By Kurt Allemeier
A veteran of the Office of Strategic Services, master of marketing, soldier of fortune, Mitchell WerBell was subterfuge and conspiracy personified. He is also the designer of the modern silencer with an early company called Sionics.
WerBell served with the Office of Strategic Services in the China-Burma theatre in World War II before becoming an advertising executive. He decided to become a mercenary of another kind in the 1960s, designing silencers and working to topple foreign governments with involvement across the Caribbean, Southeast Asia, and Central America. Documents allege WerBell to have been in Dealey Plaza when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated and supposedly supplied silencers used by the gunmen in Dallas. That information didn’t come out until nearly 20 years after WerBell’s death in 1983. He was a known associate of a number of anti-Castro operatives.
Though WerBell claimed he never worked for the CIA, others believed differently. WerBell found himself in Vietnam in the 1960s trying to sell his silencers to the Vietnamese as well as confer with intelligence officials. Prior to a trip in 1969, he met Gordon Ingram about his prototype .45 caliber machine pistol, which WerBell believed paired well with his suppressors. Despite WerBell manufacturing his own suppressors, Ingram designed the suppressor for his machine pistol. WerBell brought Ingram on board and Sionics became Military Armament Corporation in late 1970. The new company needed an updated logo that was part cobra and part moray eel: a “cobray” wrapped around the world.
The MAC-10 was chambered in .45 ACP, while the MAC-11 is a sub-compact version of the MAC-10 and fired .380 ACP ammunition. The MAC-10 got some attention in the 1974 John Wayne movie, “McQ,” where Wayne himself fires the gun. A pair of M10s, and three M11/9s are on offer in Rock Island Auction Company’s May Premier Auction.
Military Armament Corporation was a subsidiary of another company, Quantum, that was comprised of millionaire investors. WerBell and Ingram were ousted from Military Armament Corporation in May 1972. Ingram’s M10 and M11 machine pistols were never referred to as the MAC-10 or MAC-11 until Ingram and WerBell’s departure, after which the new monikers became official.
New name or not, the company still couldn’t draw any interest from the military for its machine pistols and went into bankruptcy. At one point, the MAC-10 was described as “fit only for combat in a phone booth.” A trio of former Military Armament Corporation employees, using the name RPB for their initials, bought the rights to make the MAC-10 and MAC-11 in mid-1976. By January, 1977, RPB was hurting for cash flow and struggled to survive until that autumn. The initial owners sold RPB to a group of investors in 1978 which included one Mr. Wayne Daniel. More on him later.
An arms-related indictment in 1973 against WerBell’s son was followed in 1976 by drug charges where the senior WerBell and others, including some former OSS colleagues, were charged with attempting to smuggle marijuana from Columbia. WerBell and the others were acquitted, but the legal issues soured WerBell on the arms business. He turned to security and counter terrorism.
WerBell started a counter-terrorist training center in Georgia called Cobray International Inc. that was recognized in the late 1970s. The training center offered instruction in martial arts, small arms, personal defense weapons, and techniques for persons who must work under the threat of a terrorist attack. Werbell, as the founder, was described in a 1980 Soldier of Fortune article as “an experienced mercenary and weapons inventor.” CIA documents described WerBell as a “wheeler dealer.”
WerBell also associated with fringe politician Lyndon LaRouche and pornographer Larry Flynt, who allegedly paid WerBell $1 million to murder Hugh Hefner, Bob Guiccione, Frank Sinatra, and Walter Anneberg. WerBell died in 1983 shortly after he was allegedly paid for the hits.
Returning now to Wayne Daniel. His fellow investors in RPB fell into legal problems. One was convicted of bribing a prosecutor. Two others, Robert Morgan and Jack Leibolt, were involved in the Medellin drug cartel. Morgan was convicted and sentenced in 1980 to 30 years in prison for smuggling two tons of marijuana into Florida. Leibolt went underground (He would eventually plead guilty to a cocaine conspiracy charge in 1990). With the ATF leaning on the company, Daniel liquidated it in 1982, reorganizing as S.W. Daniel or SWD, named after his wife, Sylvia Daniel.
By 1983, the Daniels had obtained the Cobray name among the assets of RPB, and the M11/9, which they offered as both a select-fire machine pistol, or a closed-bolt semi-automatic that met ATF approval. The semi-auto version, people soon learned, could easily be converted to fully automatic.
The ATF alleged the company was selling conversion kits to make its semi-automatic M11 into fully automatic weapons. In the meantime, the Daniels hatched a scheme to sell parts to make unregistered silencers.
The Daniels were charged in 1985 with conspiracy to sell illegal silencers. Eventually the couple, by then divorced, ended up paying a fine on misdemeanor tax charges. They retained their federal firearms license and continued to do business as SWD.