Edwin Wilson was born in Idaho in 1928. The son of an unsuccessful farmer who died of cancer in 1940, Wilson managed to obtain a degree in psychology before joining the Marine Corps in 1953.
Wilson joined the Central Intelligence Agency in 1956. As a CIA agent, he spied on European unions before running shipping companies secretly owned by the agency. Over the next few years he arranged clandestine CIA arms shipments to Angola, Laos, Indonesia and the Congo.
In 1971, Wilson left the CIA to run shipping companies for a secret Navy intelligence organization called Task Force 157. This included a company based in Washington called World Marine Incorporated. Wilson used World Marine to carry out his own private business deals. In 1973 Wilson earned a $500,000 fee by delivering a spy ship to Iran under the cover of World Marine.
In 1973 Frank Nugan, an Australian lawyer, and Michael Hand, a former CIA contract operative, established the Nugan Hand Bank. Another key figure in this venture was Bernie Houghton, who was closely connected to CIA officials, Ted Shackley and Thomas G. Clines.
Nugan ran operations in Sydney whereas Hand established a branch in Hong Kong. This enabled Australian depositors to access a money-laundering facility for illegal transfers of Australian money to Hong Kong. According to Alfred W. McCoy, the "Hand-Houghton partnership led the bank's international division into new fields - drug finance, arms trading, and support work for CIA covert operations." Hand told friends "it was his ambition that Nugan Hand became banker for the CIA."
In 1974 the Nugan Hand Bank got involved in helping the CIA to take part in covert arms deals with contacts within Angola. It was at this time that Edwin Wilson became involved with the bank. Two CIA agents based in Indonesia, James Hawes and Robert Moore, called on Wilson at his World Marine offices to discuss "an African arms deal". Later, Bernie Houghton arrived from Sydney to place an order for 10 million rounds of ammunition and 3,000 weapons including machine guns. The following year Houghton asked Wilson to arrange for World Marine to purchase a high-technology spy ship. This ship was then sold to Iran.
By 1976 the Nugan-Hand Bank appeared to have become a CIA-fronted company. This is reflected in the type of people recruited to hold senior positions in the bank. For example, Rear-Admiral Earl P. Yates, the former Chief of Staff for Policy and Plans of the U.S. Pacific Command and a counter-insurgency specialist, became president of the company. Other appointments included William Colby, retired director of the CIA, General Leroy J. Manor, the former chief of staff of the U.S. Pacific Command and deputy director for counterinsurgency and special activities, General Edwin F. Black, former commander of U.S. forces in Thailand, Walter J. McDonald, retired CIA deputy director for economic research and Dale C. Holmgren, former chairman of the CIA's Civil Air Transport.
The investigative journalist, Jonathan Kwitny, became convinced that the Nugan Hand Bank had replaced the Castle Bank & Trust of Nassau, as the CIA's covert banker. Former CIA agent, Kevin P. Mulcahy later told the National Times newspaper "about the Agency's use of Nugan Hand for shifting money for various covert operations around the globe."
In February 1976, Admiral Bobby Ray Inman, the new head of the Office of Naval Intelligence (ONI), discovered that Wilson was involved in some dubious undercover business deals. A few months later Wilson was asked to leave the ONI. Wilson continued to run the CIA-fronted companies he had established. The largest of these was Consultants International and over the next few years amassed a fortune of over $20 million. This enabled him to buy a 2,338-acre farm in Northern Virginia, where he often entertained his close friends, Ted Shackley and Thomas G. Clines.
Much of his money was made in the arms trade. His most important customer was Moammar Gaddafi, the dictator of Libya. Wilson later claimed that it was Ted Shackley who first suggested he should go to Libya. Wilson got contracts to sell Libya army uniforms, ammunition, explosive timers and 20 tons of C-4 plastic explosives.
In 1976 Wilson recruited Raphael Quintero to kill a Libyan dissident in Egypt. Quintero selected two brothers, Rafael and Raoul Villaverde, to carry out the killing. However, the contract was later cancelled.
One of the men Wilson employed was former CIA officer Kevin P. Mulcahy. He became concerned about Wilson's illegal activities and sent a message about them to the agency. Ted Shackley, Deputy Director of Operations, was initially able to block any internal investigation of Wilson. However, in April, 1977, the Washington Post, published an article on Wilson's activities stating that he may be getting support from "current CIA employees". Stansfield Turner, director of the CIA, ordered an investigation and discovered that both Shackley and Clines had close relationships with Wilson. As a result, Turner made sure that both men's careers came to an end in the CIA.
In 1978 Thomas G. Clines left the CIA. He now joined with Raphael Quintero and Ricardo Chavez (another former CIA operative) to establish API Distributors. According to David Corn (Blonde Ghost: Ted Shackley and the CIA's Crusades) Wilson provided Clines with "half a million dollars to get his business empire going". In 1979 Clines established International Research and Trade Limited in Bermuda. Later that year he joined forces with Hussein Salem in providing U.S. military hardware to Egypt.
After leaving the CIA in September, 1979, Ted Shackley formed his own company, Research Associates International, which specialized in providing intelligence to business. He was also given consulting work with API Distributors, the company established by Thomas G. Clines, Raphael Quintero, and Ricardo Chavez.
In 1979 a gun that Wilson arranged to be delivered to the Libyan embassy in Bonn was used to kill a political dissident. Another dissident was murdered in Colorado by one of Wilson's men. According to Alfred W. McCoy (The Politics of Heroin: CIA Complicity in the Global Drug Trade): "Throughout 1979 the Wilson network and the Nugan Hand Bank began to build a close commercial alliance in the netherworld of national security subcontracting". Ted Shackley and Thomas G. Clines were also drawn into a relationship with the Nugan Hand Bank. Michael Hand wrote to Shackley on 27th November, 1979, suggesting a business meeting. Hand's latter also referred to Bernie Houghton, who had worked for Shackley in Vietnam.
Michael Hand probably wanted to talk about Edwin Wilson. In 1979 a Washington grand jury began gathering incriminating evidence about his illegal arms sales. To avoid arrest he moved to London. In the winter of 1979, Wilson had a meeting with Bernie Houghton and Thomas G. Clines in Switzerland in an attempt to help him out of his difficulties. This included a non-delivery of 5,000 M16 automatic rifles. The three men discussed ways of using the Nugan Hand Bank to float a $22 million loan to finance the delivery. Hand was obviously concerned that if Wilson was arrested he might begin talking about his dealings with Nugan Hand.
Michael Hand also had talks with William Colby, the former director of the CIA. It is not known what was discussed at this meeting but Colby submitted a bill to Nugan Hand Bank for $45,684 for his legal advice.
