Skip Ribbon Commands
Skip to main content

Edwin Wilson

Other Federal Exonerations with Misconduct
Edwin P. Wilson, an undercover agent and spy for the Central Intelligence Agency and U.S. Naval Intelligence from 1955 through 1976, primarily in Libya, came under federal investigation in 1978 for his activities there.
On April 23, 1980, a federal grand jury in the District of Columbia indicted Wilson on charges of shipping explosives to Libya. He was acquitted and went back to Libya where he remained until he was lured to the Dominican Republic in June 1982 and arrested.
On July 19, 1982 he was indicted by a federal grand jury in Houston, Texas on charges of shipping 42,000 pounds of the plastic explosive C-4 to Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi in 1977, and then hiring U.S. experts—former U.S. Army Green Berets—to teach Libyans how to make bombs.
In November 1982 a federal jury convicted him in the Eastern District of Virginia on charges of orchestrating the smuggling of handguns and an M-16 rifle to Libyans. He was sentenced to 10 years in prison.
He went to trial on the Texas indictment in February 1983 and contended that he had acted under the direction and authority of the CIA—if not directly, at least implicitly. He said he was collecting intelligence for the CIA about Soviet military operations in Libya and Gadhafi’s regime.
The prosecution presented an affidavit from Charles A. Briggs, who served as the CIA’s inspector general until mid-1982 when he became its executive director—the third highest ranking person in the CIA. The sworn statement said that Wilson had been terminated by the CIA in February 1971 and with the exception of some work for Naval Intelligence in 1972, Wilson “was not asked or requested, directly or indirectly, to perform or provide any service, directly or indirectly, for (the) CIA.”
Wilson was convicted on February 18, 1983. He was sentenced to 17 years in prison and fined $145,000.
Three days after the trial ended, but before the sentencing, the government admitted internally that the Briggs affidavit was false. A CIA investigator drafted a memorandum that listed five solicitations and projects on which Wilson worked for the CIA after 1971. Two days later, the memorandum was forwarded to the U.S. Attorney’s office in Houston.
A Justice Department attorney sent the deputy assistant attorney general for the criminal division a memorandum entitled “Duty to Disclose Possibly False Testimony” that included a handwritten note saying, “Plain meaning of services—The (affidavit) is inaccurate.”
The prosecution sent a letter to Wilson’s attorneys mentioning a few of Wilson’s post-1971 contacts with the CIA, but never sent the memorandum for fear of opening “the entire universe of questioned contacts” between Wilson and the CIA.
Meanwhile, Wilson was indicted by a federal grand jury in the Southern District of New York on charges of plotting to kill the prosecutors and prosecution witnesses in the Virginia and Texas cases. He was convicted in November 1983 and sentenced to 25 years in prison.
Wilson’s Texas conviction was affirmed by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit in 1984.
In 1997, Wilson used  the Freedom of Information Act to obtain documents discussing the Briggs affidavit and its inaccuracy. Wilson sent the documents to U.S. District Judge Lynn Hughes in Houston and the judge appointed attorney David Adler, a former CIA agent, to represent Wilson.
In September 1999, Adler filed a petition for a new trial. On October 27, 2003, Judge Hughes overturned the Texas conviction and ordered a new trial, saying the prosecution presented false evidence. “Honesty comes hard to the government,” Hughes wrote.
The judge rejected arguments by the Justice Department that the use of the false affidavit was an innocent error and that the law does not require a retrial when someone is convicted on manufactured evidence as long as the use was not intentional.
Judge Hughes said he identified “about two dozen government lawyers” who actively participated in the original non-disclosure to the defense, the false testimony in court or the refusal to correct it.
The charges based on the 1982 indictment in Houston, Texas, were dismissed on February 6, 2004.
Later that year, after spending 22 years in prison, Wilson was paroled at the age of 76 and moved to Seattle.

He filed a lawsuit against seven former federal prosecutors—including two who became federal judges—and a former executive director of the CIA. In March 2007, U.S. District Judge Lee Rosenthal found that even if the officials' behavior was improper when Wilson was sent to prison in the early 1980s, all eight legally had immunity.
Wilson died in September, 2012
– Maurice Possley

Report an error or add more information about this case.

Posting Date:  Before June 2012
Last Updated: 9/11/2015
Most Serious Crime:Weapon Possession or Sale
Additional Convictions:
Reported Crime Date:1977
Sentence:17 years
Age at the date of reported crime:49
Contributing Factors:Perjury or False Accusation, Official Misconduct
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No