Peter Maas is a premier investigative reporter with two previous best-sellers to his credit, The Valachi Papers and Serpico. In Manhunt, Maas chronicles the career of Edwin P. Wilson, once a Central Intelligence Agency operative and always a man on the fringes of power claiming contacts and influence with higher level government people.
Manhunt has several subplots which Maas weaves into the two main strands of the story.
The first is Wilson’s career with the CIA, where he was involved in domestic spying (an illegal activity) and in creating proprietary companies. These were front organizations, secretly owned by the CIA, for the purpose of procuring and shipping arms and supplies to groups that favored the United States but were not officially acknowledged to be receiving American help. Through these companies passed millions of loosely accounted-for dollars, and Wilson soon began to siphon off funds for his own use. On an official salary of $25,000, he was able, in the early 1970’s, to purchase a Virginia estate that cost $342,000.
By the late 1970’s, Wilson had teamed up with another former CIA agent who had access to Colonel Gadhafi and began supplying Libya with a variety of military paraphernalia at a handsome profit. The most disturbing example was the shipment to Gadhafi of several tons of plastic explosive disguised in barrels marked as material for oil drilling. Plastic explosive is enormously powerful, extremely versatile (one can even make simulated weather stripping out of it), and has quite a long storage life.
The second major thread in Manhunt is the saga of Washington, D.C., United States Attorney Larry Barcella, who set out to build a case against Wilson. After four grueling years, Barcella succeeded. Wilson was arrested in 1982 and was subsequently sent to federal prison.
That Barcella prevailed gives cause for hope, but Maas’s book is still disturbing in its revelations. The enormous amount of money available in this shadow world of international arms traffic and intelligence operations corrupted an alarming number of people.