Wilson, who organized front companies for the CIA before he was convicted in 1983 for sending 20 tons of C-4 plastic explosives to Libya, was 84 when he died Sept. 10 in Seattle.
The Los Angeles Times reports that Wilson posed as a wealthy American businessman in the Middle East, gaining the trust of CIA targets. He spent much of the 1970s and early ‘80s flaunting his money and easygoing lifestyle before the conviction that would send him away for more than two decades.
Wilson spent much of his 22 years of imprisonment in solitary confinement, before a judge overturned his conviction in 2003 after finding that the prosecutors that put the ex-CIA man away knowingly used false testimony. At the 1983 trial he was described as a “death merchant” and “terrorist,” despite repeated pleas from Wilson that he sold the powerful explosives to the Libyans at the behest of the CIA.
“I can't think of one thing I did that I have any guilt about,” Wilson told a Seattle news outlet in 2006. “I didn't hurt anybody. I didn't get anyone killed.”
Wilson is survived by two sons and a sister.
“Our family always supported him and believed in him,” said nephew Scott Wilson. “He never considered himself a traitor, of course. He wanted to try to hold the people accountable that helped put him into prison. But he was never bitter.”
Wilson grew up in a poor family in Idaho before enlisting in the military and serving as a merchant seaman in the Korean War. On the flight home form Korea he spoke with another passenger about an interest in joining the CIA. The passenger – who did not identify himself- simply gave Wilson a name and number to call.
His first job with the agency was guarding U-2 spy planes, according to the Boston Globe.
Wilson joined the CIA after Korea, working with the agency for almost 20 years before making millions in the arms trade.
He purported owning more than 100 corporations both domestic and international, although it’s unknown how many were actually legitimate. Those ventures funded his large estate in northern Virginia, where he entertained congressman, generals and foreign officials. The Boston Globe described him as a “part spy, part tycoon,” and he bragged of knowing the Concorde’s flight staff by name.
Under the guise of working for the Office of Naval Intelligence, Wilson was assigned to watch the Venezuelan terrorist Ilich Ramirez Sanchez, better known as Carlos the Jackal. He also made it possible for American Green Berets to train Libyan troops.
Details on what Wilson’s assignments were and what he did on his own are still murky, although Peter Maas published a book called “Manhunt” in 1986 about Wilson’s life up to that point.