Jailed arms merchant Edwin P. Wilson has filed a motion to have his 1983 smuggling conviction overturned on the basis of secret CIA and Justice Department documents that show prosecutors knowingly used misleading testimony at his trial.
Wilson, a former CIA agent dubbed the "merchant of death" for his arms smuggling exploits, was convicted of conspiring to sell 20 tons of high explosives to Libya after prosecutors successfully refuted defense claims that Wilson's Libyan connections provided cover for CIA operations in which he was involved.
To buttress their point at trial, prosecutors introduced an affidavit from Charles A. Briggs, the CIA's executive director, stating that Wilson was never asked by CIA officials to provide any intelligence services after he retired in 1971. The affidavit was re-read to jurors, at their request, an hour before they returned a guilty verdict.
But newly disclosed documents, obtained by Wilson's attorneys through the Freedom of Information Act and in court discovery, detail 80 contacts Wilson had with CIA officials between 1971 and 1978, in which he was asked to provide services and frequently discussed intelligence matters with senior agency officials.
The documents show that prosecutors introduced the Briggs affidavit over strong objections voiced by the CIA's own attorneys. They also show that CIA and Justice Department officials ultimately refused after the trial to disclose documents detailing Wilson's CIA contacts, despite strong sentiment expressed by officials at both agencies that "we must make a disclosure--either to the judge or the defense attorney," as Assistant Deputy Attorney General Mark M. Richard scrawled on one internal memo.
David Adler, Wilson's court-appointed attorney, argued in a 90-page motion filed two weeks ago before U.S. District Judge Lynn Hughes in Houston that Wilson's conviction should be overturned "because the guilty verdict was obtained through the government's knowing use of false evidence and the government's suppression of evidence favorable to Wilson."
"Deception and lies may serve a purpose in the world of espionage," Adler wrote, "but they have no place in the justice system."
After he filed the motion, which included hundreds of pages of government documents marked "Secret," Justice Department officials asked Hughes to seal the file because it contained classified documents they said should not have been released. Hughes agreed this week to seal portions of the file.
John Russell, a Justice Department spokesman, confirmed that classified information had been inappropriately released but declined to comment further on the case. A CIA official also declined to comment.
Federal prison officials entered Wilson's cell at Allenwood federal penitentiary in Pennsylvania a week ago and confiscated his copies of the court pleading and classified attachments. "There was no warning, no court order, no nothing," Wilson said yesterday in a telephone interview. "The government came in and took these Freedom of Information Act documents."
Wilson, 71, a long-time CIA paramilitary operative whose second career trading arms inspired the 1987 book "Manhunt," said he hopes Adler's motion will result in his release sometime next year, even though he has served only 17 years of a sentence totaling 52 years on three separate convictions.
Such a scenario, Wilson said, would require Hughes to overturn his conviction in Houston and another federal judge in Virginia to follow suit on similar grounds of prosecutorial misconduct and overturn his 1982 conviction and 10-year sentence for smuggling guns to Libya.
If both sentences are overturned, Wilson said, he would be eligible for release on a third conviction, which earned him a 25-year sentence in 1983 for conspiring to kill federal prosecutors. With 17 years already served--more than two-thirds of the 25-year sentence--he would be eligible for release under federal law.
"I'm not mad at the CIA," Wilson said. "I'm not mad at our government. I love our government. What I am mad at is a few greedy prosecutors who needed the conviction to further their reputations, and that's what the record shows."
In the controversial affidavit, Briggs stated: "According to CIA records . . . Mr. Edwin P. Wilson was not asked or requested, directly or indirectly, to perform or provide any services, directly or indirectly, for CIA."
But as soon as Wilson was convicted, CIA officials began an internal review, believing that Briggs had misled the court, and produced a "Memorandum of Recollection" the following month.
While that document remains classified, Adler recently negotiated a nonclassified summary with Justice Department officials. It states that CIA officials told prosecutor Theodore S. Greenberg not to introduce the affidavit.
Greenberg, who served most recently as deputy independent counsel in the prosecution of former agriculture secretary Michael Espy and has since returned to the Justice Department, was unavailable for comment.
In April 1983, a month after the "Memorandum of Recollection" was drafted, then-CIA general counsel Stanley Sporkin forwarded a secret report to the Justice Department "in connection with the recent prosecution against Mr. Wilson" that described his 80 contacts with CIA officials.