Ken Hechtman (born c. 1968) is a freelance journalist from Canada who achieved brief international prominence in late 2001. Afghanistan's Taliban government captured him as a suspected United States spy while he researched a story for the Montreal Mirror. Afghanistan tried, acquitted, and released him after a short time in jail.
In 1986, Hechtman was a freshman at Columbia University. Immediately he founded an underground group of tunneling students called AD HOC (Allied Destructive Hackers of Columbia). Though AD HOC existed for only a few months, it became well known for wreaking havok around campus. Members of AD HOC blacked out buildings, stole papers, chemicals and equipment, conducted elaborate pranks, damaged university infrastructure and created graffiti throughout the tunnel system. In one notable incident, AD HOC constructed an 8-foot-tall (2.4 m) snowman on top of a dorm. The members of AD HOC were also the first students known to have reached the Low Library roof.
In 1987, Hechtman was expelled from Columbia for keeping stolen chemicals, including uranium-238, chloroform and pure caffeine, in his dormitory room. While exploring the Columbia University Tunnels, he had obtained this uranium from a forgotten part of Pupin Hall that had remained essentially untouched since its involvement in the Manhattan Project. The other chemicals were obtained from Havemeyer Hall. The 1992 edition of Lisa Birnbach's College Book named him as a campus legend for the exploit.
After leaving Columbia, Hechtman spent time as an anarchist squatter on the Lower East Side, broke into the Yucca Flat Test Site in Nevada, the Ethan Allen firing range in Vermont and Area 51, and was present at the execution of Timothy McVeigh. After some time, he got a job as a journalist.
After the September 11 attacks, Hechtman travelled to Pakistan with the goal of eventually gaining entry to Afghanistan. While in Pakistan, he interviewed pro-Taliban militants generally inaccessible to western journalists. After over a month of failing to obtain a visa to get into Afghanistan, Hechtman crossed the border illegally. His initial experiences interviewing Taliban officials were largely positive, but when the war with the United States began and an airstrike targeted the city Hechtman was in at the time, the Taliban became convinced that he was an American spy and arrested him. Canadian diplomats Paul Gareau and Philippe de Varennes were able to prove he was a journalist, securing his release on December 1, 2001. His editor at the time said "because his prime interest lay in exposing a different side of the war, his reports, though written with humour, offered a distinct and valuable perspective."
Hechtman has since returned to school at McGill University and studied computer science.
He later became a professional political operative working on numerous campaigns at the federal, provincial and municipal levels. His specialties are database handling, voter contact support and mapping.
Lisa Birnbach's New and Improved College Book, by Lisa Birnbach (1992) ISBN 0-671-79289-X
Montreal mirror, message from the editor, dec 2001"
- A Pravda report on Hechtman's captivity in Afghanistan.
- A CBC story about Hechtman and the Taliban.
- Ken Hechtman's Taliban story for the Montreal Mirror.
- A Columbia Spectator article.
- An article by The Blue and White, Columbia University's undergraduate magazine: http://www.bwog.net/publicate/index.php?page=post&article_id=211
- The Montrea Mirror 25th anniversary tribute to Ken
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