The price of a slice of the truth

Nearly 350 years ago William Prynne, a lawyer from Lincoln’s Inn, found himself in a dank and dirty corner of the Tower of London.
It was a place where soldiers and civil servants refused to work ‘for fear of fouling their fingers, spoyling their cloathes, endangering their eyesight and healths by the cankerous dust and evil scent.’
Prynne was King Charles II’s new keeper of the National Archives.
And he was no stranger to the Tower. He had been jailed for life, had his cheeks branded with the letters SL – for seditious libel – and his ears chopped off, for a pamphlet attacking actresses and, by implication, Queen Henrietta Maria, wife of Charles I.
A report of  the trial of William Prynne Esq, in the Star Chamber, for writing and publishing 'A Scourge for Stage-Players,' can be found in the Archives. Subsequent keepers have been less harshly treated.
Prynne wrote: ‘In raking up this dung heap I found many rare antient precious pearls and golden records &c.’
It is a sentiment echoed every day in the modern National Archives building at Kew, where researchers request 600,000 document files a year and millions of documents are viewed online.
These are just some of the gems from my researches, many of them published for the first time, but none of them worth losing an ear for.

© These pages and their content are copyright of Peter Day 2014.

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Edwin P Wilson

Security services failed to catch CIA man supplying explosives to Gadaffi

A former CIA agent suspected of supplying explosives for terrorist outrages escaped capture for two years as a result of British security blunders.
Foreign Office documents at the National Archives show that Edwin P Wilson travelled freely between London and Libya in spite of a US extradition warrant.
A senior diplomat who tipped off the security services about Wilson’s movements was so angry about their failure to act that he demanded to know whether there was a cover-up.
Wilson was eventually jailed for 22 years in the United States for supplying 42,000 pounds of C-4 explosive to Muammar Gadaffi in 1978. Just two pounds would be enough to blow a jumbo jet out of the sky.
Some of the explosive is also believed to have been used by Libyan agents in bomb attacks on dissidents in Britain shortly before WPC Yvonne Fletcher was killed by a gunman inside the Libyan embassy in London in 1984.
Wilson had served with the US Marines in Korea before being recruited by the CIA. He ran front companies specialising in covert arms deals to trouble spots like Angola, Laos, Indonesia and Congo.
After 20 years working for US Intelligence he officially ‘retired,’ a very rich man. But he kept the front companies going, commuting between offices in London and the Libyan capital, Tripoli.
In April 1980 US Federal prosecutor Larry Barcella got a warrant charging Wilson with shipping explosives and soliciting murder. Barcella visited London to interview staff at Wilson’s front company, which had offices opposite Harrods, and liaise with Scotland Yard.
Wilson avoided arrest by hiding out in his seaside villa in Libya, making occasional forays to Malta and London using aliases and false passports.
On August 20, 1980 Maltese police caught him in as he flew in from London. The British High Commissioner, David Aiers, sent an urgent telegram to the Foreign Office saying Wilson was likely to be sent back to London without warning.

The Home Office, immigration authorities and the Foreign Office department that liaised with MI6 were notified. But when Wilson arrived at Heathrow in the early hours of August 28 he was waved through.
Deputy High Commissioner Martin Reith complained: ‘Notwithstanding the warning that the US Embassy in London and we provided ... Wilson using his own name passed unimpeded through immigration at Heathrow.
‘During the two discussions I have had with my American colleague on this topic, I have inferred suspicions that our repeated failures to apprehend Wilson during several visits to London since the American application for extradition may be deliberate because of some fear of what other consequences might result from interfering with him.
‘I wonder if I could be told what has gone so systematically wrong in this case, and why? We need to know whether there is anything more effective we can do ... to ensure that terrorists about to enter the UK from Malta are successfully intercepted.’
Reith was told that it was a genuine oversight by an immigration official.
Two years later Wilson was arrested, without British help, in a sting operation by the US authorities. In addition to supplying explosives, he was accused of recruiting former American Green Beret special forces from Vietnam to train terrorist cells in Libya, and trying to arrange for a hitman to kill the prosecutor Larry Barcella.
Wilson consistently maintained that he was still working for the CIA and that their deputy director of covert operations, Ted Shackley, had sent him to Libya.
The agency denied this but in 2003 his conviction for smuggling explosives was overturned when he produced evidence of 80 occasions when he had contact with the CIA after his official retirement.


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