You probably don't recognize the name Frank Terpil. He was infamous only briefly in the early 1980s, an ex-C.I.A. man who, after being forced out of the agency in 1972, began working as an arms dealer, intelligence specialist, and adviser to a Who's Who of the world's most vile dictators, including the Shah or Iran, Idi Amin of Uganda, Libya's Moammar Gadhafi, and Cuba's Fidel Castro, among many others. This otherwise unassuming, pudgy guy from New York with a big moustache covering a broad smile was, to some who knew him professionally, a dangerous psychopath and, "the man who put steel in the spine of Idi Amin." How is this guy's name not more notorious and legendary?
I was astounded to read this morning that Frank Terpil is still alive, and had recently sat for an interview from his home in Cuba about his work for Gadhafi in the 1970s, during which interview Terpil apparently confirmed that he had been more than a mere military adviser, but had run a sort of Murder Incorporated for Gadhafi, arranging the assassination of the dictator's political enemies all over the world. (The last I'd heard, Frank Terpil was purportedly arrested in Cuba in 1995, having been an international fugitive from justice for 15 years at that point, and was ominously under investigation for crimes against the state there.)
How did this street kid born in working class Brooklyn in 1939, end up being recruited by the CIA in 1965, and then get kicked out again just six years later when his black market foreign currency dealings during his posting in India came to light? Seemingly disaffected and almost unemployable back in the United States, how did Frank Terpil manage to become mysteriously well-connected and wealthy in later years working internationally as a sort of mercenary who, Zelig-like, placed himself in the service of the most ruthless and bloodthirsty dictators of the era, many of whom were avowed enemies of America?
You can watch a really compelling 90 minute Frontline episode about him (including extensive interviews with him from exile in Beruit, and with his mystified and protective family back in Brooklyn), which aired originally on PBS in 1982, that answers all of these questions and more, on You Tube HERE. The show is clearly a product of its time, and has a distinct "Watergate" feel to it. It repeatedly raises a rhetorical question about whether Frank Terpil really could've done all of this himself, without the support and encouragement of the CIA (despite his apparent break with the agency in 1972, and despite the extreme illegality of his conduct, including arms smuggling and murder-for-hire).
Ted Shackley, who was Deputy Director of the CIA at the time, had his title stripped in 1977 (and was forced to retire under a cloud in 1979) amid the public scandal over Frank Terpil and Edwin Wilson's plot to sell C4 plastic explosives to Libya. Shackley's autobiography, Spymaster: My Life In The CIA, published posthumously in 2005 after being approved by the CIA's Publication Review Board, suspiciously makes no mention whatsoever of either Frank Terpil or Edwin Wilson.
It's interesting to me that, according to THIS Miami Herald article about Frank Terpil published yesterday (which includes a recent photo of Terpil at 74 years of age), he lives a quiet life in exile in Havana, with a much younger local girlfriend and, "little to do, spending too much time frequenting Havana watering holes and nursing a drink." That all sounds eerily reminiscent of the unhappy later years which notorious British spy Kim Philby spent in Moscow after he defected there in 1963, until he died in 1988, lonely and drinking too much, with a much younger Russian woman as his sole companion.
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