Edwin P. Wilson

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Edwin P. Wilson
Birth nameEdwin Paul Wilson
Born(1928-05-03)May 3, 1928
Nampa, Idaho, U.S.
DiedSeptember 10, 2012(2012-09-10) (aged 84)
Seattle, Washington, U.S.
AllegianceUnited States United States of America
Service/branch United States Marine Corps
Years of service1953–1956
Battles/warsKorean War
Other workFor the Central Intelligence Agency

Edwin Paul Wilson (May 3, 1928 – September 10, 2012)[1] was a former CIA and Office of Naval Intelligence officer who was convicted in 1983 of illegally selling weapons to Libya. It was later found that the United States Department of Justice and the CIA had covered up evidence in the case. Wilson's convictions were overturned in 2003 and he was freed the following year.[2]

Early life[edit]

Edwin P. Wilson was born to a poor farming family in Nampa, Idaho in 1928. He first worked as a merchant seaman. In 1953, Wilson earned a psychology degree from the University of Portland.[3][4] That same year, Wilson joined the Marines and fought in the last days of the Korean War. He was said to have been impressive during his military service and, when he was discharged in 1956 for a knee injury, went to work for the Central Intelligence Agency.[5]

CIA career[edit]

Wilson's first assignments were for the Office of Security; this included a stint in 1956 guarding U-2 spy planes in Turkey. In 1960, the Agency sent him to Cornell University for graduate studies in Labor Relations. He put this and his knowledge of psychology to use in the Agency's International Organizations Division (IOD) tackling communism in trade unions around the world. Wilson was involved in attempts to destabilize European labour unions, for example, by using methods as diverse as involving Corsican mobsters and using plagues of cockroaches.[6][7]

However, Wilson's most valuable time for the CIA was in Special Operations Division (SOD) setting up front companies like Maritime Consulting Associates (1964) and Consultants International (1965), which were used to covertly ship supplies around the world. For example, cargoes included disassembled boats sent to central Africa where they were welded together on the shores of Lake Tanganyika and used to intercept Soviet arms being ferried across the lake to rebels in the Congo; arms to Angola; crowd-control gear to Chile, Brazil and Venezuela; all kinds of equipment for intelligence-gathering facilities in Iran; supplies for a group of dissident army officers planning a coup in Indonesia; and barges sent to Vietnam.[5] As director of these firms, which were conducted as legitimate businesses, Wilson began to amass a lot of money, but as a contractor, not an employee. He invested in property around the world.[6] In 1971, after 15 years with the CIA, events that have been disputed ended Wilson's official career there. He nevertheless received a year's pay and acquired ownership of some of his front companies.

ONI career[edit]

In 1971, with the CIA's knowledge and approval, Wilson moved to the Office of Naval Intelligence (ONI) where he worked full-time for a secret intelligence unit called the Naval Field Operations Support Group (NFOSG) or Task Force 157. Between its inception in 1966 and termination in 1977, the focus was on acquiring intelligence on Soviet naval activity. However, the unit's remit was wider and later described as “the U.S. military's only network of undercover agents and spies operating abroad using commercial and business 'cover' for their espionage."[8][9] At this time, Wilson set up another front company—World Marine, Inc.—to assist with his logistics work. Wilson then retired from the ONI in 1976 after events that have been disputed. After a change in commanders, Wilson reportedly appealed to Admiral Bobby Inman, the Director of Naval Intelligence, offering his influence in Congress to the ONI's budget troubles if he, Wilson, could be made chief of Task Force 157. Allegedly outraged, Inman shut down Task Force 157 altogether and reported Wilson to the FBI.[5] However, other calculations may have been in play.[9]

Wilson continued to run the businesses he had built under the guidance of the CIA, the largest of which was Consultants International. He reportedly amassed a fortune of over $20 million through these businesses, and continued to offer covert shipping services at the request of the CIA after his official retirement.[10][7]

Arms for Libya controversy[edit]