On 27th January, 1980 Frank Nugan was found dead in his car. Bernie Houghton was in Switzerland at the time and he immediately rang his branch office in Saudi Arabia and ordered the staff to leave the country. Houghton also visited Edwin Wilson's office in Geneva and left a briefcase with bank documents for safekeeping. Soon afterwards, a witness saw Thomas G. Clines going through the briefcase at Wilson's office and remove papers that referred to him and General Richard Secord.
Two days after Nugan died, Michael Hand held a meeting of Nugan Hand Bank directors. He warned them that unless they did as they were told they could "finish up with concrete shoes" and would be "liable to find their wives being delivered to them in pieces".
According to one witness, Thomas G. Clines helped Bernie Houghton escape from Australia. Michael Hand also left the country accompanied by James Oswald Spencer, a man who served with Ted Shackley in Laos. The two men traveled to America via Fiji and Vancouver. Hand then disappeared and has never been seen again.
The Australian authorities were forced to investigate the bank. They discovered that Ricardo Chavez, the former CIA operative who was co-owner of API Distributors with Thomas G. Clines and Raphael Quintero, was attempting to take control of the bank. The Corporate Affairs Commission of New South Wales came to the conclusion that Chavez was working on behalf of Clines, Quintero and Wilson.
Wilson was eventually indicted by the Department of Justice. However, he had moved to Libya and Moammar Gaddafi refused to extradite him. Wilson feared for his safety and the prosecutors knew this and in 1982 they sent Ernest Keiser to convince him that he would be safe in the Dominican Republic. Wilson flew to the Caribbean but upon arrival was arrested and flown to New York.
While awaiting trial Wilson attempted to recruit a fellow prisoner to kill Lawrence Barcella, the federal prosecutor. The prisoner instead went to the authorities and they set Wilson up with an undercover agent. The agent taped Wilson hiring him to kill the prosecutors, six witnesses and his ex-wife.
In 1984 Wilson was found not guilty of trying to hire Raphael Quintero and other Cubans to kill a Libyan dissident. However, he was found guilty of exporting guns and conspiracy to murder and was sentenced to 52 years in prison.
Wilson claimed he had been framed and claimed that he was working on behalf of the CIA. He employed David Adler, a former CIA agent, as his lawyer. Adler eventually found evidence that Wilson was indeed working for the CIA after he retired from the agency. In October 2003 a Houston federal judge, Lynn Hughes, threw out Wilson's conviction in the C-4 explosives case, ruling that the prosecutors had "deliberately deceived the court" about Wilson's continuing CIA contacts, thus "double-crossing a part-time informal government agent."
Despite the decision of Lynn Hughes, Edwin P. Wilson was not released. Eric Margolis has described him as "America's Man in the Iron Mask". Margolis has always believed Wilson innocent and spoke to him many times in prison. "I was framed by the government," Wilson told Margolis, "they want me to disappear. I know too much."
Edwin P. Wilson was released from prison in 2004 and died on 10th September 2012.
Wilson spied on labor unions. He monitored cargo shipments leaving Antwerp for Cuba. He paid off Corsican mobsters to lean on communist dockworkers. He returned to the United States, and the Seafarers appointed him a lobbyist in Washington. Then he moved to the International Department of the AFL-CIO in 1963.
The next year, Wilson jumped to the Special Operations Division, which was in charge of covert actions. First, he served as an advance man for Hubert Humphrey's vice-presidential campaign, allowing the Agency to keep tabs on Johnson's running mate. After the election, Wilson opened a front business: Maritime Consulting Associates, an ocean freight forwarder that handled sea logistics for CIA programs. The Agency man in charge of Maritime was Tom Clines, deputy chief of the division's maritime branch.
Wilson ran Maritime Consulting as if it were a regular company. He recruited a figurehead president and worked hard: weapons to Angola, communications equipment to Morocco, materiel to Laos. He also found non-Agency business to conduct-activity that put cash in his pockets. For Langley's fronts, profits meant better cover. Wilson had a golden gig. There was little auditing of his books. No one noticed when he padded his costs. He could be both a secret agent and a wealthy man.
Wilson and Clines were an appropriate match. Both hailed from modest origins. Neither had entered the Agency through the blue-blooded Ivy League route. They did time as grunts; Wilson, a guard, Clines, who was two years younger, a courier. Both were large men, schmoozers and schemers, each a bit reckless, who enjoyed a good time. They each had big ideas about their futures.
Clines relied on Wilson to transport arms and equipment-including surplus from Shackley's JMWAVE station-to the Congo and the Dominican Republic. Clines and Wilson traveled together to Libya, where they tried to recruit a Russian shipping agent by providing him a lucrative contract. Over drinks, the two regularly swapped spy stories. Clines, usually strapped for cash, hit up Wilson for small loans. Wilson, with his expense account, always had money.
It was natural that Clines would introduce Wilson to his friend Shackley. Clines saw both as strong, driven men. Perhaps they all would be running the CIA someday. Years later, Shackley could only remember encountering Wilson once or twice in Washington during this period. To Shackley, Wilson might have seemed another one of the hundreds of officers he routinely ordered about.
The Nuran Hand bank collapsed, owing some $50 million. None of the deposits were secured because they were used for illegal activities. These included defrauding American military personnel in Saudi Arabia out of nearly $10 million. The bank sent out "investment counselors" to installations where Americans were working in Saudi Arabia and told them to invest their salaries in Nugan Hand's Hong Kong branch in secured government bonds.
The Australian government eventually investigated the collapse of the bank and found that millions of dollars were missing and unaccounted for. It discovered that the main depositors of the bank were connected with the narcotics trade in the Middle East and Asia, and that the CIA was using Nugan Hand to finance a variety of covert operations. Government investigations revealed ties between Nugan Hand and the world's largest heroin syndicates. The reports said that the Bank was linked to at least 26 separate individuals or groups known to be associated with drug trafficking.
In 1983 the Australian Joint Task Force on Drug Trafficking released a report on Nugan Hand's activities to Parliament which said Shackley, Secord, Clines, Quintero, and Wilson were people whose background "is relevant to a proper understanding of the activities of the Nugan Hand group and the people associated with that group."
Daniel Sheehan... had accumulated a great deal of information about the connection between the secret military and criminal goings-on in Costa Rica and higher authority in Washington - the CIA and Oliver North. But as Sheehan began to piece all this together he received a call that would eventually double his defendants list to include not only Cuban and other Central American desperadoes but immensely powerful former U.S. government officials.
The caller was Paul Hoven, a much-decorated Vietnam helicopter pilot who had settled in Washington to fight for military reform. He and associates in a group called the Project on Military Procurement were working to expose the Pentagon's wanton and slipshod approach to developing and buying weapons. Chastising the military along these lines appeals to true conservatives, and Hoven took pride in his right-wing views.
