Kirkus Reviews QR Code
THE DEATH MERCHANT: The Rise and Fall of Edwin P. Wilson by Joseph C. with Alexander W. Raffio Goulden Kirkus Star

THE DEATH MERCHANT: The Rise and Fall of Edwin P. Wilson


Pub Date: Aug. 6th, 1984
Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Former CIA and naval intelligence agent Edwin P. Wilson now resides in a maximum-security federal prison, where he will not become eligible for parole until the year 2000--the result of a career that took the Idaho farm boy into the US intelligence community, then out of it and into profitable business for himself as arms supplier for Libya's strongman Muamar Oaddafi. Espionage buffs will devour this account, which is loaded with ""insider"" details. (Several of Goulden's named sources, including Raffle, were close associates of Wilson during his Libya adventures.) While in government employ, Wilson became an expert at using ""proprietary"" companies as fronts for intelligence activities, and he found he could turn a profit on the side. The shady side of defense-contract work became his specialty--""There was nobody, in terms of defense procurement, that Wilson couldn't get to,"" says Raffio--and after he was kicked out of naval intelligence (he tried to co-opt Admiral Bobby Inman in one scheme) Wilson moved effortlessly into being an international wheeler-dealer. Through Frank Terpil (a CIA technician who later became a security man for Idi Amin), Wilson got an entree to Libya and hit paydirt. In short order he became a Qaddafi jack-of-all-trades, making substantial profits on contracts ranging from the mundane to the horrible: hiring mercenaries and ex-Green-Berets to run an advanced infantry training school; providing electronics gear, explosives, and arms, in violation of US law; feeding the Libyans classified US intelligence information (from a source in the Defense Intelligence Agency); and recruiting and arming potential assassins for the ""hit squads"" that Qaddafi turned loose against real or imagined opponents abroad. Throughout, Wilson appears to have cheated and lied to just about everyone he dealt with, from helicopter pilots hired as ""trainers"" for the Libyan air force (who, with passports confiscated, found themselves flying combat missions in a border war with Chad) to his closest associates. Ironically, this consummate con-man was ultimately conned out of his Libyan exile and into the hands of US authorities (the full story of which the key players still haven't told). Detail-crammed, fast-moving, and lively.