Who Was Charlie Wilson?
Charlie Wilson's political career began when he was elected Texas State Representative at age 27. In 1980, he began using his seat on the Defense Appropriations subcommittee to secretly steer billions of dollars to Afghan rebels resisting Soviet occupation. Funding grew over the next several years, and the last Soviet soldiers left Afghanistan in 1989.
Early Military Career
Charles Nesbitt Wilson was born on June 1, 1933, in the small town of Trinity, Texas. He attended public schools there and graduated from Trinity High School in 1951. While attending Sam Houston State University in Huntsville, Texas, Wilson was appointed to the United States Naval Academy. Wilson received a bachelor's degree, graduating eighth from the bottom of his class in 1956.
From 1956 to 1960, Wilson served in the U.S. Navy, attaining the rank of lieutenant. Having graduated as a gunnery officer, he was assigned to a destroyer that searched for Soviet submarines. He then took a top secret post at the Pentagon as part of an intelligence unit that evaluated the Soviet Union's nuclear forces.
Entry into Politics
Wilson stumbled into politics by volunteering for John F. Kennedy's presidential campaign in 1960. After a 30-day leave from the Navy, he entered his name into the race for Texas State Representative from his home district. While back on duty, his mother, sister and their friends went door to door campaigning. Their campaign strategy worked, and at age 27, Wilson was sworn into office.
For the next dozen years, Wilson made a name for himself as the "liberal from Lufkin." He supported abortion rights and the Equal Rights Amendment. Wilson also battled for regulation of utilities, Medicaid, tax exemptions for the elderly and a minimum wage bill.
Good Time Charlie
In 1972, Wilson was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives from the Second District of Texas, taking office the following January. By this time, Wilson had picked up the nickname "Good Time Charlie" for his notorious personal life. He staffed his office with young, tall and attractive women who were dubbed "Charlie's Angels" by other members of Congress.
Wilson rarely spoke on the House floor and was never associated with any of the great legislative issues of his day. He angered colleagues like Pat Schroeder, a Colorado Democrat, by calling her "Babycakes," later admitting he had been a "reckless and rowdy public servant" at times.
But beneath it all was a fervent anti-Communist and deeply ambitious politician, as revealed in George Crile's 2003 book Charlie Wilson's War. And Wilson eventually found his destiny, becoming the secret patron of what was then the largest covert operation in the history of the Central Intelligence Agency.
Wilson claimed that as a news junkie, he read an Associated Press dispatch in the early summer of 1980 that described hundreds of thousands of refugees fleeing Afghanistan, occupied by the Soviet empire. Around the same time, Wilson had been named to the Defense Appropriations subcommittee, a group of 12 men in the U.S. House of Representatives responsible for funding CIA operations. He decided to use his seat, through a series of backroom deals, to secretly steer billions of dollars to the Afghan rebels, known as the mujahedeen.
The appropriation for Afghanistan grew from a few million dollars in the early 1980s to an astounding $750 million a year by the end of the decade. As the money began to flow, the CIA put Gust Avrakotos in charge of the operation. Avrakotos formed a small band of agency officers who arranged to have weapons and satellite intelligence maps sent across Pakistan's border into Afghanistan on the backs of mules.
In 1986, then-U.S. Attorney Rudy Giuliani from the Southern District of New York, on the hunt for white collar crime, investigated Wilson for allegedly snorting cocaine at a hot-tub party in Las Vegas.
When the last Soviet soldier left Afghanistan in February 1989, Wilson was invited to celebrate at CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia. On a large movie screen in an auditorium flashed a huge quotation from Pakistan's president, General Mohammad Zia ul-Haq: "Charlie did it." The Soviet Union collapsed two years later.
Personal Life and Movie
Wilson retired from Congress in 1996 after serving 24 years. More than a decade later at 74 years old, he underwent a heart transplant operation in 2007. On December 21 of the same year, a Hollywood film version of Crile's book was released. The film starred Tom Hanks as Charlie Wilson, Julia Roberts as conservative supporter Joanne Herring and Phillip Seymour Hoffman as Gust Avrakotos, an American case officer and Afghan Task Force Chief for the United States Central Intelligence Agency.
Wilson died on February 10, 2010, at the age of 76 from cardiopulmonary arrest.
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