Thus ideologically equipped, Hoven had an enormous range of contacts in the murky world of special - i.e., clandestine operations. Late in 1984 he encountered a denizen of this world, a retired military intelligence officer, who wanted to discuss the corruption and inefficiency with which aid to the gallant Afghan guerrillas was being dispensed by the CIA. The conversation soon turned, however, to something far more out of the ordinary.
Hoven's new found friend told him that a group of former CIA senior officials, military officers, and Middle Eastern arms dealers had formed what he called a "secret team" to undertake covert operations on a commercial basis. Their activities were massive and wide ranging and, in the case of some members, included political assassinations. They operated independently of the U.S. government, though several of those concerned had previous histories of involvement in government-sanctioned assassination programs, stretching back through the Phoenix program in Vietnam to Kennedy-era attempts to kill Castro. Hoven's friend had stumbled across this group in the course of trying to get some semi covert CIA Central American business for himself, but he had come across their insalubrious tracks years before in Iran, and he knew they were dangerous people.
Conservative though he may be, Hoven was troubled by this news, and he called his friend Danny Sheehan to pass it along and arrange a direct meeting. The three men met in a house outside Washington in February 1985.
The retired spook told Sheehan that in the mid-1970s he had been assigned as an antiterrorist specialist in the U.S. military mission in Tehran. From that vantage point he had become aware of the existence of what he called an "antiterrorist search-and-destroy project" run by a former CIA agent named Edwin Wilson. Wilson was later to be arrested, tried, and sentenced to fifty-two years in jail for sundry crimes, including arming and advising Muammar Qaddafi. But in Iran, the graying spook informed Sheehan, Wilson had been working under the direct supervision of Theodore Shackley, then second in command at the CIA's (clandestine) operations division, and Shackley's assistant, Thomas Clines.
This "search-and-destroy project," the source told him, had continued as a privately run, non-CIA-authorized program as of 1977, when "outsiders"-President Jimmy Carter and Adm. Stansfield Turner-had taken control of the CIA. It was for Shackley and Clines, the source insisted, that Wilson was working in Libya between 1977 and 1979. He was ostensibly supplying training and supplies for Qaddafi's clandestine operations, and that was the key charge against him when he was later tried in the U.S. But in reality, so Sheehan was now told, Wilson was gathering intelligence on these operations for transmission to a certain Rafael ("Chi Chi") Quintero. Quintero's function was to arrange for the interception of Qaddafi's minions as soon as they left Libya to go about their business, and to murder them. Quintero later testified that he had indeed accepted a down payment for at least one assassination job in the belief that it was a CIA-sponsored "hit." Quintero claimed that he pulled out of the operation when he discovered that the target was in fact on Qaddafi's hit list, not the agency's.
Unfortunately for Wilson, his "cover" activities on behalf of Qaddafi came to the ears of federal law enforcement authorities, who devoted great energy to putting him in jail. Since the alleged Shackley-Clines operation to neutralize terrorists was officially unauthorized, Wilson was unable to invoke it to protect himself.
Shackley and Clines were, however, besmirched enough by their association with Wilson to be forced to resign from the CIA by Stansfield Turner in 1979. They thereupon joined forces with two people whose names were to become well known to Sheehan and, much later, to the press and public: Richard Secord, at the time an active general officer in the U.S. Air Force, and the Iranian-born arms dealer Albert Hakim.
Kevin Mulcahy called me because he thought the Federal Government had used him and was hanging him out to dry. A husky, darkhaired, 39-year-old Irishman, Mulcahy was an ex-CIA agent who, at that time, was the only witness in a case the Federal Government had brought against two other men on Kelly's list: Edwin Wilson and Frank Terpil. Mulcahy thought the Government was stalling in its prosecution and he feared for his life. Wilson, he said, was a killer, whose current job was arranging to knock off the enemies of Libyan strongman Moammar Khadafy. In response to my direct question, Mulcahy said he knew nothing that would link Wilson to the Kennedy assassination, but Wilson, like David Phillips, was deep inside that CIA clique pulling the strings at the time.
Mulcahy had been born a Company man. His father had worked for the CIA, so did three brothers and a sister. After five years as an Agency communications specialist, Mulcahy quit, announcing he was going to make a bundle in the computer industry. But Mulcahy had a drinking problem and his marriage and his life went to hell. Still, he bounced back, recovered completely and used his energies counseling alcohol and drug abusers at a northern Virginia treatment center. Then, early in 1976, he met Edwin Wilson and was offered a job with Wilson's exporting firm, Consultants International.
To insiders, Wilson was a big-time player in the spook world. He owned a huge estate in Virginia horse country and regularly hosted Washington's top politicians, admirals, generals and key intelligence officers. He had been in the CIA's Special Operations section, which handled covert paramilitary operations around the world. His job was to set up the proprietary companies used to ship supplies for the Agency's secret missions or the coups it supported. Wilson's company shipped incendiary, crowd dispersion and harassment devices to Chile, Brazil and Venezuela, and arms to the Dominican Republic, all areas that came under David Phillips's charge. Wilson also had supplied many of the boats used by Miami exiles for their raids against Cuba. (His case officer at one point was Tom Clines, who then was a top deputy to Ted Shackley at Miami's JM/WAVE station.) Reportedly, Wilson left the CIA when President Nixon, always paranoid about the Agency, ordered a budgetary cutback of its proprietaries.
Wilson then went over to a top-secret Navy Intelligence operation called Task Force 157 and basically did the same thing. This job was personally lucrative for Wilson because millions of dollars were involved and the oversight was negligible. At some fuzzy point in time, Wilson supposedly broke his employment ties with the Government and got into business for himself. Yet in the 1980 Reagan campaign, Wilson played a key advisory role, reporting directly to campaign manager William Casey, who would become director of the CIA.
According to the document I got from Jim Kelly, among the products Wilson was shipping to Libya's Khadafy were highly sophisticated assassination devices. No larger than a cigarette box, these were capable of blowing up an entire building and could be set to detonate anywhere from ten seconds to ten days later-or longer. These were developed by ex-CIA bomb expert John Harper, whose wife worked for Wilson. Harper, too, had once worked in Miami for Tom Clines.
Mulcahy told me that when he took the job Wilson gave him the impression he was still operating a CIA proprietary, shipping electronic and computer equipment. Mulcahy spent his early days at Consultants International learning the paperwork labyrinth of the export business. After Wilson started to trust him, Wilson introduced Mulcahy to Frank Terpil, another ex-CIA associate who had also worked for Shackley at JM/WAVE. Eventually, Mulcahy met Shackley himself one weekend at an outing at Wilson's Virginia estate. More than ever, Mulcahy was convinced Wilson was still running proprietaries for the Agency.
Mulcahy then found himself involved in some serious transactions. He learned first of a shipment of machine guns to Zambia. It wasn't so much the guns but the silencers that went with them that had sinister significance. Mulcahy decided to check out Wilson and Terpil with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. BATF told him the men were clean.
