Friday, July 09, 2004

What now? Mystery of free lances and their own little jail

The Guardian reports that Afghan police in Kabul have uncovered a group of mercenaries who were operating their own prison under the cover of an "import business". In the building they had several people hanging upside down, who had apparently been beaten up first. Lovely.
Although the group's leader is apparently one Jonathan Keith Idema, who claims to be a former member of US special forces, and they were all dressed in US battledress, it is claimed that this was a "freelance counter-terrorist mission" and that they were "bounty hunters" after the rewards offered for various al-Qa'ida leaders.

Mr. Idema has a curious background, having displayed himself copiously as a "security expert" on television and - bizarrely - sued Dreamworks over the plot of the film The Peacemaker, in which George Clooney played an officer on the trail of nuclear smugglers. There is much hagiographic comment about him on the net, but most of it appears on low-credibility right wing sites like Newsmax and WorldNetDaily, best known for rumours and ads for quack remedies. Or gun-nut conspiracy But this is surely hardly relevant. More interesting was that he rocked up in Afghanistan during the original war, and appeared on telly with supposed "al-Qa'ida training camp footage" showing evil terrorists "practising to take over schools". Again, the story seems to have been pitched to a careful selection of outlets (Free Republic, WND, Fox...yuck.) What exactly was he doing? Further, and interestingly, it seems his special forces time was spent as a quartermaster, which fits with the business he went into (making fancy webbing kit). Despite having spetn his career in the stores with the rats, rats, rats as big as cats, he managed to claim that he made operational parachute jumps with his dog. Very plausible.

Curiously, the US military in Afghanistan had been briefing the press prior to the arrests that Idema had nothing to do with him. This seems to argue foreknowledge. It would be an easy conclusion that the Afghan police blundered into some sort of super-spook CIA operation. But Idema's curious Walter Mitty background and fraud convictions would argue against that. As would his various schemes to make a blockbuster movie about nuclear smugglers. After all, back in the early 1990s, the possibility of nuclear material or even complete weapons vanishing from the former Soviet Union was a fashionable issue. Despite considerable attention, real cases were rare. What were much more common, as various hacks and police forces found to their cost, were chancers trying either to pass off innocuous material as weapons-grade when they had a customer, or to secure rewards from the authorities. Nuclear smuggling was a dog that didn't bark (though I bet Idema's would have done if it had ever been on an operational parachute drop), but nuclear fraud was quite another matter. But a lot of the same stories have been recycled by War on Trrr boosters, and I wouldn't be at all surprised if some of the same people were.

But we are still nowhere near an explanation. As Josh Marshall points out, why would you want your own jail?
"It just seems like someone must have been paying this guy to do something, unless it's like a blog where you just set up shop and figure that someday a revenue stream might turn up."
Most amusing. The man in question is now in the tender care of the Afghan intelligence service. God pays debts without money, as my mother would say, but what the hell was going on?


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