Did the U.S. Put Away Notorious Arms Trader Ed Wilson with False Testimony?


By Ken Silverstein (c) 1999 The Nation, October 4, 1999. [Ken Silverstein is a writer in Washington, D.C. Research Support for this article was provided by the Investigative Fund of The Nation Institute.]

I seems so far away, that era pre-Saddam, when the devil was Libya=s Muammar el-Qaddafi, and when, in 1982, Edwin Wilson, a former CIA man, was sensationally arrested and tried for consorting wit the devil by way of arming Libyan forces. Wilson was convicted in there separate trials and sentenced to fifty-two years in prison. Now it appears that in one of those trials the government used false testimony in obtaining a conviction.

The Wilson affair was a noisy scandal for the CIA. All along, Wilson claimed that the agency Aindirectly sanctioned@ his activities in Libya, which he described as part of an intelligence-gathering operation against Qaddafi. The CIA denied all and called Wilson a rogue agent. At a 1983 trial in HoustonBwhere Wilson got seventeen years for supplying Libya with twenty tons of plastic explosiveBthe CIA entered an affidavit stating that it had had no business relationship with Wilson after 1971.

Over the past few years, Wilson has obtainedBby court order and through the Freedom of Information ActBhundreds of thousands of pages from the files of the CIA and the Justice Department that indicate the CIA=s affidavit was false. On September 8, Wilson=s court-appointed lawyer, David Adler, filed a motion to overturn h is client=s Houston conviction, saying there is solid evidence that Wilson was performing services, some quite sensitive, for the agency until at least 1977Bsix years after the CIA claimed to have terminated its business relationship with him, and well after he had gone to work for Qaddafi.

Adler=s motion further states that prominent government officials involved in Wilson=s prosecutionBincluding Mark Richard, currently Deputy Assistant Attorney General under Janet Reno;

Theodore Greenberg, now special counsel to the Justice Department=s money-laundering division; D. Lowell Jensen, now a federal judge in Oakland; and Stanley Sporkin, a federal judge in WashingtonBknew before or immediately after the Houston trial that the CIA=s affidavit was false. As recorded in notes obtained under the FOIA these men discussed the CiA=s relationship to Wilson extensively, but failed to share their information with Wilson=s defense. And in hearings last March before US District Court Judge Lynn Hughes, the Justice Department=s Arlene Reidy, who is helping coordinate the government=s response to Wilson=s motion, acknowledged, AWe have a lot of documents already that I think show that there was a clear problem with the affidavit=s accuracy and that the individual=s involved were well aware of that problem@

Adler argues that right now whether Wilson=s Libyan activities were part of a CIA operation is not the point, AThe issue isn=t Wilson= behavior but the prosecution=s behavior,@ says Adler, who is himself a former CIA employee. AThe government engaged in shameful scheme to deprive Wilson of his constitutional rights.@

Wilson was raised in a small town in Idaho, the son of a poor farm family. After a stint in the Marines, hew was recruited by the CIA in 1955. According to Peter Maas=s book Manhunt, during the sixties, Wilson sent crowd-dispersion devices to Chile and Brazil, high-tech equipment to Iran, arms for the CIA backed coup to Indonesia and military parts to the Philippines. He also became close to two of the agency=s rising stars, Theodore Shackley and Thomas Clines (both of whom were ultimately pushed out of the CIA because of ties to Wilson, and then went on to play important freelance roles in the Iran contra affair).

In 1971, Wilson left the CIA and signed on with a top-secret naval intelligence unit called Task Force 157, charged with monitoring Russian ship traffic and recruiting spies to work in foreign ports. He stayed there until 1976, then set up a consulting shop in Washington and began marketing his intelligence skills. According to prosecutors, Wilson and his partner, Frank Terpil, another former agency man, struck a multimillion-dollar deal with Qaddafi=s government in 1976 to arm Lybia dn recruit US special Forces veterans to train its agents in everything from helicopter piloting to terrorist tactics. As part of the deal, Wilson in 1977 arranged to smuggle twenty tons of C-4 plastic explosiveBdisguised as oil-drilling fluidBfrom Houston to Libya.

Wilson=s activities came to the attention of Lawrence Barcella in the US Attorney=s office in Washington. In April 1980, he filed a sealed indictment against Wilson and Terpil for their role in assisting Qaddafi. Wilson was arrested two years later, after a US informant convinced him to travel to the Dominican Republic for a purported business meeting with National Security Council officials. He was met by federal marshals, who hustled him off to the United States (Terpil was never caught and is said to live in Cuba.)

In November 1982, Wilson was sentenced to ten years for selling a few handguns and an M-16 to the Libyans. In February 1983, the jury in Houston found him guilty of selling the plastic explosive. Later that year, Wilson got another twenty-five years for trying to hire a hit man to kill Barcella, among others.