Then Wilson and Terpil made Mulcahy the president of what he thought was another proprietary, Inter-Technology Inc., and details of even more sinister deals emerged. Mulcahy learned that the firm of which he was now President had agreed to sell to Khadafy the explosives and delayed-action timers mentioned on the "sensitive" list. I.T.I. had also agreed to set up a training camp to teach Libyans bombing and political assassination techniques and to fill Libya's order for an American-made Redeye missile, which is capable of shooting down a commercial airliner.
Late one Sunday evening in September of 1976, Kevin Mulcahy, drinking again, placed a call to the duty officer at CIA headquarters. "There are problems overseas," Mulcahy reported. He said he had to talk to Ted Shackley, then assistant to the deputy director for clandestine operations. Within the hour, Shackley returned the call. Mulcahy told him of the deals Wilson and Terpil had with Khadafy and then asked him directly: "Is this a CIA operation or not?"
In his call to me, Mulcahy said that Shackley wouldn't give him a straight answer. And as Shackley beat around the bush Mulcahy suddenly got the queasy feeling that he had made a wrong move in calling the clandestine ops boss. Now fearing his life was in danger, Mulcahy went into hiding. Armed with an M-16 rifle, he disappeared into the Shenandoah Valley woods, shifting campsites every evening. A month later he moved to a small town and established a new identity. With his new birth certificate, driver's license, passport and credit cards, he got a job at a health agency as a counselor.
Eventually, Mulcahy went to the FBI with his story. But the Foreign Agents Registration Office of the Justice Department claimed there wasn't enough evidence to prove Wilson and Terpil had violated American laws. When that report crossed the desk of Eugene Propper, a young, aggressive Assistant U.S. Attorney for the D.C. area who had been investigating the Letelier assassination, it gave him pause. He had questioned Wilson earlier and Wilson had emphatically denied any involvement in the sale of detonation devices to Libya. Propper discussed Wilson's apparent lie with Lawrence Barcella, the assistant U.S. Attorney who originally discovered the FBI report and had passed it on to Propper. Despite the Justice Department's Foreign Agents Office's declining to prosecute, Propper and Barcella decided to open an investigation.
As was discovered later, some time prior to the Letelier assassination Wilson had gotten another assignment from Khadafy. The Libyan leader wanted one of his principal enemies, hiding in Cairo, assassinated. Wilson decided to dip into the pool of anti-Castro Cubans in Miami trained as experts in the field by the CIA. He called Rafael "Chi-Chi" Quintero, a veteran of a number of JM/WAVE's sabotage and assassination missions. Wilson didn't mention Libya and gave Quintero the impression it was an Agency job. He talked big money, maybe as high as a million dollars. Quintero called Tom Clines, his old case officer, at the Agency to check out Wilson's request. Clines gave Wilson a ringing endorsement.
Quintero recruited two brothers, Rafael and Raoul Villaverde, who had worked for him in the old days, and all three flew to Geneva to meet Wilson and Terpil and get the details for the hit. They sat down, had a few drinks and Terpil, a burly, rough-edged fellow, got a little soused. He said something about Russian and Chinese terrorists being trained in Libya. That rankled the Cubans, all ardent antiCommunists, and aroused their suspicions.
We published a series of columns exposing Wilson and Terpil as the recruiters and ringleaders of Gadhafi's band of American mercenaries. We knew the columns were being read in Libya because of the overnight response we would get from the Libyan government each time we revealed another piece of the story. Dale Van Atta tried in vain to get comments from Wilson and Terpil, and, though we had their phone numbers at hideouts in Libya and elsewhere, they would not take his calls, at least not until Wilson's own life hung in the balance. He was drawn out of the woodwork by our column alleging that the CIA itself had tried to lure Wilson back to work for them with an assignment to assassinate his new employer, Gadhafi.
Dale's home phone rang at four o'clock one morning in October 1981, a full year after we had first started writing about the mercenaries. "You almost got me killed," the voice on the other end of the line growled. It was Ed Wilson and he had spent the day under interrogation by Gadhafi's goons because our column said he had been approached by the CIA about killing Gadhafi. We had written that one possible weapon in Wilson's arsenal was a poison dart disguised as a black fly. Wilson had gone home from the interrogation and found his apartment in Tripoli speckled with dead flies-exterminated by Gadhafi's men, just in case.
Dale shook the grogginess out of his head. He didn't believe for a moment that we had wronged Wilson. He pulled out the traditional reporter's defense against accusations of unfairness and inaccuracy. "I tried to call you for nine months and you never returned my phone calls."
Wilson pondered this for a moment. "We've got to work together now," he said. Dale wasn't quite sure for what purpose we were supposed to team up with Wilson and his boss Gadhafi. Presumably Wilson figured if he gave us enough juicy tips about other people, we would leave him alone. Dale deftly let Wilson know that the lines of communication would remain open, and Wilson invited us to send a representative to meet him in Libya.
I already knew through intelligence sources that Wilson had a hit list with Dale's name on it, so I was not about to send him to Libya. Instead I called my friend, private investigator Dick Bast. He was game and ended up spending several hours interviewing Wilson on tape. That netted a few columns about CIA plots to wreak havoc around the world, but none of them were as interesting as the Wilson story itself.
In February, 1977, at the Statler Hilton Hotel a few blocks from the White House, two FBI agents, William Hart and Thomas Noschese, interviewed Ed Wilson for the first time. They asked Wilson about an allegation that he had paid CIA explosives expert William David Weisenburger to build explosive timer prototypes for Libya. Wilson was friendly but refused to name his lawyer or make his financial records available.1 Wilson told the agents that his "records show nothing incriminating." Wilson had been caught by surprise; he had no idea that Ted Shackley had been the source of the allegation.
Shackley, at this time the Associate Deputy Director for Operations, or ADDO, understood that Carter's election and his desire to reform the CIA were not going to be helpful to either him or his beliefs. Shackley, who still had ambitions to become DCI, believed that without his many sources and operatives like Wilson, the Safari Club-operating with Helms in charge in Teheran-would be ineffective. Shackley was well aware that Helms was under criminal investigation for lying to Congress about the CIA in Chile. Shackley had testified before the same grand jury. Unless Shackley took direct action to complete the privatization of intelligence operations soon, the Safari Club would not have a conduit to DO resources.
The solution: create a totally private intelligence network using CIA assets until President Carter could be replaced. Shackley felt he had an opportunity to control intelligence operations if he had resources available. The operations that were the most secret were those that involved the mutual interests of the CIA and the Saudis but went beyond the Middle East. These private resources totaled only a small amount of the entire CIA covert budget, but their power came from the fact that the operations were the most sensitive that the CIA undertook. Using Tom Clines, whom Wilson totally trusted, Shackley began to move in on Wilson's far-flung operations on two tracks. First he would use Clines to take over Wilson's businesses, and then he would get Wilson out of the way by convincing prosecutors that Wilson was a former agent gone bad.
