Edwin Wilson:
The CIA's Great Gatsby

September 18, 1993

by Edward Jay Epstein

Within a year, three witnesses in an investigation died. Rafael Villaverde. a Cuban refugee. disappeared at sea after his speedboat exploded off the coast of Florida; Kevin Mulcahy. an electronics expert. was found dead in an isolated motel in the Shenandoah Valley-apparently a victim of exposure; and Waldo Dubberstein, an archaeologist and expert on the Middle East, died of a shotgun blast to his head-a presumed suicide.

All three had worked for the CIA and, in the mid 1970s. became involved in mysterious conspiracies plotted by a former CIA agent named Edwin P. Wilson. A series of investigations by various federal agencies, begun in 1976 led to Wilson's indictment in 1980 and disclosed the following pieces of a murderous puzzle.

Villaverde, who had served the CIA as a saboteur in Cuba, was recruited by Wilson as a hired gun and promised a million dollars for an assassination in Egypt. Mulcahy, a CIA specialist in secret communications technology. was hired to supervise the smuggling of electronic and military equipment. Dubberstein, an ex-CIA man whose subsequent work for the Pentagon included compiling the daily military intelligence summary for the Secretary of
Defense and the Joint Chiefs of Staff— a position that gave him access to the ultra secret
Single Integrated Operational Plan (SIOP), the precise order of battle for nuclear war— was paid by Wilson to sell his country's secrets.

Assassin, smuggler and spy: Why had these men accepted such nefarious assignments?

The answer each gave was that he had been recruited by Wilson under the pretense that he was still a CIA executive. In the espionage world. misrepresenting one's side or organization in order to get an opponent to cooperate is called a "false flag- recruitment. When the recruit realizes he has been duped, he was too far compromised to easily withdraw his cooperation.

Wilson, who had been fired from the CIA in 1971, artfully used the false flag trick for eight years to penetrate deep inside the U.S. intelligence establishment. In addition to Villaverde, Mulcahy and Dubberstein, Wilson attracted to his false flag no fewer than three dozen intelligence and weapons specialists. including CIA officers on active duty. senior military officers and civilian weapons designers with top-secret clearances. Through these connections, he obtained secret CIA cables from the Far East, NSA computer procedures for detecting submarines and missile, assassination devices from CIA suppliers and exotic secret weapons from the Navy and CIA testing base at China Lake in California. Wilson also clandestinely exported to Libya all the components (including technicians and specially developed exploding plastics from the CIA) for manufacturing terrorist bombs disguised as ashtrays and other innocent looking objects. Even worse, the explosive in the ashtrays had distinctive characteristics and a 'signature' that could he traced back to, the CIA.

The damage Wilson has done to U.S. intelligence cannot be assessed merely in terms of stolen secrets and weapons technology. It runs to the very foundations of the CIA: its credibility. The directors of Central Intelligence share a common nightmare: the penetration of the U.S. intelligence system through the recruitment of its own agents by an enemy. Such moles burrowing from within and familiar with its sources. methods and vulnerabilities, would be in a position to compromise even the most carefully guarded state secrets. The defense against such a penetration is "quality control," a euphemism in the CIA that includes examining employees with lie detectors. investigating their associations and travel. auditing their finances and, if necessary, wiretapping and other surveillance.

Yet all these techniques of "quality control" failed to detect Wilson's recruitment of CIA personnel. At least two CIA officers on active duty moonlighted for Wilson (one of them used his CIA credentials to recruit an entire team of Green Berets for the Libyan dictator, Muammar Qaddafi). In addition. Wilson hired four part-time CIA contract employees and a dozen former CIA officers, many of whom still had CIA clearance and consulting status. Moreover, even after being fired from the CIA, Wilson maintained a close association with two of the agency's top executives-Thomas G. Clines, the director of training for the clandestine services, and Theodore G. Shackley, who held the No. 2 position in the espionage branch. Both of these men sat in on meetings that Wilson held with his operatives and weapon suppliers and, by doing so, helped further the illusion that his activities had the sanction of the CIA— an illusion crucial to keeping his false flag attractive.

