Edwin P. Wilson, the tall, dour ex-CIA agent who went from deep cover to deep trouble with federal prosecutors, goes on trial today in an Alexandria courtroom on charges he conspired to smuggle weapons from Virginia to the radical Mideast regime of Libyan ruler Col. Muammar Qaddafi.
The trial is the first in a six-year investigation by U.S. authorities of the 54-year-old millionaire and former spy. Wilson, in custody under $60 million bond, faces later trials in Houston and Washington on separate charges related to his alleged training and supplying of Libyan terrorists.
A conviction in Virginia would increase pressure on Wilson to cooperate with the Justice Department, which is investigating extensive overseas arms and terrorist activities allegedly touched on by Wilson's globe-girdling career, according to lawyers familiar with the case.
The sensitive nature of the Virginia case was underscored earlier by a closed pretrial session before U.S. District Judge Oren R. Lewis, during which defense lawyers argued for permission to subpoena a host of U.S. intelligence and executive branch officials in Wilson's behalf.
Neither side is talking about the outcome. Prosecutors may have had an ally, however, in the 80-year-old, conservative Lewis, who mowed down a parallel string of defense motions filed in open court that challenged the legality of Wilson's indictment and arrest last summer.
Lewis wrote that he refused to believe Wilson, a veteran agent and alumnus of Task Force 157, a secret (now-defunct) Navy intelligence organization, was "lulled into slumber" by prosecutors who succeeded in luring him out of Libya and got him aboard a plane bound for New York where he was placed in custody.
Chief prosecutor Theodore S. Greenberg, citing concern that Wilson might try to "graymail" the government by threatening to reveal U.S. intelligence secrets at this week's trial, forced the closed hearing by invoking a recent federal law designed to protect classified information.
Greenberg also retaliated against Wilson's claim that he was working for the CIA in Libya in 1979, when the alleged weapons offenses occurred, by winning permission from Lewis to subpoena two senior officials who are expected to deny in court that Wilson had official agency ties at the time.
One, Adm. Bobby Ray Inman, is former deputy director of the CIA and once served as head of Task Force 157. The other is Maj. Gen. Richard V. Secord, a Wilson acquaintance and top Pentagon expert on U.S. arms deals involving the Mideast.
Wilson is charged in an eight-count indictment with conspiring to smuggle four handguns and an M-16 rifle through Dulles International Airport to Europe. Prosecutors contend one of the handguns, a Smith & Wesson .357, was later used in the May 1980 assassination of a Libyan dissident in Bonn.
Wilson, who reportedly has turned down a plea bargain arrangement that included substantial prison time, faces up to 44 years imprisonment and a $245,000 fine if convicted this week in Alexandria.