Events that followed shortly after Turner took over the CIA played right into Shackley's hands. Shackley, who had made a career out of successfully placing disinformation in the news media, arranged for Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward to get information falsely implicating Wilson in the Letelier case. When Woodward received Shackley's information that Wilson had tried to procure explosive timers just prior to the Letelier bombing, he used it in a bizarre news story that appeared on April 12, 1977. The story had two effects. First, since Turner had been unaware of Wilson's attempted procurement, it made Turner's inherited deputy, Hank Knoche, look like he was keeping something from the new DCI. Second, when Woodward called Letelier prosecutor Larry Barcella for comment, he caught Barcella by surprise. Barcella, already prompted by Shackley, now felt pressed to seriously examine Wilson and his activities....
Wilson recalled a visit by Shackley to his farm, Mt. Airey, in the spring of 1978. Shackley spoke seriously of how the Agency was being destroyed by Carter and Turner and how "the only hope was to take things private until they got both men out of office." Wilson said Shackley was convinced that under a George Bush administration, he, Shackley, was going to be the next head of the CIA. "Things were looking good for Bush at that time, and I knew that Shackley and Clines were meeting with Bush," Wilson said. Shackley suggested to Wilson that if he was willing to back a private company that would allow covert operations to be taken out of the CIA, Shackley would arrange for Wilson's legal problems to end, and for him to be brought in from the cold. "He reminded me that under [DCI] Bush I was not a target of any grand jury investigations ... but since (the time of) the Letelier publicity, I had been a constant target. Larry Barcella was after me.... My problem was, I was too damn stupid to figure out why."
Wilson said he agreed in principle to back this private intelligence venture as long as his Around The World Shipping got any shipping business that came out of it. Wilson told Shackley that he wanted one more thing: "Tom Clines is my good friend. I don't mind being in the trenches with him, but he has no head for business. If I put up any money, I want you to run things." Wilson said Shackley agreed. That is when Wilson agreed to fund API, the company that would manage the PEMEX account. Wilson put up the money, and Clines, Quintero, and Chavez were the corporate officers.
In October of 1981, Barcella called Shackley and Clines before a grand jury. They were still not targets of his probe, but new information was coming in. Doug Schlachter, the former Wilson associate, told Barcella that Shackley, Clines, von Marbod, and Secord had conferred regularly with Wilson at Mount Airy. Barcella broadened his inquiry to include von Marbod and Secord-and to determine if Shackley and Clines were as innocent as they claimed.
On November 9, 1981, CBS News reported Secord had helped Wilson sell equipment to Iran. Secord was placed on administrative leave from his senior Pentagon job-a suspension that lasted ten weeks.* With Barcella interested in him, von Marbod, deputy director of the Defense Security Assistance Agency, abruptly resigned, citing narcolepsy.
Was all this just a bunch of spooks with overlapping career paths, or were these men part of a conspiracy with Wilson at its center? Doug Schlachter had told Barcella that Clines and Shackley had known all about Wilson's Libyan project. Then in December of 1981, Roberta Barnes, Wilson's girlfriend, was arrested in Dallas for smuggling silver into the United States. She soon described to Barcella a deal in which Wilson had supplied Clines with $500,000 to set up a company that would make a bundle shipping goods to Egypt. Shackley, von Marbod, and Secord-Wilson supposedly had told her-all possessed secret shares. But, Barnes warned Barcella, thev were careful, there's no paper trail, vou'll never prove it.
Were Wilson and his associates falsely implicating Shackley and company in some sort of gray nail? Had he cooked up this tale of the secret sharers to beat the charges against him? There was, as Barnes said, little documentary evidence. There was a memo written by Wilson's lawyer (and not vet in Barcella's possession) noting that the Clines company funded by Wilson would he owned be four unidentified Americans and a foreign corporation. But the memo did not say who the owners were.
The shocking case of former CIA officer Edwin P. Wilson recalls the words of the great American thinker, H.L.Mencken: ‘Every decent man is ashamed of the government he lives under.’
The Wilson case has outraged me for 20 years. In 1982, the federal court in northern Virginia ’ the same hang-em high, Soviet-style court the Feds now use to try terrorism cases ’ sentenced Wilson to 10 years in prison for selling 22 tons of explosive to Libya. He was also convicted on shaky charges of attempted murder and sentenced to another 15 years. Wilson, now 75 years old, has served 20 years in maximum security prison.
I always believed Wilson innocent and spoke to him many times in prison. ‘I was framed by the government,’ Wilson told me, ‘they want me to disappear. I know too much.’ His words shake me to this day. ‘They buried him alive in prison,’ a former CIA official confided to me.
Last week, Federal District Judge Lynn Hughes in Houston, Texas, threw out Wilson’s two-decades old conviction. Judge Hughes wrote: ‘government knowingly used false evidence against him,’ concluding ‘honesty comes hard to government.’
Ed Wilson stood accused of shipping 42,000 pounds of the plastic explosive C-4 directly to Libyan dictator Moammar Qadaffy in 1977, and then hiring U.S. experts - former U.S. Army Green Berets - to teach Qadaffy's people how to make bombs shaped like lamps, ashtrays and radios. Bombs were actually made, and foes of Qadaffy were actually murdered. This was the ongoing crime that had made Wilson, and his still-missing accomplice, former CIA employee Frank Terpil, the most infamous desperadoes in the world. C-4, according to some experts, is the most powerful non-nuclear explosive made. Two pounds in the right places can bring down a jumbo jet. Hence, 42,000 pounds would be enough to bring down 21,000 jumbo jets. C-4 is highly prized on the world's black markets and is much in demand. It is supposedly very tightly controlled where it is manufactured - in the U.S.
At the time it was shipped from Houston International Airport, in 1977, the 42,000 pounds of C-4 represented almost the entire United States domestic supply. It had been collected for Wilson by one California explosives distributor who collected it from a number of manufacturers around the country. Surprisingly, no one had officially noticed. Wilson had, in earlier and subsequent deals, also sold a number of handguns to Qadaffy, and several had been used in assassinations of Libyan dissidents in a number of countries, including the United States. It was these and other firearms violations by Wilson, including a scheme to ship more than a thousand M16 rifles to Qadaffy, that had put the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (BATF) and Larry Barcella on Wilson's trail back in late 1977.
That investigation, which resulted in a 1982 Virginia conviction, led to the discovery of the C-4 shipment to Qadaffy. By January of 1983 Barcella and a team of dedicated BATF agents had been on Ed Wilson's trail for five long years. Barcella, in Houston as an observer and advisor, had been "twiddling his thumbs most of the time," but he did testify as a witness. He was, by virtue of his role as the originator of the cases, "the institutional memory" of DoJ. Ted Greenberg had, from the other side of the Potomac in Alexandria, taken over other investigations stemming from Wilson's activities which led eventually to the Eatsco scandal. That investigation involved Wilson cronies Tom Clines, Air Force General Richard Secord, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Eric von Marbod and the legendary Ted Shackley.
