AT ONE POINT, the Wilson case appeared to be getting politically interesting. Edwin P. Wilson, a CIA retiree, had gone into business selling guns and explosives to Libya's dictator, Muammar Qaddafi. That was the "smoke," and the question was whether there was also "fire." Was Mr. Wilson, after his retirement, somehow still working for the CIA, peddling the paraphernalia of terror to one of the world's premier terrorists? Was he keeping the agency's hand in for some other hidden reason, even while the Carter and Reagan administrations publicly cut Col. Qaddafi off?
No evidence of such a conspiracy came out in his trial, which ended in Alexandria the other day. Convicted of smuggling four pistols and an automatic rifle to Libyan agents in Europe in 1979, Mr. Wilson emerged as little more than a private entrepreneur doing one of the few kinds of work -- gunrunning -- that his career as an intelligence operative had left him fit to perform. He had the opportunity to call CIA witnesses to validate his lawyer's contention that in 1979 he was doing undercover service for the agency, but he did not avail himself of it. The prosecution contention that he was not an agent went unrebutted.
Mr. Wilson's cares are not over: he faces three more trials in connection with his business dealings with Libya. It is only fair to note, however, that in the Alexandria courtroom nothing indicated that the CIA had done anything but the proper thing in washing its hands of Mr. Wilson and some of his erstwhile associates, once it got a scent of what they were up to. That's why the Wilson story, so far anyway, turns out not to be sensational, merely sordid.