The Hunt for Bin Laden was published on March 3, 2003, and within weeks it was number four on The New York Times bestseller list. To date, it has sold nearly 150,000 copies. The book portrays Idema, by turns, as a superhuman warrior, undercover spy, and rough-and-tumble cultural ambassador. He rescues injured children, removes bullets from “dozens” of Northern Alliance soldiers, and embarks on intelligence-gathering missions that the CIA shuns because they’re too dangerous. Armed with a Russian assault rifle, he holds a band of hostage takers off for hours. He also uncovers a plot to assassinate former President Bill Clinton, nearly nabs Osama bin Laden, and captures a trove of documents detailing the Qaeda leader’s “terrorist plans.”
Some of the heroic scenes don’t match eyewitness accounts. This includes a detailed description of Idema rescuing his longtime friend Gary Scurka, who was hit by shrapnel in a Taliban artillery attack. The book describes Idema taking command of the chaotic situation, fixing the sloppy bandage applied by journalists Tim Friend and Kevin Sites, and whisking Scurka to safety. Others who were present — including Friend and a former Special Forces soldier, Greg Long — describe a different scene. They say Sites, Friend, and Long applied a proper dressing. Friend, in fact, had worked as a surgical technician for six years. But when Idema arrived he ripped off the bandages and put on new ones, as the National Geographic cameraman recorded his every move. “It was only in retrospect that I realized he was acting for the camera,” Friend says.
Moore had collaborated with Idema on several projects before The Hunt for Bin Laden, and even secured an agent for a book, Any Lesser Man, about Idema’s life. He also contributed $2,500 to the film project of the same name. During that period, Moore, highly respected by Green Berets, started getting warning emails from members of the Special Forces community. “Mr. Idema is not near the man/hero that he is being made out to be,” wrote retired Captain William J. Adams in August 1999. “Lots of information provided by him doesn’t wash according to eyewitness accounts and his demonstrated performance on active duty.”
In the media push that followed the release of The Hunt for Bin Laden, Idema became its spokesman. This period, which marked the crescendo of his career as a media personality, came during the run-up to the Iraq war, and in the dozens of interviews Idema fielded, he often doubled as an expert on the looming conflict.
Many of Idema’s claims, such as the Iraq-Al Qaeda connection, have since been discredited by the 9-11 Commission and UN weapons inspectors, but by billing him as a government official, the media lent them credence. NPR called him a “U.S. intelligence operative,” while Northeast Public Radio dubbed him “the longest-serving Green Beret in the Afghanistan war.” Others implied that Idema was working in an official capacity by saying he played an “integral” role in the hunt for Osama bin Laden and that he fought “alongside” U.S. Special Forces, or by calling him as a “former Green Beret who served in Afghanistan.”
As Idema was blazing a trail through the talk show circuit, Ed Artis, who felt that Idema’s actions in Afghanistan had put his employees in danger, went on a fax and e-mail blitz to alert the media that there were questions about Idema’s credibility. (Idema has since filed suit against Artis.) Several shows canceled interviews after receiving the warning, something Strong, the book’s agent, resents. “The Hunt would have made it to number one if it weren’t for that,” she says.
Around the same time, Wayne Lawley, then the president of the Special Forces Association, a fraternal organization for past and present Green Berets, sent an e-mail to association members about the book saying: “The knowledgeable reader may be irritated by fiction used to fill in research and outrageous claims by Keith Adema [sic], one of the book’s advisors.” The message was far more measured than some of the replies it prompted. Idema “is doing all he can to besmirch the name of Special Forces, and all we stand for,” wrote Billy Waugh, a former Green Beret and CIA operative, who has detailed his own experience in a 2004 book called Hunting the Jackal. “This man has lied to the nth degree, and all for self-aggrandizement.” Gradually, Moore came to see Idema in a similar light. “He wants to be the hero of every story,” Moore says. “He tries to portray himself as a hero, even ff he has to lie.”