Federal Judge Tosses Conviction of Ex-CIA Agent Framed by the CIA and Federal Prosecutors

By Hans Sherrer

Justice:Denied magazine, Issue 24, page 4

In 2000, Justice:Denied (Vol. 2, Issue 1) reported on the frame-up of Edwin Wilson by the CIA and federal prosecutors. On October 27, 2003 Edwin Wilson’s 1983 conviction was vacated by a federal judge whose decision stated in part, “In the course of American justice, one would have to work hard to conceive of a more fundamentally unfair process with a consequentially unreliable result than the fabrication of false data by the government, under oath by a government official, presented knowingly by the prosecutor in the courtroom with the express approval of his superiors in Washington.”

From 1955 to 1971 Edwin Wilson was employed by the CIA, mostly as an undercover agent. 1 After he left the agency he became a free-lance dealer in information and arms. The CIA was among his clients. From 1972 to 1978 Wilson provided services to the agency almost 40 times, and through 1982 he had over 100 formal and social contacts with CIA personnel. 2 During those years Wilson provided top-secret information to the CIA and other U.S. intelligence agencies about the activities of Iran, Russia, Taiwan and Libya. 3 He also provided information about international assassination teams. including an alert about a plot to assassinate President Reagan. 4

Wilson was on such intimate terms with top level CIA personnel that he invited them to his 2,500 acre Virginia farm for “annual picnics, hunting and horseback riding.” 5 Wilson even stabled a registered quarterhorse at his farm that he had sold to a high-ranking CIA official. 6

In April 1977 the Washington Post blew Wilson’s cover with a story that alleged he smuggled 500,000 explosive timers to Libya. 7 It is now known that story was not true. 8 A number of other speculative news stories about Wilson’s alleged activities followed, and the CIA publicly denied involvement with Wilson at the same time it continued to rely on his services, and top officials continued to socialize with him. 9 Furthermore, it was known internally within the CIA that Wilson was not providing support to terrorist groups. 10

In spite of continuing to provide information to the CIA, Wilson was indicted on April 23, 1980 for allegedly shipping explosives to Libya. 11 After his acquittal by a Washington D.C. jury he left the United States. He was captured in the Dominican Republic in June 1982, and transported to the U.S. 12 A month later he was again indicted on charges related to allegedly transporting explosives to Libya. 13

Tried in federal court in Houston, Wilson didn’t directly defend against the charges: his defense was that he was a de facto federal agent whose actions were “under the direction and authority of the CIA.” 14 Therefore even if he had done what he was accused of, which he denied, he couldn’t have had the requisite criminal intent necessary to be guilty of the alleged crimes. Three witnesses corroborated his close association with the CIA. 15

To rebut Wilson’s defense, federal prosecutors introduced into evidence an affidavit from the CIA’s third ranking official – Executive Director Charles A. Briggs. Among other things Briggs declared under penalties of perjury:

The search [of CIA records] revealed that Mr. Edwin P. Wilson terminated his employment with the CIA on 28 February 1971, and was not re-employed thereafter in any capacity.

According to Central Intelligence Agency Records, with one exception while he was employed by Naval Intelligence in 1972, Mr. Edwin P. Wilson was not asked or requested, directly or indirectly, to perform or provide any service, directly or indirectly, for [the] CIA.” 16

After deliberating for a day the jury asked that the Briggs affidavit be reread to them. An hour later they returned a guilty verdict, and Wilson was subsequently sentenced to 17 years in prison. 17

After years in prison, Wilson obtained documents through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) proving his prosecutors knew the Briggs affidavit was false prior to introducing it into evidence. 18 In 1997 Wilson sent U.S. District Court Judge Lynn Hughes a Department of Justice ‘Duty to Disclose’ memorandum he had obtained through the FOIA that said in part, “the affidavit is inaccurate.” 19 Judge Hughes subsequently appointed Houston lawyer David Adler to represent Wilson. 20 Adler diligently aided Wilson in the search for additional documents concealed by Wilson’s prosecutors. In some cases Adler had to travel to Washington D.C. and examine classified documents inside of a vault. 21 Wilson and Adler’s investigation resulted in the identification of at least 17 current and former federal officials who concealed their knowledge of the affidavit’s falseness. 22

The truth comes hard to the government ...”