Shackley had served in the hottest CIA posts in history. He had run the Miami station known as JM-WAVE, targeting Fidel Castro in the early 1960s, and had been a key planner in the Bay of Pigs invasion. He was also directly involved in CIA attempts on Castro's life in concert with the Mafia. In the mid-sixties he had been the Chief of Station (COS) in Laos, running the largest covert operation in CIA history - a secret war intimately tied with opium and heroin smuggling and the abandonment of large numbers of American POWs. In the late sixties and early seventies he had served as COS in Saigon at the end of the Vietnam War. After leaving Saigon, Shackley had, for a time, served as Chief of the Western Hemisphere Division as the CIA orchestrated the overthrow of Chile's Salvador Allende. He had then become Associate Deputy Director of Operations (running all covert operations) in time to, as FTW believes, "preside" over Ed Wilson's Libyan affairs and the events that would ultimately result in the downfall of the Shah of Iran. Everywhere you looked in Wilson's life - post 1971 - you found either Shackley or his career-long deputy and sidekick, Tom Clines.
Shackley testified twice before Federal grand juries in the Wilson case. In one of those sessions, included in Wilson's recent court filings, he denied anything other than social contacts and a few meetings to evaluate information that never amounted to much. CIA Inspector General records (some still classified) belied Shackley's testimony. In light of voluminous CIA material, investigative reports, witness statements, BATF interviews with Shackley associates and a long litany of other records, Ted Shackley's testimony made a lot of people at CIA and DoJ very nervous. [FTW found it very interesting to note that, in his first testimony, Ted Shackley denied having ever met Ronald Reagan's CIA Director, William Casey. That may have to be the subject of another FTW article.]
Notes made by Justice Department lawyers in meetings held in late 1983, after Wilson's conviction, indicate their belief that Ted Shackley lied to the grand juries. Unattributed quotes found in meeting notes include the statements "Stupid -TS lied to GJ."
Carl Jenkins took me to the, what they called the Humanitarian Aid Office for the State Department in Roslyn, Virginia, and I met with Chris Arcos who was the deputy for that program to a guy, an Ambassador Dumeling. We were trying to get some of the 27 million dollars of cargo to haul to Honduras for the Contras that Congress had approved, and we were told several times in no uncertain terms that the only way we could do it was to work through Dick Secord and that aviation supply route, and I refused to do that because I knew that Secord had an unsavory reputation; he been forced into retirement out of the Air Force as a major general in ’83 over the Ed Wilson scandal in Libya. So I was advising the people around Ollie North, the liaison people between me and him, that they were dealing with a bunch of unsavory characters that had a reputation, an official public reputation, of causing extreme embarrassment to the government. At that time I didn’t... I thought the contractors - Secord and that group - I thought they had a legitimate covert contract with the government, but they were also diverting aircraft and hauling illegal cargo on the side, and I was receiving direct information about their movement.
Well, in May of ’86, I personally briefed CIA director Bill Casey, and of course he looked startled. I had no idea at the time that he was one of the masterminds behind all this illegal stuff, but he said he’d look into it and get back to me. And he said he had to leave the country the next day, and would be back in touch with me in two or three weeks. It was exactly the same weekend, or the week, I think the 30th of May, when I met with him, or the 31st, when Ollie North was on that secret trip with Bud McFarland to Tehran. So I suppose Casey was going over to Israel to brief them about it. I didn’t know that at the time. Casey sent a message to me after he got back saying that the agency wasn’t involved in any of this stuff, and that the government wasn’t involved in this illegal diversion, and "If you think you can do anything about it, let the chips fall where they may," as a bluff. I’m just a raggedy little old Oklahoma country boy, retired chief warrant officer, and I guess he figured I couldn’t do it.
Anyway, as result of those briefings in the summer of ‘86, and I was kind of - this struck me as being treason and grand larceny on a major scale, stealing from the taxpayers’ money, - and having been a cop all my life, I thought it was kind of wrong. So I got with a couple of Washington D.C. journalists that I knew. And one of them was a two-time Pulitzer prize winning journalist by the name of Newt Royce. And Newt Royce and Mike Icoca, who was a free-lancer who was writing with him - Newt at that time was with the Hearst newspaper chain in Washington D. C., with their bureau. I had information - direct knowledge from the Saudi royal family - that kickbacks were being, from the Saudi AWACS program, were being used to help fund the Contras, to buy weapons from different countries around the world. And I furnished Newt with the names of other people that could back up what I was saying, and that this was a scam because Secord, who was on active duty after the Iranian revolution, was the chief architect of the Saudi AWACS program. The Saudi AWACS program was identical to our Iran IBEX program that we had to close down in Iran. They just moved it across the Persian Gulf to Saudi Arabia and renamed it. It was an 8 billion dollar program, and those guys were talking about 10 % or 15%, so you’re talking about an 800 million dollars minimum, estimate, that that these guys could get whenever they wanted it, out of the bag.
And Newt and Mike Icoca wrote it up on the wire service for Hearst newspaper chain, and it went out on the wires and was made a front page headline of the San Francisco Examiner on the 27th of July of 1986. As a result of that article in August of ‘86, Congressman Dante Facell wrote a letter to then secretary of defense Casper Weinberger asking him if it was true that foreign money, kickback money on programs, was being used to fund foreign covert operations. And in September of ‘86 Cap Weinberger wrote a letter back to Facell denying that it was being done by the U.S. government, with any knowledge of it being kickback money. That eventually, one of George Bush’s last acts - and Larry Walsh, the special prosecutor, indicted Weinberger as a result of that correspondence - and Bush pardoned him as one of his last acts. And that’s how this whole mess got started.
This stuff goes back to the scandals of the 70s... of Watergate and Richard Helms, the CIA director, being convicted by Congress of lying to Congress, of Ted Shackley and Tom Clines and Dick Secord and a group of them being forced into retirement as a result of the scandal over Edmond P. Wilson’s training of Libyan terrorists in conjunction with these guys, and moving C-4 explosives to Libya. They decided way back when, ‘75-’76, during the Pike and Church Committee hearings, that the Congress was their enemy. They felt that the government had betrayed them and that they were the real heroes in this country and that the government became their enemy. In the late 70s, in fact, after Gerry Ford lost the election in ’76 to Jimmy Carter, and then these guys became exposed by Stansfield Turner and crowd for whatever reason... there were different factions involved in all this stuff, and power plays... Ted Shackley and Vernon Walters and Frank Carlucci and Ving West and a group of these guys used to have park-bench meetings in the late 70s in McClean, Virginia so nobody could overhear they conversations. They basically said, "With our expertise at placing dictators in power," I’m almost quoting verbatim one of their comments, "why don’t we treat the United States like the world’s biggest banana republic and take it over?" And the first thing they had to do was to get their man in the White House, and that was George Bush."
