4.11 4.12 4.13 4.14 4.15 4.16 4.17 4.18 4.19 4.20 4.21 4.22 4.23 4.24 4.25 4.26 4.27 The Shadow Warrior: Jack Idema[a w]Rolling Stone
  5. 5.0 5.1 Robberson, Tod (2004-08-30). "Records seem to discredit self-proclaimed Special Forces expert. ... .Out of service since '84, man accused in Afghan case never saw combat". Dallas Morning News. "According to a copy of his military records, Mr. Idema trained and qualified for Special Forces in 1977. Mr. Idema then switched to reserve status, where he remained until he left the Army in 1984. There is no record of any combat service." 
  6. Florida parole report for Jack Idema
  7. Young Pelton, Robert (2006). Licensed to Kill: Hired Guns in the War on Terror. (2006) Random House. ISBN 9781400097814
  8. 8.00 8.01 8.02 8.03 8.04 8.05 8.06 8.07 8.08 8.09 8.10 8.11 8.12 8.13 8.14 "3 Americans get prison for torture" - The Chicago Tribune. Published September 9th, 2004.
  9. "New Al Qaeda Tape Surfaces Despite US Efforts to Block It" - ABC News. Published on September 19, 2008.
  10. "Al-Qaida predicts Obama's fall by Muslim nation" courtesy of the Associated Press. Published September 22, 2009 at 5:45 PM (EST). Archived from the original version.
  11. Convicted torture, vigilante in Mexican stand-off[a w]Wired