A series of events caused the shift in Moore’s opinion. A “Hunt for Bin Laden” website registered to Idema began advertising an upcoming Robin Moore book about Idema entitled An Army of One. Moore said the site was unauthorized and that he never planned to write such a book. Idema also charged about $10,000 worth of books to Moore’s account at Random House. Moore says Idema did this without his permission and that Idema also slipped the names and post office boxes of two groups into a list of charities that appear in the back of the British version of the book (because a percentage of the royalties were to be directed to these groups). One of the addresses was for U.S. Counter-Terrorist Group (Counterr), the umbrella organization for Idema’s own Afghanistan operations. (At least one reader sent a donation to Counterr, according to Idema’s bank records.) The other address was supposed to be for a charity that helped the families of killed or wounded Green Berets, but North Carolina’s postal inspector determined that the post office box was actually controlled by Idema, and was investigating him for mail fraud before his Afghan arrest.

Moore eventually submitted a host of corrections that he wanted made to The Hunt for Bin Laden, based largely on input from Special Forces contacts, but many were never incorporated. Carol Schneider, Random House’s spokesperson, said the publisher made all changes that it received in time, but a number of them came after the deadline had passed. Then, in late October, Robin Moore gave Random House a proposal for a scathing second book on Idema, Smoke and Mirrors: Jonathan Keith Idema and his Great Media Swindle, but Random House turned it down. “I’m not going to do this,” Bob Loomis, vice president and executive editor for the publisher, said to Moore, as CJR’s reporter sat listening over a speakerphone in Moore’s living room. “It’s too negative on Jack. It reflects badly on The Hunt because of his role in it.”

Idema headed back to Afghanistan in mid-April 2004, accompanied by Caraballo, who would claim after their arrest that he was a journalist working on an independent documentary. But ac cording to bank records, Idema was paying him.

Idema’s lawyer, John Edwards Tiffany, says that by the end of April Idema had arrested his first prisoner, whom he turned over to U.S. officials on May 3. But two months later the man was released after the United States Central Command determined that he was not the high-ranking Taliban official Idema had claimed he was. The command began to investigate Idema, and shortly thereafter Wanted posters for Idema went up in Kabul. He and his cohorts nevertheless made a series of arrests in June, according to Tiffany. It wasn’t until July 5 that Afghan police finally nabbed him, along with Caraballo, the former U.S. soldier Brent Bennett, and four Afghans who were working with them. At the time, the Abu Ghraib scandal was raging. Idema claimed he was working with the knowledge and approval of the U.S. government (something the Central Command and the State Department adamantly deny) and presented some evidence to support this claim during his trial. But none of it seems to point to definitive links to the Afghan or U.S. governments. Among the material is a video of meetings between Idema and two Afghan ministers. But both reportedly said they met with Idema to discuss his claims about the taxi-bomb plot only because they believed he was a member of the U.S. military. Tiffany also played tape-recorded conversations of Idema purportedly talking to officials in Deputy Undersecretary of Defense William G. Boykin’s office. In one of the conversations, recorded after the Wanted posters for him went up, Idema threatens to give some unidentified material to the press. “Someone’s got to do something within twelve hours or I’m going to e-mail this fucking thing to Dan Rather,” he warns. “Do you think I would rot in prison if there’s a problem?”

Most of the evidence, though, is one-directional communication, with Idema offering information or asking for assistance. There may be a reason for this: According to Bumback, and Idema’s own e-mails, Idema had been trying desperately to secure a Pentagon contract, but hadn’t been able to do so. Bumback says that’s why Idema largely relied on the media to fund his operations. “Somebody had to replenish the till,” he says. “Uncle Sam wasn’t doing it”

Mariah Blake writes for the United States Project, CJR's politics and policy desk. She is based in Washington, DC, and her work has appeared in The Atlantic, The New Republic, Foreign Policy, Salon, The Washington Monthly, and CJR, among other publications.