Reagan never really was the president. He was the front man. They selected a guy that had charisma, who was popular, and just a good old boy, but they got George Bush in there to actually run the White House. They’d let Ronald Reagan and Nancy out of the closet and let them make a speech and run them up the flagpole and salute them and put them back in the closet while these spooks ran the White House. They made sure that George Bush was the chairman of each of the critical committees involving these covert operations things. One of them was the Vice President’s Task Force On Combating Terrorism. They got Bush in as the head of the vice president’s task force on narcotics, the South Florida Task Force, so that they could place people in DEA and in the Pentagon and in customs to run interference for them in these large-scale international narcotics and movement of narcotics money cases. They got Bush in as the chairman of the committee to deregulate the Savings and Loans in ’83 so they could deregulate the Savings and Loans, so that they would be so loosely structured that they could steal 400, 500 billion dollars of what amounted to the taxpayers’ money out of these Savings and Loans and then bail them out. They got hit twice: they stole the money out of the Savings and Loans, and then they sold the Savings and Loans right back to the same guys, and then the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation - the taxpayers money - paid for bailing out the Savings and Loans that they stole the money from.. and they ran the whole operation, and Bush was the de facto president even before the ‘88 election when he became president.
A federal judge has thrown out former CIA officer Edwin P. Wilson's 1983 conviction for selling arms to Libya, saying the federal government used false evidence and suppressed other evidence that would have helped him. Wilson, who is in his mid-70s, was accused of shipping 20 tons of C-4 plastic explosives from Houston to Libya and is serving a 52-year prison sentence.
He claimed during his trial that the CIA authorized him to try to gather intelligence by ingratiating himself with the Libyan government. Wilson, who posed as a rich American businessman, maintained at trial that he was only doing what the CIA asked him to do.
He was lured out of hiding in 1982 from Libya, where he had been living luxuriously as an adviser to Moammar Gadhafi.
The CIA introduced a sworn statement from a top-ranking official that Wilson didn't do anything for the agency after a certain date.
"It was just a flat-out lie. He did a lot," defense attorney David Adler said Tuesday night.
In a scathing opinion released Tuesday, U.S. Judge Lynn N. Hughes said the federal government made no corrections to an affidavit about Wilson's activities that the government admitted internally was false.
"Confronted with its own internal memoranda, the government now says that, well, it might have misstated the truth, but that it was Wilson's fault, it did not really matter, and it did not know what it was doing," the judge wrote in a 24-page ruling.
Adler said his client, who is in a federal prison in Allenwood, Penn., was pleased with the decision.
"For over 20 years he's been claiming he was not some kind of rogue CIA officer and he did not get a fair trial and, of course, it turns out he was right," Adler said.
Prosecutors have the option of appealing the judge's ruling or retrying Wilson. Adler said he didn't expect prosecutors to appeal, but U.S. Attorney Michael Shelby of the Southern District of Texas said his office was reviewing the judge's decision and had not decided whether to appeal.
"Obviously the charges (against Wilson) are very significant and we want to make sure we do the right thing," Shelby said in a story in Wednesday's Houston Chronicle.
Edwin P. Wilson's statements that he was working for "The Company" when he was arrested, and indicted after false charges were made against him is correct according to the sources I interviewed after he was convicted. I was in Houston, TX at the time and interviewed a number of people who were "there" when the plane carrying explosives was prevented from leaving. Wilson's people stated that..."When the plane carrying explosives was loaded, and prevented from taking off....they made sanctioned phone calls to the "FAA, the airport tower, the Houston Police Department, and "The Company,"....all of whom gave Wilson's people "permission to take off." It was the "Jewish Faction" inside the CIA, Wilson's people state, who "pulled rank" and did not allow the plane to take off and proceeded to shut down their operation at the airport. I still have my notes.
Later, I talked to Edwin Wilson after he was arrested, indicted and convicted while he was on appeal and in the Marion Illinois prison. I spoke to Wilson by phone on two occasions because I wanted to write a book because I knew some of his employees who "knew" that his operation was "sanctioned" by the CIA. In the early days of Wilson's imprisonment, he was sure that the CIA would not "abandon him" and that it was only a matter of time when the truth would come out. How wrong he was. I could not come up with the $50,000 that Wilson needed. However, Gulden and Maas each paid Wilson approximately $50,000 as a down payment, which helped Wilson with his legal fees. These two authors subsequently wrote books on the Wilson fiasco. As far as I am concerned this 20-year 'mistake' was another step down in why the Agency lost its HUMINT ability.
My own experiences in Central America added to this opinion as well. People who worked for Wilson, state that he was and continues to be a "gentleman, a brilliant businessman, who always pays his bills." He also treated his employees well and afforded them the best in accommodations. One of the best characteristics that described Wilson by his employees was that he was an "American Patriot." Wilson, state his employees, could have been a success in any business. There are other parallels: Like Sarkis Soghanalian who was a double agent for the US. From what I have learned from court documents, Sarkis played Saddam Hussein like a fiddle, keeping him in a war against Iran and away from Kuwait and the Sauds. By taking Sarkis out because he was a weapons dealer, or so it appeared, Saddam then settled his peace against Iran, built up his war machine, and then turned his attention toward Kuwait, invaded, and thus later caused the USA to have to engage in Gulf War I. This was another intelligence fiasco that could have been prevented. However, Sarkis was indicted and convicted by a Miami prosecutor, for a single weapons charge for illegally owning an RPG.
In parallel, by taking out Wilson, all of Wilson's contacts and intelligence sources dried up. Ergo: Wilson, his employees state, could have been managed better by the CIA." Wilson served American interests and as such, was an asset or so some factions thought in the CIA thought while they were using Wilson at the time. Did Wilson and Sarkis make money? Of course, but that is the American way. We make money and do good at the same time. No matter what the Agency thought after the fact as the legend goes, it was ridiculous for Admiral Bobby Inman, over a steak dinner, to simply tell Wilson to just "stop" and then later, ruin his life, and then make him spend the first 10 years of his 20-year imprisonment in solitary confinement, and subsequently ruin the lives of his employees.
