Skip to comments.Ex-CIA Man's Libyan Arms-Dealing Case Thrown Out
Posted on 10/30/2003 11:43:03 AM PST by KC Burke
HOUSTON (Reuters) - A federal judge on Tuesday threw out the 1983 conviction of former CIA (news - web sites) operative Edwin Wilson for selling tons of explosives to Libya, finding that prosecutors knowingly used false testimony and hid evidence that supported his defense.
U.S. District Judge Lynn Hughes' opinion, written on Monday but made public on Tuesday, vacates Wilson's conviction for selling 20 tons of C-4 plastic explosives to the Libyan government of Col. Muammar Gaddafi (news - web sites).
Wilson has been in prison since 1982, serving 52 years for three convictions including the arm sales to Libya. His lawyer thinks the 75-year-old prisoner could now be released if the government doesn't appeal the decision, which was scathing in its condemnation of prosecutorial methods.
Wilson, who ran front companies for the CIA and later parlayed his expertise into a lucrative arms-trading career, argued at his Houston trial that he had been freelancing for the CIA since his 1971 retirement.
Judge Hughes found that U.S. Justice Department (news - web sites) prosecutors knew that and nonetheless introduced a false affidavit from a top CIA official saying the agency had not asked Wilson "to perform or provide any services, directly or indirectly."
"With their knowledge of the nature of Wilson's work for the CIA, they deliberately deceived the court," Hughes wrote of the prosecutors.
Wilson's appeal produced CIA records of at least 40 occasions where he worked for the agency. None showed that the CIA asked him to sell C-4 explosives to Libya, but several showed the agency knew he worked there and asked for his help finding information.
Buying body armor for Iranian security forces, trading weapons or explosives for Soviet military equipment, and securing an anti-tank weapon for an agency operation were just a few of the things Wilson did for the CIA.
"Wilson was not running a Burger King for employees; he was dealing in arms and information for the CIA -- the stuff of both espionage and his convictions," the judge wrote.
Hughes called the false affidavit from the top CIA official -- the number three man at the time, Charles Briggs -- "nothing but a lie" and noted that the re-reading of it in court convinced the lone juror holding out against conviction to change her mind.
The conviction, then the biggest arms-dealing case in U.S. history, was one of three that federal prosecutors secured against Wilson after his 1982 arrest, leading to 52 years in combined prison sentences.
Wilson was the subject of two books and countless news articles describing his arms-dealing exploits in the 1970s and 1980s, much to the CIA's embarrassment.
He turned his CIA cover as a rich businessman into a reality, building a $23 million fortune, a string of handsome properties and an arms-dealing career that later proved his undoing.
Hughes' ruling comes more than three years after Wilson's court-appointed lawyer, David Adler of Houston, filed the appeal with records culled from Wilson's initial Freedom of Information Act requests.
Adler, a former CIA case officer who served in Africa, pored over at least 300,000 classified records stored in a Washington, D.C., vault.
"It is an enormous relief to finally be vindicated after so many years of being called a liar by so many officials in the Justice Department," Wilson said in a statement through Adler.
Adler said the "government's conduct in Wilson's case is nothing short of appalling and frightening. I hope the Justice Department holds someone accountable."
The Justice Department said it had not decided whether to appeal.
Based on sentencing laws in effect at the time of his conviction, Wilson believes he is eligible for release from prison and would be owed the $145,000 fine he paid.
Ex-CIA Attorney Blasts Wilson Case Ruling
HOUSTON - A former attorney for the CIA (news - web sites) denied that the government knowingly presented false evidence in the case of a former operative who has spent 20 years in prison for selling arms to Libya.
A federal judge threw out the 1983 conviction against 75-year-old Edwin P. Wilson on Tuesday, saying the government failed to correct information about Wilson's service to the CIA that it admitted internally was false.
Retired U.S. District Judge Stanley Sporkin, who was CIA general counsel at the time of Wilson's trial, told the Houston Chronicle in Thursday's editions that officials did not intend to present a false affidavit.
"They are fine people," he said of the federal attorneys involved. "And there were differences that was all. At the time it was written, I can assure you the people who prepared it thought it was a proper affidavit."
Wilson, who set up front companies abroad for the CIA and posed as a rich American businessman, is serving a 52-year prison sentence in a federal prison in Allenwood, Pa.
The decision could ultimately free him from prison. However, the ruling's immediate effect was not clear because Wilson received prison time for two other convictions including one for conspiring to have prosecutors killed.
Wilson claimed he shipped 20 tons of C-4 plastic explosives to Libya to ingratiate himself with the Libyan government at the CIA's request.
The CIA denied that at trial, and again on Wednesday.
"The CIA didn't authorize or play any role whatsoever in his decision to sell arms to Libya," agency spokesman Mark Mansfield said. "That decision was his and that is why he went to jail."
At his trial, prosecutors introduced a sworn statement from a top-ranking official saying Wilson did not do anything for the CIA after his retirement in 1971.
Days after his conviction, but before his sentencing, the CIA forwarded a memo to the U.S. attorney's office saying at least five projects Wilson had worked on for the CIA after 1971 had surfaced.
U.S. Judge Lynn N. Hughes said the government failed to inform Wilson's attorneys of the memo and upon his appeal, failed to acknowledge that the affidavit was false and suppressed other evidence that might have helped him.
The former head of the Justice Department (news - web sites)'s criminal division, D. Lowell Jensen, also denied a claim by the judge that he was involved in the prosecutors' discussions.
"I know that I would not have authorized the failure to disclose any information," Jensen said.
I remember the case well - didn't things begin to go awry for him after he was involved in a shooting out at a steakhouse on the corner of Dolley Madison & Old Dominion? Also striking was the fact that he was able to find some DC-8 drivers willing to haul that quantity of plastique. Holy Cow, talk about wild and crazy, that qualifies. Probably told the drivers they were hauling dried milk and Spam.
Stay Safe !
Is this the magical PROMIS that could supposedly hack any database in the world without knowing the properties of that database?
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