Frank Terpil, a former operative of the United States Central Intelligence Agency, who defected to Cuba in 1981 to avoid charges of criminal conspiracy, has died. He was 76. Terpil resigned from the CIA in 1970, allegedly after he was caught running a pyramid scheme in India, where he had been posted by the CIA. Soon after his forced resignation from the Agency, US federal prosecutors leveled criminal charges on Terpil and his business partner. The former CIA operative was also charged with conspiracy to commit murder, after it was found that he had helped facilitate the illegal transfer of over 20 tons of plastic explosives to the government of Libya.
Terpil managed to leave the US and reappeared in Lebanon in 1980, shortly before a court in New York sentenced him in absentia to five decades in prison for conspiring to smuggle 10,000 submachine guns to African warlords, including Uganda’s dictator Idi Amin. As agents of various countries started to zero in on Terpil’s Lebanon hideout, he disappeared again and resurfaced in 1981 in Havana, Cuba. Shortly afterwards, Cuba’s General Intelligence Directorate hired him as an operative under the operational alias CURIEL. Since that time, Terpil has been repeatedly mentioned as having played a part in Cuban intelligence operations around the world, but rarely gave interviews. He appeared again in 2014, however, in a documentary entitled “Mad Dog: Inside the Secret World of Muammar Gaddafi”. The film was made by British company Fresh One Productions on behalf of Showtime, an American premium cable and satellite television network. In the documentary, Terpil admitted that he helped the Libyan dictator “eliminate” his opponents —most of them Libyan exiles living abroad.
British newspaper The Observer, which published news or Terpil’s death, said the former CIA operative’s legal status in Cuba “was never quite clear”. He had allegedly expressed concerns in recent months that the rapprochement between Washington and Havana could threaten his sanctuary in the Caribbean island. His Cuban wife told The Observer that complications from diabetes had caused his legs to be amputated in recent months. She told the paper that Terpil “died peacefully” on March 1, of heart failure.