Wilson had millions exposed in both materiel and personnel liabilities. By taking Wilson "out," Inman (like Sarkis) also destroyed a "network" of hundreds and hundred of intelligence contacts, the destruction of these networks we are feeling the effects of today in Iraq. The boobery of this continues to give me nightmares as we entrench our American military and our finances in Iraq, where we, in my opinion, have no real "assets" on the parallel scale of either an Edwin P. Wilson or a Sarkis Soghanalian. The weapons business, sanctioned by the CIA, is after all a business (and there were, according to my intel contacts, some 28 CIA-linked proprietary businesses in and around the Houston area in the early 1980s, some of whom did business with Wilson and Sarkis), and like any other business, their employees had homes, families and mortgages. It was the CIA, after all, who sanctioned Wilson, and got him into the "business." To wit: "There were, in fact, over 80 contacts, including actions parallel to those in the charges," Judge Lynn N. Hughes wrote. "Because the government knowingly used false evidence against and suppressed favorable evidence, his conviction will be vacated," the ruling said. Therefore, my question is: Why is Edwin P. Wilson still in prison?
It was in 1977, when tales of Wilson's adventures in Libya began to surface. Kevin Mulcahy, a former CIA man recruited by Wilson, informed the FBI about Wilson's explosives deal with Libya. And Rafael Quintero, an anti-Castro Cuban with CIA ties, told the agency that Wilson had offered him a million dollars to kill a Libyan dissident in Egypt.
Barcella, then an assistant U.S. attorney in Washington, was assigned the case. At first he found it difficult to figure out whether Wilson was still working for the CIA.
"I interviewed scores of people who thought this was an agency operation," he says.
But Barcella kept digging and he came to believe that Wilson was using his past agency affiliation as cover. "He was playing people like a harp," he says.
In April 1980, Barcella obtained an indictment charging Wilson with shipping explosives and soliciting murder.
Eager to avoid trial, Wilson stayed in Libya, huddled in his seaside villa, running his businesses, grumbling about the lack of good Scotch in Libya and drinking a lot of flash, the local moonshine.
In 1982 Barcella dispatched Ernest Keiser - an old Wilson crony with shadowy CIA connections - to Libya. Keiser convinced Wilson that he'd arranged a deal with the National Security Council: If Wilson would run a spy operation for the NSC in the Dominican Republic, they'd arrange for his legal problems to disappear. (Keiser also sold Wilson an option on some property near Disney World.)
Desperate to escape Libya, Wilson flew with Keiser to the Dominican Republic, where he was arrested and put on a plane to New York.
"Nothing wrong with a little nonviolent government trickery," Barcella says, laughing.
Over the next two years, Wilson went on trial four times.
In Washington, he was charged with soliciting Quintero and other Cubans to kill a Libyan dissent. He was acquitted.
In Virginia, he was charged with illegally exporting an M-16 rifle and four pistols, including the one used to kill the Libyan in Bonn. He was convicted and sentenced to 15 years in prison - later reduced to 10 years - and fined $200,000.
In New York, he was charged with hiring a convicted murderer to kill Barcella and another prosecutor, plus six of the witnesses against him, and his wife, who'd filed for divorce. He was convicted and sentenced to 25 years in prison, plus $75,000.
In Houston, Wilson was charged with illegally exporting the 20 tons of C-4 to Libya. His defense was that he had been working for the CIA. The prosecution responded with an affidavit from CIA Executive Director Charles Briggs, who swore that the agency had no contact with Wilson after 1972.
On Feb. 4, 1983, the jury began its deliberations but failed to reach a verdict: At least one juror believed Wilson might have been working for the CIA. On Feb. 5, the jury asked the judge to read the Briggs affidavit again. An hour later, the jury reached a verdict: guilty on all counts. Wilson was sentenced to 17 years, plus $145,000...
Facing 52 years in prison, Wilson was shipped to the super-max prison in Marion, Ill., and placed in solitary confinement.
He spent 10 years there -"10 years locked down 23 hours a day," he says.
Meanwhile, his wife divorced him. His two sons cut off communication with him. The IRS seized his property, and the man who'd once been worth $23 million declared bankruptcy.
"You'd think that would break him but it didn't," says his brother Robert, a retired accountant living in Seattle. "He never did give up."
Instead, Wilson bombarded the CIA and the Justice Department with Freedom of Information Act requests, demanding documents about himself. The feds balked. Wilson sued and won. Slowly, over a decade, the documents began to trickle out and Wilson pored over them, searching for evidence that would help free him.
By 1996, he'd uncovered a Justice Department memo titled "Duty to Disclose Possibly False Testimony. " It described the CIA's Briggs affidavit -- which had helped persuade the Houston jury to convict Wilson - as "inaccurate." Wilson filed a motion to overturn the Houston conviction, attaching the memo as evidence.
Federal Judge Lynn Hughes did not grant Wilson's motion but he did assign a lawyer to handle Wilson's case - David Adler, a former CIA agent...
Under court order, Adler was permitted to sit in a locked vault at the Justice Department and read thousands of documents on Wilson. They didn't prove that the CIA ever asked Wilson to sell C-4 to Libya. But they did document more than 80 contacts between the CIA and Wilson during his arms-dealing days: Shackley asked Wilson to acquire a Soviet missile, and to find a retirement home for a Laotian general who'd worked for the CIA. Another CIA official twice asked Wilson to supply anti-tank weapons for "a sensitive agency operation." The agency proposed using Wilson to secretly sell desalinization plants to Egypt. And so on.
The documents also showed that, within days of the Houston trial, the CIA had informed the Justice Department that the Briggs affidavit was false. Lawyers at both CIA and Justice argued that they had a "duty to disclose" the false testimony to Wilson and the judge, as required by law. But they never did.
In 1999 Adler filed a motion to overturn Wilson's conviction because "the guilty verdict was obtained through the government's knowing use of false evidence."
In response, the Justice Department admitted that the Briggs affidavit was "inaccurate" but claimed that the conviction should be upheld because the CIA had never authorized Wilson's sale of C-4.
Last October, Judge Hughes, a Reagan appointee, threw out Wilson's conviction, denouncing the government's "fabrication of evidence." If the jurors had known about Wilson's 80 CIA contacts, Hughes wrote in a scathing 29-page decision, they "very likely would have believed Wilson's theory and acquitted him."
The Justice Department decided not to appeal Hughes's decision -- or to retry Wilson.
On the day Hughes issued his decision, CIA spokesman Mark Mansfield released a terse statement on Wilson: "The CIA didn't authorize or play any role whatsoever in his decision to sell arms to Libya. That decision was his, and that is why he went to jail."
Asked recently to explain the nature of the CIA's connection to Wilson during his wheeler-dealer years, Mansfield said he'd have to think about that. An hour later, he called back with a statement.
"Edwin Wilson is full of [expletive]," he said. "If I were you, I wouldn't believe for a minute his attempts to justify his actions by blaming someone, or something, other than himself."
David Corn, author of "Blond Ghost," a 1994 biography of Shackley, has a different perspective on the Wilson affair.
"They framed a guilty man," he says. "I think he's a terrible fellow who got what he deserved, but they did frame him."