Ex-CIA Agent Framed by the CIA and Federal Prosecutors


By Hans Sherrer

Justice Denied Magazine, Vol. 2, Issue 1

The strange case of former CIA agent Edwin Wilson provides a rare proof of the legal and moral corruption pervasive throughout the U.S. Department of Justice and the shortage of compassion endemic in the federal judiciary.

In 1983, Mr. Wilson was convicted of what was up to that time the United States' largest illegal arms trading case. He was convicted of selling 22 tons of C-4 explosives to Libya, and he has spent the last 17 years in federal prisons. Currently confined in Pennsylvania, Wilson is awaiting a decision by Texas Federal Judge Lynn Hughes on two motions. One is to vacate his conviction, and the other is a contempt motion.

The two motions relate to the submission by federal prosecutors during Mr. Wilson's trial of what the government now admits was a false affidavit. The false affidavit was made by the CIA's third highest-ranking official during the latter part of Wilson's trial at the request of federal prosecutors. Edwin Wilson left the CIA in 1971, and the affidavit stated that except for one instance after he left, Wilson "was not asked or requested, directly or indirectly, to perform or provide any services, directly or indirectly, for the CIA."

During his trial, Edwin Wilson used the "CIA Defense" that he had an ongoing relationship with the CIA, and the agency knew about and approved of his arms trading as a way for him to cultivate and maintain information contacts valuable to the agency. The affidavit by the CIA's Executive Director undermined Mr. Wilson's defense, and the jury relied on it to convict him.

Wilson used the Freedom of Information Act to obtain documents years after his conviction that prove what he knew all along: the affidavit was false and the prosecutors concealed that information from Wilson, his lawyers, as well as from the trial and appellate judges. The Department of Justice has admitted in court briefs related to Wilson's two pending motions that not only was the affidavit false, but also that lower level CIA officials notified the prosecutors immediately after his conviction that the affidavit wasn't true. The CIA eventually provided the U.S. Department of Justice with a report detailing that Edwin Wilson was known to have had nearly 100 contacts with CIA officials after he officially left the agency and that he was a valuable source of information for the agency. Among other things, Wilson uncovered a plot to assassinate President Reagan.

Using the Freedom of Information Act, Wilson has identified at least 17 current and former federal officials who concealed their knowledge of the affidavit's falseness.

One of the motions being considered by Judge Hughes seeks that those 17 officials be held "in contempt for interfering in the administration of justice" by concealing their knowledge that the affidavit was false and that Mr. Wilson continued to work with the CIA for more than a decade after officially leaving the agency. Since he was covertly working with the CIA as he said he was at his trial, Wilson didn't have the requisite criminal intent necessary to be guilty of allegedly committing the crime for which he has been imprisoned for the past 17 years.

Three of the 17 officials who are known to have concealed the truth about the affidavit's falsity were Department of Justice lawyers who became federal judges. Stephen Trott is currently with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, Dr. Lowell Jensen is the Senior Federal Judge of California's Northern District, and Stanley Sporkin is a retired judge for the District of Columbia.

Two of the three federal judges have tried to minimize their wrongdoing in their public comments about the case, and the third, Judge Jensen, has declined to publicly comment.

Although the U.S. Department of Justice admits that the affidavit on which the jury relied to convict Wilson was false, the Department is taking the position that his conviction shouldn't be vacated on procedural grounds. The Department of Justice maintains that although Wilson's lawyers objected to the affidavit's introduction as evidence to the jury, he didn't specifically object during his trial to its use by the government on the grounds that it was false. Furthermore, federal prosecutors are opposing the overturning of Wilson's conviction on the grounds that his prosecutors didn't know the affidavit was false at the time they introduced it as evidence, even though they admitted they learned of the affidavit's falsity within days of his conviction and concealed that information for years. If the prosecutors had disclosed that the affidavit was false when they learned of it, Wilson could have made a motion to vacate his conviction before he was sentenced.

Instead of trying to correct the wrong of obtaining Edwin Wilson's conviction and his imprisonment for 17 years by their use of an admittedly false affidavit by a top CIA official, federal prosecutors continue to fight to keep him in prison at the age of 72.

In retrospect, it appears that Edwin Wilson was a political pawn sacrificed by high CIA officials in an effort to try to maintain the public illusion that the Reagan administration wasn't complicit in covertly providing arms to nations such as Libya, publicly branded as unfriendly to the United States. The Department of Justice is not pursuing justice in Edwin Wilson's case, but it appears to be trying to avoid the public and legal embarrassment that would result from Wilson's exoneration and the financial compensation he might be awarded for his years of being wrongly imprisoned. One's personal opinion about the nature of Wilson's conviction doesn't change the wrong perpetrated on him by the very people with whom he was, in effect, working -- the CIA and the United States government.

Edwin Wilson's pending motions were filed in the fall of 1999 by David Adler, who has a one-man law practice in Houston, Texas. As this is written, no one knows when Judge Hughes will rule on these motions.

Source: "DOJ admits false data on ex-agent: Arms dealer's appeal could touch three ex-government lawyers who became judges." Jason Hoppin, The National Law Journal, June 12, 2000, p. A9.