Edwin Wilson was born in Idaho in 1928. The son of an unsuccessful farmer who died of cancer in 1940, Wilson managed to obtain a degree in psychology before joining the Marine Corps in 1953.
Wilson joined the Central Intelligence Agency in 1956. As a CIA agent, he spied on European unions before running shipping companies secretly owned by the agency. Over the next few years he arranged clandestine CIA arms shipments to Angola, Laos, Indonesia and the Congo.
In 1971, Wilson left the CIA to run shipping companies for a secret Navy intelligence organization called Task Force 157. This included a company based in Washington called World Marine Incorporated. Wilson used World Marine to carry out his own private business deals. In 1973 Wilson earned a $500,000 fee by delivering a spy ship to Iran under the cover of World Marine.
In 1973 Frank Nugan, an Australian lawyer, and Michael Hand, a former CIA contract operative, established the Nugan Hand Bank. Another key figure in this venture was Bernie Houghton, who was closely connected to CIA officials, Ted Shackley and Thomas G. Clines.
Nugan ran operations in Sydney whereas Hand established a branch in Hong Kong. This enabled Australian depositors to access a money-laundering facility for illegal transfers of Australian money to Hong Kong. According to Alfred W. McCoy, the "Hand-Houghton partnership led the bank's international division into new fields - drug finance, arms trading, and support work for CIA covert operations." Hand told friends "it was his ambition that Nugan Hand became banker for the CIA."
In 1974 the Nugan Hand Bank got involved in helping the CIA to take part in covert arms deals with contacts within Angola. It was at this time that Edwin Wilson became involved with the bank. Two CIA agents based in Indonesia, James Hawes and Robert Moore, called on Wilson at his World Marine offices to discuss "an African arms deal". Later, Bernie Houghton arrived from Sydney to place an order for 10 million rounds of ammunition and 3,000 weapons including machine guns. The following year Houghton asked Wilson to arrange for World Marine to purchase a high-technology spy ship. This ship was then sold to Iran.
By 1976 the Nugan-Hand Bank appeared to have become a CIA-fronted company. This is reflected in the type of people recruited to hold senior positions in the bank. For example, Rear-Admiral Earl P. Yates, the former Chief of Staff for Policy and Plans of the U.S. Pacific Command and a counter-insurgency specialist, became president of the company. Other appointments included William Colby, retired director of the CIA, General Leroy J. Manor, the former chief of staff of the U.S. Pacific Command and deputy director for counterinsurgency and special activities, General Edwin F. Black, former commander of U.S. forces in Thailand, Walter J. McDonald, retired CIA deputy director for economic research and Dale C. Holmgren, former chairman of the CIA's Civil Air Transport.
The investigative journalist, Jonathan Kwitny, became convinced that the Nugan Hand Bank had replaced the Castle Bank & Trust of Nassau, as the CIA's covert banker. Former CIA agent, Kevin P. Mulcahy later told the National Times newspaper "about the Agency's use of Nugan Hand for shifting money for various covert operations around the globe."
In February 1976, Admiral Bobby Ray Inman, the new head of the Office of Naval Intelligence (ONI), discovered that Wilson was involved in some dubious undercover business deals. A few months later Wilson was asked to leave the ONI. Wilson continued to run the CIA-fronted companies he had established. The largest of these was Consultants International and over the next few years amassed a fortune of over $20 million. This enabled him to buy a 2,338-acre farm in Northern Virginia, where he often entertained his close friends, Ted Shackley and Thomas G. Clines.
Much of his money was made in the arms trade. His most important customer was Moammar Gaddafi, the dictator of Libya. Wilson later claimed that it was Ted Shackley who first suggested he should go to Libya. Wilson got contracts to sell Libya army uniforms, ammunition, explosive timers and 20 tons of C-4 plastic explosives.
In 1976 Wilson recruited Raphael Quintero to kill a Libyan dissident in Egypt. Quintero selected two brothers, Rafael and Raoul Villaverde, to carry out the killing. However, the contract was later cancelled.
One of the men Wilson employed was former CIA officer Kevin P. Mulcahy. He became concerned about Wilson's illegal activities and sent a message about them to the agency. Ted Shackley, Deputy Director of Operations, was initially able to block any internal investigation of Wilson. However, in April, 1977, the Washington Post, published an article on Wilson's activities stating that he may be getting support from "current CIA employees". Stansfield Turner, director of the CIA, ordered an investigation and discovered that both Shackley and Clines had close relationships with Wilson. As a result, Turner made sure that both men's careers came to an end in the CIA.
In 1978 Thomas G. Clines left the CIA. He now joined with Raphael Quintero and Ricardo Chavez (another former CIA operative) to establish API Distributors. According to David Corn (Blonde Ghost: Ted Shackley and the CIA's Crusades) Wilson provided Clines with "half a million dollars to get his business empire going". In 1979 Clines established International Research and Trade Limited in Bermuda. Later that year he joined forces with Hussein Salem in providing U.S. military hardware to Egypt.