In the 1970s, he became involved in dealings with Libya. Wilson claims that a high-ranking CIA official Theodore "Blond Ghost" Shackley asked him to go to Libya to keep an eye on Carlos the Jackal, the infamous terrorist, who was living there.[3] At the time, a strict sanctions regime was in place against Libya and the country was willing to pay a great deal for weapons and material. Wilson began conducting elaborate dealings, and guns and military uniforms were smuggled into the country. Wilson also recruited a group of retired Green Berets—decorated Vietnam veteran Billy Waugh among them[11]—to go to Libya and train its military and intelligence officers. The Libyans used Wilson's provisions to advance their interests around the world, including training terrorist cells to build explosive devices inside radios. One cell trained by Wilson's operatives was the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine - General Command (PFLF-GC) under the command of Ahmad Jibril. Jibril was suspected of being behind the bombing of Pan Am 103 in Lockerbie, Scotland in 1988. In 1979, a gun that Wilson had arranged to be delivered to the Libyan embassy in Bonn was used to assassinate a prominent dissident. The next year, one of the Green Berets attempted to assassinate another dissident in Colorado. Wilson states that he regrets these incidents and had no prior knowledge of them. He states that he was still working for the CIA and his supplying of weapon to the Libyans was an attempt to get close to them and gain valuable intelligence.[12] This included attempts at gathering information on the Libyan nuclear program.[13]

The most dramatic deal, and the one that brought Wilson to the attention of the U.S. government, was for some twenty tons of military-grade C-4 plastic explosives.[14] This was a massive quantity that was equal to the entire U.S. domestic stockpile.[3][not in citation given] Most of Wilson's connections were still under the impression that he was working for the CIA and a wide network in the United States supported his actions. The explosives were presumed assembled by a California company and hidden in barrels of oil drilling mud. They were presumed flown to Libya aboard a chartered jet.

Another scandal broke out around Wilson when a company he had formed to ship United States military aid to Egypt was convicted of overcharging the United States Department of Defense by $8 million.[15] A partner with Edwin P. Wilson in this company was another former CIA officer, Thomas G. Clines.[15] Wilson also maintained that Major General Richard V. Secord was also a "silent partner" in this company, though Secord denied this allegation. Nonetheless, Wilson, Clines and Theodore Shackley (another former CIA officer) were all working together with Secord in the summer of 1984 when Oliver North approached Secord to ask for help in buying arms for the Contras, a group of armed rebels then trying to overturn the leftist Sandinista government of Nicaragua.[15]

Investigation and conviction[edit]

After a lengthy investigation by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (then part of the U.S. Department of the Treasury), Wilson was indicted by the U.S. Justice Department for firearms and explosives violations. However, he was in Libya, which would not extradite him. Wilson was very unhappy in Libya, the Libyans were suspicious of him, and he feared for his safety. The prosecutors, led by Lawrence Barcella, knew this and they sent a con-person with links to the CIA named Ernest Keiser to convince Wilson that he would be safe in the Dominican Republic.[16] Wilson flew to the Caribbean, but upon arrival was arrested and flown to New York.

He was put on trial four separate times. He was found not guilty of trying to hire a group of Cubans to kill a Libyan dissident. He was found guilty of exporting guns, including the one used in the Bonn assassination and of shipping the explosives and sentenced to 15 years in prison for the former and 17 years for the latter. While awaiting trial, he allegedly approached a fellow prisoner and attempted to hire him to kill the federal prosecutors. This prisoner was never questioned by anyone outside the CIA. 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 a subsequent trial, he was sentenced to an added 24 years in jail for conspiracy to murder. The voice in the recording was never solidly identified as Wilson's.

Legal defense[edit]

Wilson's defense to the Libyan charges was that he was working at the behest of the CIA. The CIA gave the DOJ an affidavit stating that, after his retirement, he had not been employed directly or indirectly by the agency. The CIA later informed the DOJ that it should not use the affidavit at trial, but the prosecutor Ted Greenberg decided to use it anyway.