The government has conceded that individual agentsBincluding Clines and Shackley, who in 1976 held one of the CIA=s top postsBhad contacts with Wilson after 1971. But those relationship were said to be largely of a social nature and did not indicate the agency=s approval aor awareness of Wilson=s actions. Wilson claimed to have an ongoing relationship with the CIA and said he sold arms to Libya only to establish his bona fides with Qaddafi.

In Houston, prosecutors wanted to call Bill Donnelly, a senior CIA official, to testify that Wilson had no substantive links to the agency. But Donnelly had been a player in sensitive operationsBfor instance, with Solidarity in PolandBand the CIA would allow him to testify only under an alias. The prosecution also sought to restrict the defense=s ability to cross-examine him. The judge refused those terms, so prosecutors submitted an affidavit from Charles Briggs, the CIA=s not 2 man. Entered into evidence on February 4Bthe day before the jury returned a guilty verdictBthe affidavit said the agency had searched all of its records relations to Wilson and had found that with one exception* Wilson Awas not asked or requested, directly or indirectly, to perform or provide any services, directly or indirectly, for the CIA@ after he left the agency.

Wilson is now at the high-security prison in Allenwood, Pennsylvania, along with several of the World Trade Center bombers and former CIA man turned Soviet spy Aldrich Ames. This past August, on another matter, I interviewed Wilson, now 71. Because his attorney=s motion had not yet been filed, he wouldn=t discuss his case, except to say again that he and his associates in Libya were Areporting directly to the Agency.@

Since 1991, the attorney, Adler, has reviewed some 250,000 pages of records on th case, some classified. On April 21, 1983, CIA memorandum, written two months after the Houston trial, shows eighty contacts between the agency and Wilson after 1971. Some were only encountered on Athe Washington cocktail scene,@ but Adler says thirty-six are significant enough to contradict the Briggs affidavit. A few of those will illustrate their nature.

In 1974, a CIA officer named Eugene Norwinski asked Wilson to purchase an antitank weapon for what the memo calls Aa sensitive Agency operation.@ Norwinski sought Wilson=s help because he said, Wilson had extensive ties in governmental intelligence circles and A:his loyalty to the U.S. government and the Agency is beyond reproach.@

Also in 1974, Egyptian intelligence asked the CIA to arrange for the purchase of two desalinization plants. Not wanting to do the job directlyBperhaps it feared upsetting the Israeli MossadBthe agency had Wilson handle the deal. To carry it out, he used Consultants International, a firm he had originally set up as a CIA proprietary and was allowed to keep after departing from the agency.

Between May and September of 1975, Clines, according to his secretary at the time, Aspoke perhaps daily or at least every other day@ to Wilson on the phone.

In August of 1976, Shackley met with Wilson and asked for a list of his contacts in Libya who might e useful to the CIA. At the same meeting the two men disbursed, Aa Wilson contract to clear minefield in Libya [and] Wilson=s bid on a computer center for the Tripoli Training Center and the Libyan Defense Academy.@

In 1977 or 1978, Wilson and two associates me with Clines and Shackley, who asked Wilson to acquire a Soviet surface-to-air missile Aand other hardware@ for undisclosed CIA operations

In the months leading up to Wilson=s trial, Justice Department officials repeatedly requested information from the CIA about any relationship it might have maintained with its former employee. The agency assured Justice there was no relationshipBuntil the day before the Briggs affidavit was entered into evidence at trial . On that day Stanley Sporkin, then the CIA=s general counsel (who=d later write the April 21 memorandum) contacted Theodore Greenberg, then the Justice Department=s assistant U.S. attorney in the Wilson case. Sporkin told Greenberg that there had indeed been dealings between Wilson and the agency after 1971. He requested that the affidavit not be used, or, at a minimum, that the word Aindirectly@ be struck from the text. Greenberg declined Sporkin=s advice. Later he and others would argue that the affidavit was sound because the central issue was whether Wilson and provided Aservices@ to the CIA, and by his reading, Wilson had not.

Wilson was convicted but he CIA=s new information triggered a debate with prosecutorial ranks. By February 18Bthe day Wilson was sentencedBthe CIA had drafted (but never sent) a letter to Wilson=s attorneys stating that the affidavit had omitted certain contacts between him and the agency. Four days later, Mark Richard of the Justice Department sent a handwritten note to D. Lowell Jensen, then Assistant Attorney General: AI think we must make a disclosure either to the judge or the defense attorney (a third option is to disclose to both).@ Attached was a memo prepared by Kim Rosenfield of the Justice Department=s criminal division and titled ADuty to Disclose Possibly False Testimony.@ It summed up relevant case law; on top of the first page, someone had written: APlain meaning of services. The affid. is inaccurate.@

The debate continued for months. On April 21, Sporkin sent Richard his memo listing the contacts between Wilson and the agency. At about this time, a meeting was held among Ainterested parties,@including Jensen, Richard Greenberg, Sporkin and Lawrence Barcella. Handwritten notes from that meeting show Sporkin and Richard arguing in favor of disclosure, saying Wilson=s activities were clearly services from which the CIA derived a benefit. Sporkin said flatly that Briggs would not have signed the affidavit (if he=d known of Wilson=s continued links to the agency.