After leaving the CIA in September, 1979, Ted Shackley formed his own company, Research Associates International, which specialized in providing intelligence to business. He was also given consulting work with API Distributors, the company established by Thomas G. Clines, Raphael Quintero, and Ricardo Chavez.
In 1979 a gun that Wilson arranged to be delivered to the Libyan embassy in Bonn was used to kill a political dissident. Another dissident was murdered in Colorado by one of Wilson's men. According to Alfred W. McCoy (The Politics of Heroin: CIA Complicity in the Global Drug Trade): "Throughout 1979 the Wilson network and the Nugan Hand Bank began to build a close commercial alliance in the netherworld of national security subcontracting". Ted Shackley and Thomas G. Clines were also drawn into a relationship with the Nugan Hand Bank. Michael Hand wrote to Shackley on 27th November, 1979, suggesting a business meeting. Hand's latter also referred to Bernie Houghton, who had worked for Shackley in Vietnam.
Michael Hand probably wanted to talk about Edwin Wilson. In 1979 a Washington grand jury began gathering incriminating evidence about his illegal arms sales. To avoid arrest he moved to London. In the winter of 1979, Wilson had a meeting with Bernie Houghton and Thomas G. Clines in Switzerland in an attempt to help him out of his difficulties. This included a non-delivery of 5,000 M16 automatic rifles. The three men discussed ways of using the Nugan Hand Bank to float a $22 million loan to finance the delivery. Hand was obviously concerned that if Wilson was arrested he might begin talking about his dealings with Nugan Hand.
Michael Hand also had talks with William Colby, the former director of the CIA. It is not known what was discussed at this meeting but Colby submitted a bill to Nugan Hand Bank for $45,684 for his legal advice.
On 27th January, 1980 Frank Nugan was found dead in his car. Bernie Houghton was in Switzerland at the time and he immediately rang his branch office in Saudi Arabia and ordered the staff to leave the country. Houghton also visited Edwin Wilson's office in Geneva and left a briefcase with bank documents for safekeeping. Soon afterwards, a witness saw Thomas G. Clines going through the briefcase at Wilson's office and remove papers that referred to him and General Richard Secord.
Two days after Nugan died, Michael Hand held a meeting of Nugan Hand Bank directors. He warned them that unless they did as they were told they could "finish up with concrete shoes" and would be "liable to find their wives being delivered to them in pieces".
According to one witness, Thomas G. Clines helped Bernie Houghton escape from Australia. Michael Hand also left the country accompanied by James Oswald Spencer, a man who served with Ted Shackley in Laos. The two men traveled to America via Fiji and Vancouver. Hand then disappeared and has never been seen again.
The Australian authorities were forced to investigate the bank. They discovered that Ricardo Chavez, the former CIA operative who was co-owner of API Distributors with Thomas G. Clines and Raphael Quintero, was attempting to take control of the bank. The Corporate Affairs Commission of New South Wales came to the conclusion that Chavez was working on behalf of Clines, Quintero and Wilson.
Wilson was eventually indicted by the Department of Justice. However, he had moved to Libya and Moammar Gaddafi refused to extradite him. Wilson feared for his safety and the prosecutors knew this and in 1982 they sent Ernest Keiser to convince him that he would be safe in the Dominican Republic. Wilson flew to the Caribbean but upon arrival was arrested and flown to New York.
While awaiting trial Wilson attempted to recruit a fellow prisoner to kill Lawrence Barcella, the federal prosecutor. The prisoner instead went to the authorities and they set Wilson up with an undercover agent. The agent taped Wilson hiring him to kill the prosecutors, six witnesses and his ex-wife.
In 1984 Wilson was found not guilty of trying to hire Raphael Quintero and other Cubans to kill a Libyan dissident. However, he was found guilty of exporting guns and conspiracy to murder and was sentenced to 52 years in prison.
Wilson claimed he had been framed and claimed that he was working on behalf of the CIA. He employed David Adler, a former CIA agent, as his lawyer. Adler eventually found evidence that Wilson was indeed working for the CIA after he retired from the agency. In October 2003 a Houston federal judge, Lynn Hughes, threw out Wilson's conviction in the C-4 explosives case, ruling that the prosecutors had "deliberately deceived the court" about Wilson's continuing CIA contacts, thus "double-crossing a part-time informal government agent."
Despite the decision of Lynn Hughes, Edwin P. Wilson was not released. Eric Margolis has described him as "America's Man in the Iron Mask". Margolis has always believed Wilson innocent and spoke to him many times in prison. "I was framed by the government," Wilson told Margolis, "they want me to disappear. I know too much."
Edwin P. Wilson was released from prison in 2004 and died on 10th September 2012.