Charles Taylor, the former Liberian despot charged with war crimes, worked with American intelligence agencies during his rise to power, the US government has confirmed.
Taylor, the first ever African head of state to face an international tribunal, has been indicted for fomenting a bloody civil war in the neighbouring West African country of Sierra Leone which claimed some 120,000 lives in the 10 years to 2001.
He has been accused of terrorising civilians, recruitment of child soldiers, accepting "mayonnaise jars" stuffed with diamonds, and even cannibalism.
Rumours of CIA involvement in his brutal career were fuelled in July 2009 when Taylor himself told his trial, at the UN-backed Special Court for Sierra Leone in The Hague, that US agents helped him escape from a jail in Boston in 1985 and provided arms for a planned coup in Liberia.
That suggestion was initially denied by the CIA as "completely absurd."
But the Defence Intelligence Agency, the Pentagon's spy arm, has now disclosed that its agents, and those of the CIA, did work with Taylor from the early 1980s.
The confirmation came in a response to a Freedom of Information Act request made by the Boston Globe newspaper.
Pentagon officials disclosed that US connections with Taylor were contained in at least 48 secret documents compiled over several decades, but declined to give any further details about the exact length or nature of the relationship.
According to former intelligence officials Taylor could have been considered useful in the 1980s for collecting information on Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, and attempts by the Soviet Union to gain influence in Africa during the Cold War.
Before becoming one of the world's most notorious and brutal rulers Taylor had been a student at Bentley College, just outside Boston, from 1972 to 1977. He earned a degree in economics.
He first came to the attention of authorities in the US when he was arrested during a protest outside the Liberian Mission in New York in 1979.
Taylor, who was born in Liberia, supported a coup in his home country by Samuel Doe the following year and joined the new government. He then fled back to the US after being accused of embezzling almost $1 million, and began fighting extradition to Liberia from a maximum security jail in Plymouth, Massachusetts.
According to Taylor himself, he then received help from the CIA. He told the Special Court for Sierra Leone that a plan was hatched for him to join another planned coup in Liberia, headed by military leader Thomas Quiwonkpa. Taylor claimed he was "100 per cent positive" the CIA was providing the weapons.
He claimed a guard at the jail came to his cell late at night, opened the door and took him to a window where sheets were tied to the bars allowing him to climb down. According to his version a "Government car" then drove him to New York, before he made his way to Mexico on his own passport. News reports suggested he had escaped from the jail.
The Quiwonkpa coup failed and, according to Taylor, the would-be leader's "flesh was eaten by the military leaders at the time."
After undergoing training in Libya under Gaddafi, Taylor founded the National Patriotic Front of Liberia and after engaging in civil war became president in 1996.
During the Sierra Leone civil war that followed Revolutionary United Front rebels, described as Taylor's "surrogate army", mutilated thousands of civilians.
Taylor is accused of funding atrocities there in return for "blood diamonds." The former leader, who has compared himself to Jesus, denies the charges.