Edwin Wilson: CIA officer who made millions from spying

 

Edwin Wilson was a CIA officer who fronted companies for the purposes of spying, while making millions of dollars. Eventually branded a traitor, he served more than two decades in prison before a federal judge overturned his conviction for selling explosives to Libya.

Wilson, a former Marine, lived out the lifestyle of a Boys' Own secret agent. He claimed to own 100 businesses in the US and Europe, some real, some of them fronts. At his peak, Wilson was reportedly worth $23 million and assembled a vast property portfolio, with a hunting lodge in England, an apartment in Geneva, a seaside villa in Tripoli, a townhouse in Washington and real estate in North Carolina, Lebanon and Mexico. A noted raconteur, he impressed and beguiled and mixed with the élite, entertaining congressmen, government officials, generals and CIA bigwigs at his 2,300-acre estate in Northern Virginia; he owned three private jets and showered his mistress with gifts.

At a time of rising suspicions about the agency's covert dealings, Wilson came to epitomise the CIA renegade. Officially, he worked for the CIA between 1955 and 1971, before spending five years with Naval Intelligence. He then became a specialist in running front companies which existed as a cover for espionage, while producing huge profits for Wilson. In his 1986 book about Wilson, Manhunt, Peter Maas wrote, "Being in the CIA was like putting on a magic coat that forever made him invisible and invincible."

Born into a poor farming family in Nampa, Idaho, 1928, Edwin Paul Wilson worked as a merchant seaman before attending the University of Portland, where he graduated in psychology. He joined the Marines and fought in the last days of the Korean War, where he impressed. Upon his discharge in 1955, it was suggested by a stranger on the flight home that he might enjoy working for the CIA.

Wilson's first assignment was guarding U-2 spy planes. In 1960, the CIA sent him to Cornell University for graduate studies in Labour Relations, which he put to use fighting communism in unions around the world. In one case he paid Corsican mobsters to keep leftist dockers in line; in another he released cockroaches in the hotel rooms of Soviet labour delegates.

In 1964, Wilson started a maritime consulting firm on behalf of the CIA, so that it could better monitor international shipping. By pushing up costs and skimping on taxes, he multiplied his own income to begin living his lavish lifestyle.

Leaving government service, Wilson became an arms dealer with the Libyan government, operating from bases there and in England and Switzerland. He also assembled former Green Berets to train Libyan troops, and pilots to work for Libya. In 1982, however, he was lured from a safe haven in Libya to the Dominican Republic and arrested on charges of selling Libya 20 tons of C-4 plastic explosives.

Investigators had been building a case against him since 1976, when one of his partners approached the CIA and the FBI with reservations about his business dealings. For two years Wilson was tried in four federal cases in four different courts, accused of, among other things, smuggling arms and plotting to murder his wife.

In Washington, he was acquitted of soliciting the assassination of a Libyan dissident. In Virginia, he was accused of illegally exporting a rifle and four pistols, including one used to kill a Libyan in Germany. He was sentenced to 15 years in prison (later reduced to 10) and fined $200,000. In New York he was accused of trying to hire a hitman to kill two prosecutors and witnesses against him. He was sentenced to 25 years and fined $75,000.

Finally, in Texas, Wilson was accused of exporting 20 tons of plastic explosives to Gaddafi – described as the largest such deal in US history. HIs defence was that the deal was part of a CIA intelligence-gathering operation. In 1983 he was sentenced to 17 years with a $145,000 fine.

Wilson served 22 years, mostly in solitary confinement. He used the Freedom of Information Act to obtain thousands of pages of documents showing, he argued, that prosecutors had used false testimony, an affidavit from a high-ranking CIA official, to win his conviction. Wilson and his lawyer destroyed the government's case.

In 2003 a judge in Houston ruled that faults in a key piece of evidence probably prevented an acquittal and believed that Wilson had been working for the CIA – who continued to deny involvement in the Libyan arms sale. David Corn, biographer of the CIA officer Theodore Shackley, observed: "They framed a guilty man… I think he's a terrible fellow who got what he deserved, but they did frame him."

In 2004, a year after the judge's ruling, Wilson was released from prison in Pennsylvania. He lived in Seattle with his brother on a monthly Social Security income of $1,080. He died of complications from heart surgery.

Edwin Wilson, CIA agent; born Nampa, Idaho 3 May 1928; marriage dissolved ( two sons), partner to Cate Callahan; died Seattle 10 September 2012.