Federal Judge Lynn Hughes

Relying on the new evidence, Wilson filed two motions in the fall of 1999. The first motion was to vacate his conviction. One of that motion’s grounds was that the government deliberately used fake evidence: Namely the perjured Briggs affidavit that the jury relied on to convict him. 23 Another ground for vacating his conviction was the government committed a Brady violation by failing to disclose exculpatory documents listing Wilson’s 100 plus contacts with government intelligence agencies after he retired from the CIA in 1971. 24 The second motion was to hold the 17 officials who concealed their knowledge of the affidavit’s falsity “in contempt for interfering in the administration of justice.” 25

On October 27, 2003, after spending four years sifting through the evidence in Wilson’s case, U.S. District Court Judge Lynn Hughes’ declared, “Because the government knowingly used false evidence against him and suppressed favorable evidence, his conviction will be vacated.” 26 Judge Hughes didn’t mince words in a 24 page opinion that outlined the prosecution’s failure to turn over the exculpatory documentation of Wilson’s many post-retirement CIA contacts that would have proven Briggs’ affidavit was perjured, “It alone lied. It alone possessed - and withheld - the information that documented the falsehoods. The government alone insisted on the affidavit rather than production of the underlying records. It alone had the underlying documents.” 27 Judge Hughes also recognized the deliberateness of the decision by federal prosecutors to use the false affidavit, “The government discussed among dozens of its officials and lawyers whether to correct the testimony. No correction was made - not after trial, not before sentencing, not on appeal, and not in this review.” 28

Judge Hughes made the astute observation that “The truth comes hard to the government.” 29 It is so hard that although Wilson had documentary proof in 1997 that CIA officials and federal prosecutors had fabricated Briggs’ affidavit to be as favorable as possible to the government, they continued denying -- even after Judge Hughes’ ruling -- that they knew of Wilson’s close association with the U.S. intelligence community that literally continued up to the time of his 1982 arrest and indictment. 30

Judge Hughes has not yet made a decision about Wilson’s motion to hold the federal officials who concealed their knowledge that Briggs’ affidavit was false. However Wilson underestimated the number of people involved in the prosecution’s scheme to present manufactured evidence against him. While Wilson’s motion names 17 people, Judge Hughes “has identified about two dozen government lawyers who actively participated in the original non-disclosure to the defense, the false rebuttal testimony, and the refusal to correct it.” 31 The conspiracy of silence engaged in by every one of those lawyers for over 20 years undercuts the claim of the naïve that the federal government cannot engage in large scale conspiracies. Three of the government lawyers who concealed the truth about the affidavit’s falsity while Edwin Wilson was wrongly convicted, sentenced, and imprisoned on the 1983 conviction, later became federal judges: Stephen Trott is a senior judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, D. Lowell Jensen is a senior federal judge of California's Northern District, and Stanley Sporkin is a retired federal judge for the District of Columbia. 32

Wilson remains imprisoned on several other convictions that occurred after the ones vacated by Judge Hughes. They were also related to his alleged activities in Libya, 33 as well as an alleged attempt to solicit the murder of a federal prosecutor that was based on the testimony of three jailhouse snitches. 34 In a November 7, 2003 interview with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer Wilson asserted he was not involved in the sale of explosives to Libya, “I'm denying that I sold it, that I profit by it or shipped it.” 35 Furthermore he denied that he solicited or attempted to have anyone killed. 36 Wilson maintains that those convictions, for which he was sentenced to over 50 years in prison, are as much a fabrication by federal prosecutors as were the convictions vacated by Judge Hughes. Considerable weight must be given to Mr. Wilson’s claim considering the extraordinary lengths federal prosecutors went to engage in the deceitful tactics they used to secure his 1983 conviction, and the vigor with which they continue to defend their untoward conduct more than twenty years after the fact.