Greenberg argued that the affidavit was accurate, again differing with Richard and Sporkin over the definition of Aservices.@ Greenberg also insisted that the Briggs affidavit as a whole Arelates to services in relation to ship[ment] of C-4.@

What follows is an excerpt from the notes, the subject here being Wilson=s purchase of the desalination plants for Egypt:

Richard: Service here = CIA decided to accommodate Egypt. It was in CIA=s interest to do it.

Sporkin: We act as accommodation for foreign govts. We use him [Wilson] because he=s


Jensen: CIA doesn=t say [Wilson=s purchase] is indirect service.

Sporkin: We negotiated the sale!

Greenberg: Service is any time EW consulted by CIA?

Richard: Just recommending CI [Consultant=s International] does not constitute EW

providing service. IN this case it=s more. EW is serving CIA objective, protecting

undisclosed principal [the agency itself].

In the end, the government finessed the problem. Handwritten notes dated August 8, 1983 (the government writer is unnamed) stated, AIf decision is made to discloseBdisclosure should be in context of CA [court of appeals] brief/Benefit: CA likely to treat issue without much attention.@ Indeed, in response to Wilson=s then-pending appeal, the government filed a classified brief that, according to Adler, glancingly conceded that the Briggs affidavit omitted a few contacts but said it was nevertheless sound, since Wilson had not provided Aintelligence services@ to the CIA.

These new revelations don=t prove Wilson=s innocence in the plastic explosive case. But to overturn his sentence in that case, Wilson need only show that the prosecution knowingly used false information that influenced the jury=s decision.

Mark Richard declined to comment on Adler=s motion. Greenberg referred me to the Justice Department=s Mark Bonner, who, with Arlene Reidy, is coordinating a reply to the motion. Neither Bonner nor Reidy would comment. Sporkin would say only that he had no Aindependent recollection@ of the Briggs debate but that Awhatever I did would have been the right thing.@

Barcella, who initiated the investigation and arrest of Wilson and oversaw details of the government=s cases, participated in the debate over the affidavit, but told me he had only a vague recollection of it. (He served simply as a witness in the Houston case.) He said Wilson Agratuitously volunteered@ assistance but was never Atasked@ by the CIA; AHe [Wilson] always said that he was trying to ingratiate himself with Qaddafi. Somehow I think that if he had asked the CIA for advice, they would have same to come up with a better plan to ingratiate yourself than shipping him twenty tons of plastic explosives.@ He said none of the information about Wilson=s tires to the CIA would have been admissible in court, because Aan >authorization= defense has to demonstrate that you were tasked to do the crime you are charged with. Even Wilson=s defense never said he was specifically authorized to ship C-4.@

Adler argues that the new information would have been directly relevant to Wilson=s defense in Houston. He adds that there is overwhelming evidence that the affidavit strongly influenced the jury. On the day of the verdict, the jury sent Judge Ross Sterling a note asking to have the affidavit reread to them. Less than an hours after hearing it, the panel found Wilson guilty. Afterward, one juror, Betty Metzler, told a UPI reporter that the panel had been split 11 to 1 for conviction, with the holdout being swayed after hearing Brigg=s=s testimony.

AThere were several of us that thought possibly the CIA might have something to do with that [Wilson=s activities], Metzler said. ABut when they admitted that last affidavit, that convinced me.@

More important, Adler says, whether or not it would have been relevant to the defense, the Briggs affidavit represented the knowing use of perjured testimony by the government; Athe affidavit doesn=t say the CIA had no contacts with Wilson dealing with the export of C-4. It says that he provided no services for us, period.@ In his motion he cites a Supreme Court ruling that states, AAll perjured testimony is at war with justice...it cannot be denied that it tends to defeat the sole ultimate objective of the trial.@

At this writing, the Justice Department had until September 22 to respond to Adler=s motion. Then it will be up to Judge Hughes to settle matters. If Hughes sides with the defense, the verdict will be set aside unless the government chooses to retry the caseBa difficult prospect so long after the events transpired. If Wilson wins, Adler could use the ruling to seek to overturn his first conviction as well. Success thee would leave Wilson only with the twenty-five year sentence on the Barcella hit-job case. With time servedBnow standing at seventeen yearsBhe could be immediately eligible for parole.

*In May of 1972 Wilson met with the CIA=s Africa Division chief, Lawrence Devlin, who during the sixties had been the agency=s station chief in Zaire, and had helped bring Mobutu Sese Seko to power, and a senior Africa Division counterintelligence officer named Edward Kane. Wilson told them he had an associate who could infiltrate Libyan intelligence, an offer they accepted. The associate didn=t run up anything of great interestBthough he did establish contacts in the Libyan military that Kane thought Amight be operationally exploitable.@ The CIA later paid Wilson $1,000 for his efforts. AThe whole meat and potatoes of CIA clandestine intelligence gathering is trolling for human agents, says Adler of this incident. AThat=s precisely what Wilson is helping the agency do in this case.@

The end.


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