Clines not only met with Wilson informally, but Wilson used his legal and office facilities to set up corporations for Clines' personal use, Clines had also been the control officer for one of the Cuban exiles whom Wilson recruited as an assassin. In reviewing the evidence in 1977, Adm. Stansfield Turner. then the new director of the Central Intelligence Agency, concluded that Clines had been working "in collaboration" with Wilson, and permitted him to resign quietly from the agency. Subsequently, Wilson secretly funneled $500,000 from a bank in Geneva into one of the shell corporations, money which Clines used to finance deals to ship US arms to Egypt. (Clines repaid money after Wilson's indictment in 1980.)

Shackley had known Wilson and Clines since the early 1960s, when they had all worked on preparations for the invasion of Cuba. He explained during an internal investigation by the CIA that he had not wanted to be a captive of the CIA system, that Wilson had served as an outside contact. Yet, according to federal prosecutors who examined the CIA's files on Wilson, Shackley had not filed reports of his contacts with Wilson and his associates, nor had he recommended that they be debriefed by the CIA's domestic contacts office— the usual channel for such intelligence. Further, Shackley had intervened on Wilson's behalf within the intelligence community on at least two occasions and ridiculed Kevin Mulcahy as an "irrational, paranoid, alcoholic and unreliable informant," after Mulcahy reported some of Wilson's illicit deals to the FBI and CIA in 1976. The CIA's investigation failed to overcome the defenses of this Old Boy network: Indeed, even after Mulcahy informed on Wilson, CIA officers continued working for Wilson. So much for the idea of quality control.

Wilson was anything but inconspicuous. To many, he was Washington's answer to the Great
Gatsby. His 2500-acre farm, bordering on the estate of Sen. John Warner and Elizabeth Taylor in the hunting country of Virginia, was the site of weekend barbecues that attracted senators, congressmen, admirals, generals, CIA officers and other high government officials. Wilson's three private planes were usually available to ferry VIPs wherever they wanted to go. He also had properties scattered around the world, an apartment in Geneva, a hunting lodge in England. a seaside villa in Libya and real estate in North Carolina, Lebanon and Mexico.

The cash seemed to flow as freely as the hospitality in Wilson's world. Paul Cyr, for example, who then worked for the Pentagon, came to the Wilson farm for turkey shoots and wound up accepting cash bribes for, among other things. allowing Wilson to plant bugs in the Army Materiel Command. (In 1982, Cyr pleaded guilty to accepting bribes from Wilson and agreed to cooperate with the federal prosecutors.) Another Wilson associate said he had seen cash distributed to a long list of congressmen and government officials, and that "whatever else you call it, blackmail was the name of the game." The same man maintained that Wilson had installed tape recorders in his Washington, D.C., office. in his limousines and at the farm, and added. "I assumed that almost everything said was recorded."

During these festive weekends. no one asked where or how Wilson got the money to play the Great Gatsby. But it certainly was not family money. Wilson came from an impoverished farm in Idaho and had to work as an attendant in a laundry room to put himself through college in Oregon. In 1952. he enlisted in the Marines, and in 1955, he joined the CIA as a S70-a-week security guard. For the next 16 years, he worked as an undercover agent. When he finally left the CIA in 1971, he was earning only $20,800 a year. From then until 1976, he went to work for a secret naval intelligence operation. called Task Force 157, for an equally modest salary. In an interview, Wilson explained that he had worked for the Navy for "patriotic reasons... not money." Yet, despite his meager salaries, Wilson amassed a fortune.

According to IRS data released in July 1983, Wilson made at least $21.8 million from servicing Libya alone, Libya funneled this huge sum of money into Wilson's account in return for special equipment and personnel that could be used to implicate the CIA in Qaddafi's assassination plots and other conspiracies.

In his defense, Wilson's attorneys argued that Wilson had in fact been working all along for the CIA. The U.S. Attorney E. Lawrence Barcella. however, tore this defense to shreds by showing that Wilson was unable to provide any details of his relations with the agency, not even the obligatory cryptonym of his operation or the name of his case officer. Facing a long prison sentence, Wilson had a powerful incentive to provide this information.

If Wilson had not been under the control of the CIA. as the prosecution proved, someone else was supplying the money for the bribes, blackmailing and technology transfer. Libya had become involved in 1976. What it got from Wilson was assassins and explosive devices that could be traced to the CIA. This connection allowed Libya to conduct covert assassinations for which the CIA would be falsely blamed. But Wilson had also received large amounts of money prior to the Libyan liaison in 1976, including money used to compromise Dubberstein and other high level intelligence sources. Had he, wittingly or unwittingly, he been working for another foreign intelligence services with an interest in penetrating the CIA?

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