November 10, 2003
NEW YOK - 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 Huston, 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.'
Wilson was no angel. The veteran, tough as nails CIA field agent specialized in running arms and mounting coups. He was one of the agency's old-time `cowboys.' In 1971, Wilson officially `retired' from CIA and went into business on his own. In reality, CIA used Wilson for potentially explosive clandestine deals it wanted to keep `deniable.'
I first heard of Wilson and partner, Frank Terpil, while covering the Angolan War between Soviet and Cuban-backed Marxist forces and Jonas Savimbi's anti-communist UNITA guerilla army. UNITA was secretly armed by South Africa and the US, but Washington did not want to be seen as an ally of the apartheid regime. So CIA used Wilson and Terpil to channel arms to Savimbi, using CIA-front firms and banks in Asia and Europe.
In the late 1970's, CIA sent Wilson and Terpil to Libya to covertly strengthen the regime of Muammar Khadaffi. Washington planned to use the fiery Libyan leader as its strongman in North Africa, just as it was using longtime CIA `asset' Anwar Sadat in Egypt.
Wilson sold Libya C-4 explosives and arms, and sent teams of ex-Green Berets to train Libyan commandos and `terminate' some of Libya's many enemies abroad. The explosives, Wilson has always maintained, were for Libya's oil industry.
But while CIA was backing Khadaffi, the new Reagan Administration sought to distance itself from the soft policies of the Carter Administration by denouncing Muammar Khadaffi as the world's leading terrorist and a threat to America.
CIA was ordered to overthrow Khadaffi, putting the agency in a frightfully embarrassing dilemma. Bureaucratic panic erupted at Langley. The Libyan operation was ordered immediately shut down and all records destroyed.
As word of secret US backing of Khadaffi leaked out, Wilson and Terpil were cut adrift and proclaimed outlaws. They fled to the Mideast. In 1982 Wilson was lured by American agents to the Dominican Republic, kidnapped to the USA, and charged with gun-running.
During numerous trials, Wilson maintained he had been working for CIA. He was not allowed to cross-examine CIA witnesses for `security reasons' shades of today's terrorism trials.
The third-ranking CIA official provided a false affidavit to Justice Department prosecutors that the agency `had no knowledge of Edwin P. Wilson.' This was a lie, a fact discovered by Wilson's tenacious lawyer, David Adler, by poring through 300,000 documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act. A lie prosecutors were aware of, found Judge Hughes, who said the jury would have acquitted Wilson had government told the truth.
In the early 1980's, an old friend, Ed G, an Iranian-born American accountant with no intelligence experience, was convinced by CIA it was his `patriotic duty' to go to Iran and build a new agent network in Tehran to replace the previous one rolled up by the Islamic revolution.
After three years of amateurish spying, Ed's cover was blown. He fled for his life. On returning to the US, Ed called his CIA controller and was told, `there is no one here by that name, and we have no record of you.' Another disaster was simply erased by throwing agents to the wolves. Penniless, Ed was reduced to begging money from friends and finally working as a shoe salesman. Compared to Wilson, he was lucky.
It is terrifying to see government's massive weight crush an innocent man. Wilson became America's `Man in the Iron Mask.' Judge Hughes called the case `double-crossing a part-time, informal government agent.' She aptly used the term `framed' to qualify this disgusting legal outrage. High Justice Department officials involved in this crime are today serving judges. They, and the retired CIA official, should be prosecuted.
The Wilson case should remind us of all the US Justice Department's recent and ongoing `terrorism' prosecutions, where individuals, mostly foreign-born, poor, and uneducated many of them Pakistanis have had the book thrown at them and are threatened with life terms if they do not confess to crimes. While truth is the first victim of nationalist hysteria, justice is always the second.
In spite of Judge Hughes' ruling, The government refuses to release Wilson and is now considering an appeal. Shame.