An excerpt from the Justice:Denied article published almost four years ago about Mr. Wilson’s case is still relevant as a summary of why Mr. Wilson was “double-crossed” by the federal government that succeeded in decimating his life by his wrongful convictions:

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.” 37

To date not a single federal employee has been disciplined in any way for their conduct in the investigation and prosecution of Edwin Wilson. That blindseye that constitutes a tacit condoning of the illicit conduct by the dozens of government lawyers involved in the case stands in sharp contrast with Judge Hughes summation of what the conduct of those lawyers should have been:

The government’s preparation, presentation, and preservation of false evidence are not the process that is due from the government. As Justice Sutherland observed, while a prosecutor “may strike hard blows, he is not at liberty to strike foul ones. It is as much his duty to refrain from improper methods calculated to produce a wrongful conviction as it is to use every legitimate means to bring about a just one.” Berger v. United States, 295 U.S. 78, 88 (1935) (George Sutherland). The government has no legitimate interest in buying or presenting false evidence from outsiders - it has less than none in lying to the court itself.” 38

Edwin Wilson, who is 75 years old, is currently imprisoned at USP Allenwood in White Deer, PA. His projected parole release date is September 14, 2004, after serving more than 22 years in prison.


1 United States vs. Edwin Paul Wilson, Crim. Case H-82-139 (USDC SDTX), Opinion of Conviction, October 27, 2003, at p. 2.

2 Id. at 6.

3 Id. at 7.

4 Ex-CIA Agent Framed by the CIA and Federal Prosecutors, Hans Sherrer, Justice Denied magazine, Vol. 2, Issue 1. Available at, http://www.justicedenied.org/wilson.html (last visited March 3, 2004).

5 United States vs. Edwin Paul Wilson, supra, at 4.

6 Id. at 4. (“Wilson even “sold” a two-year-old registered quarterhorse worth $1,500 to a high-ranking CIA official for $100 and stabled it at his farm.”)

7 Id. at 3.

8 Id. at 2-3.

9 Id. at 3-4.

10 Id. at 4.

11 Id. at 7.

12 Id. at 7.

13 Id. at 7.

14 Id. at 8.

15 Id. at 8.

16 Id. at 8.

17 Id. at 9.

18 Id. at 11.

19 Federal Prosecutors Knowingly Used Perjured CIA Affidavit to Secure '82 Convictions of CIA Agent Edwin Wilson, at http://www.solari.com/gideon/legal/background/FTWArticlewithSporkin.html.htm

20 Id.

21 Id. at 23.

22 Ex-CIA Agent Framed by the CIA and Federal Prosecutors, supra.

23 United States vs. Edwin Paul Wilson, supra, at 20. (In a UPI story one of the jurors stated that they relied on the Briggs affidavit to arrive at the guilty verdict.)

24 Id. at 21.

25 Ex-CIA Agent Framed by the CIA and Federal Prosecutors, supra.

26 United States vs. Edwin Paul Wilson, supra, at 1.

27 Id. at 13.

28 Id. at 1.

29 Id. at 11.

30 Id. at 16. (“The government even claimed in this review that it did not have evidence of Wilson's work with the CIA after 1971.”)

31 Id. at 15.

32 Ex-CIA Agent Framed by the CIA and Federal Prosecutors, supra.

33 United States vs. Edwin Paul Wilson, supra, at 2.

34 CNN Wolf Blitzer Reports, November 7, 2003, Interview with Edwin Wilson at, http://www.cnn.com/TRANSCRIPTS/0311/07/wbr.00.html

35 Id.

36 Id.

37 Ex-CIA Agent Framed by the CIA and Federal Prosecutors, supra.

38 United States vs. Edwin Paul Wilson, supra, at p. 24.