While in prison, Wilson campaigned vigorously for his innocence and repeatedly filed Freedom of Information Act requests with the government. Eventually, he found information linked to the memo and hired a new lawyer. His lawyer was David Adler, a former CIA officer who had clearance to view classified documents. Adler spent long hours poring through thousands of files and eventually found 80 incidents where Wilson met on a professional basis with the CIA and proof that the CIA had indirectly used Wilson after his retirement. "His revenge for his framing came almost too late. In 2003 his conviction for the explosives-shipping was overturned because, wrote the judge, the government had lied. Far from no contacts with the CIA between 1971 and 1978, there had been at least 80. Several ran intriguingly 'parallel' to the illegal acts he had been charged with. The next year he was released, white-haired at 76, fighting fit and pumped up with his own righteousness, to spend the rest of his days trying to clear his name."[6]

A federal judge ruled that the prosecution had acted improperly. In October 2003, Wilson's conviction on the explosives charge was overturned. Wilson was released from prison on September 14, 2004, after being incarcerated for 22 years.

Civil action[edit]

Wilson filed a civil suit against seven former federal prosecutors, two of whom are now federal judges, and a past executive director of the CIA. On 29 March 2007, U.S. District Judge Lee Rosenthal dismissed his case on the ground that all eight had immunity covering their actions.


  1. ^ Martin, Douglas (September 22, 2012). "Edwin P. Wilson CIA Operative Dies at 84". The New York Times. Retrieved 2012-10-15.
  2. ^ Hughes, Lynn (Oct 27, 2003). "United States of America vs. Edwin Paul Wilson, United States District Court, Southern District of Texas, Criminal Case H-82-139, Opinion on Conviction in Ancillary Civil Action H- 97-831" (PDF). fas.org. Retrieved 2014-02-05.
  3. ^ a b c Carlson, Peter (June 22, 2004). "International Man of Mystery". Washington Post. p. C01. Retrieved 2018-06-09.
  4. ^ Trippett, Frank (June 15, 1987). "The Spectator in Solitary". Time Magazine. Retrieved 2014-02-03.
  5. ^ a b c Powers, Thomas (April 27, 1986). "Easy Money at the CIA". New York Times. Retrieved 2014-02-05.
  6. ^ a b c ""Obituary: Edwin P. Wilson"". The Economist. 404 (8804 (Sept. 29-Oct. 5, 2012)): 98. September 29, 2012.
  7. ^ a b Childs, Martin (Oct 8, 2012). "Edwin Wilson: CIA officer who made millions from spying". independent.co.uk. Retrieved 2014-02-05.
  8. ^ Hughes, Lynn (October 27, 2003). "United States of America vs. Edwin Paul Wilson, Criminal Case H-82-139, United States District Court, Southern District of Texas, Opinion on Conviction in Ancillary Civil Action H- 97-831" (PDF). fas.org. p. 2. Retrieved 2014-02-05.
  9. ^ a b Richelson, Jeffrey (2001). "The Pentagon's Spies, Documents Detail Histories of Once Secret Spy Units, National Security Archive Electronic Briefing Book No. 46". National Security Archive. Retrieved 2014-02-05.
  10. ^ Hughes, Lynn (Oct 27, 2003). "United States of America vs. Edwin Paul Wilson, United States District Court, Southern District of Texas, Criminal Case H-82-139, Opinion on Conviction in Ancillary Civil Action H- 97-831" (PDF). fas.org. p. 17. Retrieved 2014-02-05.
  11. ^ Waugh, Billy; Tim Keown (2005). Hunting the Jackal. HarperCollins. pp. 133–154. ISBN 978-0-06-056410-0.
  12. ^ "Edwin Wilson". Telegraph. September 28, 2012. Retrieved 2012-10-15.
  13. ^ Gordon, Michael (February 25, 1987). "Libya's A-Bomb Effort Cited". Washington Post. Retrieved 2014-02-05.
  14. ^ Keith Plocek (May 3, 2007). "Spy Stories". houstonpress. Retrieved 2008-06-08. In particular, Barcella, the former Assistant U.S. Attorney who tracked down Wilson and put him behind bars, pondered the 40,000 pounds of C-4 plastic explosive that Wilson, well schooled by the agency in intrigue and arms dealing, sold to Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi in 1977
  15. ^ a b c Jane Mayer; Doyle McManus (1988). Landslide: the unmaking of the President, 1984-1988. Boston: Houghton Mifflin. p. 142. ISBN 978-0-395-45185-4.
  16. ^ Eric Margolis (November 10, 2003). "EDWIN WILSON: AMERICA'S MAN IN THE IRON MASK". ericmargolis. Retrieved 2011-09-29.

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