Arts & Entertainment
The Honesty Policy is a group of anonymous Muslims who believe that the community needs a space to express itself without shame or judgement
music
News
Waitrose will be bringing in more manned tills
newsOverheard in Waitrose: documenting the chatter in 'Britain's poshest supermarket'
Life & Style
life
Arts & Entertainment
Back in the suit: There are only so many variations you can spin on the lives or adventures of Peter Parker
filmReview: Almost every sequence and set-up in The Amazing Spider-Man 2 seems familiar from some earlier superhero film
VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Arts & Entertainment
Jack Gleeson as Joffrey Baratheon in Game of Thrones
tv
Life & Style
Father and son: Michael Williams with son Edmund
lifeAs his son’s bar mitzvah approaches, CofE-raised Michael Williams describes the unexpected joys he’s experienced in learning about his family’s other faith
Arts & Entertainment
Ian Anderson, the leader of British rock band Jethro Tull, (right) and British guitar player Martin Barre (left) perform on stage
musicJethro Tull frontman leads ‘prog rock’ revival
Sport
Gareth Bale dribbled from inside his own half and finished calmly late in the final to hand Real a 2-1 win at the Mestalla in Valencia
sport
Arts & Entertainment
Who laughs lass: Jenny Collier on stage
comedy... writes Jenny Collier, the comedian whose recent show was cancelled because there were 'too many women' on the bill
News
House proud: keeping up with the Joneses now extends to children's playhouses
newsLuxury playhouses now on the market for as much as £800
News
news
Life & Style
Stir it up: the writer gets a lichen masterclass from executive chef Vivek Singh of the Cinnamon restaurants
food + drinkLichen is the surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus, thanks to our love of Scandinavian and Indian cuisines
Extras
indybest
Arts & Entertainment
Ken Loach (left) and Mike Leigh who will be going head to head for one of cinema's most coveted prizes at this year's Cannes Film Festival
filmKen Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or
News
The academic, Annamaria Testa, has set out on her website a list of 300 English words that she says Italians ought to stop using
newsAcademic speaks out against 'Italianglo' - the use of English words in Italian language
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Apprentice IT Technician

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company is a company that specializ...

1st Line Technical Service Desk Analyst IT Apprentice

£153.75 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company is an innovative outsourcin...

1st Line Helpdesk Engineer Apprentice

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company has been providing on site ...

Sales Associate Apprentice

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: We've been supplying best of breed peopl...

Day In a Page

How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe: Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC

How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe

Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC
Video of British Muslims dancing to Pharrell Williams's hit Happy attacked as 'sinful'

British Muslims's Happy video attacked as 'sinful'

The four-minute clip by Honesty Policy has had more than 300,000 hits on YouTube
Church of England-raised Michael Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith

Michael Williams: Do as I do, not as I pray

Church of England-raised Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith
A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife

A History of the First World War in 100 moments

A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife
Comedian Jenny Collier: 'Sexism I experienced on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

Jenny Collier: 'Sexism on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

The comedian's appearance at a show on the eve of International Women's Day was cancelled because they had "too many women" on the bill
Cannes Film Festival: Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or

Cannes Film Festival

Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or
The concept album makes surprise top ten return with neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson

The concept album makes surprise top ten return

Neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson is unexpected success
Lichen is the surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus, thanks to our love of Scandinavian and Indian cuisines

Lichen is surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus

Emily Jupp discovers how it can give a unique, smoky flavour to our cooking
10 best baking books

10 best baking books

Planning a spot of baking this bank holiday weekend? From old favourites to new releases, here’s ten cookbooks for you
Jury still out on Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini

Jury still out on Pellegrini

Draw with Sunderland raises questions over Manchester City manager's ability to motivate and unify his players
Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

The all-rounder has been hailed as future star after Ashes debut but incident in Caribbean added to doubts about discipline. Jon Culley meets a man looking to control his emotions
Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

The most prize money ever at an All-Weather race day is up for grabs at Lingfield on Friday, and the record-breaking trainer tells Jon Freeman how times have changed
Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail. If you think it's awful, then just don't watch it'

Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail'

As the second series of his divisive sitcom 'Derek' hits screens, the comedian tells James Rampton why he'll never bow to the critics who habitually circle his work
Mad Men series 7, TV review: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge

Mad Men returns for a final fling

The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground as there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit

Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground

Technology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit