Subject: Interview with FBI CISPES infiltrator Frank Varelli
(Reproduced with the permission of the
FUND FOR OPEN INFORMATION AND ACCOUNTABILITY, Inc).
EXCERPTS FROM INTERVIEW WITH FRANK VARELLI FORMER FBI INFORMER, AND
INFILTRATOR OF CISPES.
Q: Did you know of this guideline from the Attorney General that said
that investigations are only permitted when there's a reasonable
indication that a crime is being committed or may be committed?
A: No. I know that a guideline that existed but like I said before,
foreign counter intelligence unit of the FBI doesn't wait for a crime to
be committed before they will go into a group-infiltrate a group and
determine if that group is violent or what. They will go first and
later, they will give an explanation. In every case, all over the
country that I was able to recall, investigations were opened based just
on the fact that CISPES was a left-wing liberal group opposing the
Reagan administration. Nobody had at that time, any reasonable doubt
that any crimes were being committed. The groups of CISPES were
penetrated...Were infiltrated just on the assumption that these people
were going to do something in the near future...Mr. Ron Davenport, the
head of the terrorism unit of El Salvador once told me, I don't care
what you do but go and get those guns. And-he was talking that I should
go to CISPES and find guns.
Q: Did you tell him there were no guns?
A: I told him and that was really hard for me. I told him how in the
world, I was going to see guns when there were none...
Q: In 1983, you said that the investigation took a turn to be more
aggressive? Why did they decide they needed to become more aggressive?
A: Because CISPES was speaking at that time in a more aggressive way
too. And-CISPES was bringing out a lot of facts.You know, a lot of the
reality of El Salvador and they were not very happy with that. There
were many teletypes coming from headquarters and guidelines indicating
which way to go. And based on those guidelines and based on those
demands that were being put on the Dallas office...pressure was put on
Q: What kind of pressure?
A: Well we moved from a kind of observant position into a position and
I was told that the Bureau wanted to get an apartment. So I could start
seducing this nun that is the head of the CISPES group. Her name is
Linda Hay and they wanted to-
Q: They wanted you to seduce a nun?
A: Yes. Yeah. Because she was the head of CISPES and one of the most
outspoken persons that I've known.
Q: What did they tell you? What did they ask you to do? How did they
A: Well, I explained to them that in one of the meetings, that I've had
- at the beginning of 1983, one of the nuns in an affectionate play, had
kissed me on the cheek...a very innocent brotherly type of you know
gesture that I appreciated very much at that time. And-of course, I
told them what happened and I explained to them the circumstances under
which those things-I explained the circumstances under which those
things have happened. Because it was there in a public gathering in
front of everyone and there was no malice involved in it. But I was
reprimanded by special agent, Dan Flanagan and I was told that I should
never forget who my friends are and where my loyalties are supposed to
be and I should always remember who my enemies are. And I was told that
since they liked me so much...Why I didn't start trying to seduce this
Q: And all because she had given you a peck on the cheek?
A: Yes. Yeah. And-and that the Bureau was going to provide an
apartment with cameras and you know...With sound equipment and
everything. So we could film the nun in very compromising position
because as Dan Flannigan put it, "Once we do it, we have her in our
Q: Did you consider her a dangerous enemy and a terrorist when you
A: No. I didn't consider her my enemy nor a terrorist but this was the
job that was set for me. If I would have not presented this report this
way, they would have not received it. They would not have accepted that
report. If I wrote a different report like saying, "Well, according to
my standards, she's not dangerous but according to the Bureau's
standards, yes she is." That would have been thrown out. See, there
are two standards. One for outside people and one for inside according
to inside...According to the inside attitude. According to the frame of
mind of the FBI. Yes. This nun is dangerous. According to the law, of
the United States of America, she is not dangerous. She is only an
outspoken person...That it has very deep-rooted convictions of what
she's doing, of what she believes in-and everyone in this country has
the right to say what they want to...
Q: Were you under pressure to make your reports conform to those
A: Yes. Because it was assumed from the beginning, they were
Communist, they were terrorist...and that's it. If not, there would
have not been any purpose in me going there. And I have to add, I was
never you know, any volunteer whatsoever to the Bureau.
They came after me. They sought my services because they said that I
had all the qualities to be a good spy. And I had knowledge of the
Salvadoran culture...religion, traditions, language. And that's what
they needed. And they needed a person who would speak English too, that
would know theology, that would know a lot of Marxism, Leninism things.
Like in this particular case that I've pointed out, Sister Linda was
knowledgeable about Marxism-Leninism. Well I've known thousands of
people in the United States that can give you a lecture, entire lecture
on Marxism-Leninism. But never Communists or anything like that.
Q: I want to talk about your activities with the Salvadoran National
Guard. What was your relationship with the Salvadoran National Guard
and how did you get involved with them?
A: My father and the National Guard come a long way. My father was
director of the National Police of El Salvador. He was ambassador of El
Salvador to Guatemala. And of course he had a very successful career in
the army of El Salvador. He holds the rank of colonel.
I knew everyone in the National Guard. And the officers in 1981 were
old friends of mine. The Bureau knew this and they brought it up and we
would discuss how close I was, and Special Agent Dan Flanagan proposed
that I should go to the National Guard and try to establish a direct
link with the Bureau and the National Guard.
The FBI wanted to avoid, wanted to circumvent the normal channels of
intelligence. They wanted to make sure that the information that was
being sent through the CIA and the state department from El Salvador
will get here because they described to me that there was a lot of
trouble with the CIA of not trusting each other.
So I flew to El Salvador in 1981 in April and went directly to the
office of the Colonel. I gave him a business card from a special agent
Dan Flanagan and I told Colonel Cassanovo that I had been authorized by
the FBI and the Justice Department to go and talk to him, that we needed
to establish here in the United States a direct link with their
intelligence unit because the program that the FBI wanted to implement
and the Justice Department wanted to implement and the Reagan
administration wanted to implement was to squeeze Communists from both
sides. Get them in El Salvador if possible and get them here. Either
Q: In 1981, there was a lot of death squad activity in El Salvador,
Q: And what was the role of the National Guard at the time in the death
A: The National Guard did play and has played a major role in the death
squad activity of El Salvador.
Q: Did the FBI know that when they sent you down there to establish
A: If they did not know at that time, they sure knew it after I
returned. Because I brought death squad lists that had been provided to
me by the National Guard and some that had been prepared right there at
the National Guard just for me to bring.
Q: What do you mean prepared?
A: Well they were typed, you know? There were names, a list of
individuals that were sentenced to death by the right-wing death squad.
That supposedly was made by this group but I actually saw, at least the
last page being prepared there by members of the National Guard.
Q: Well Mr. Varelli, couldn't it have been that the National Guard was
preparing this list of people that they needed to protect because they
knew that they had been targeted by death squads? I mean why do you
assume that the National Guard was preparing this list of people that
they were going to kill?
A: Because contrary to what a lot of people have said, the National
Guard of El Salvador...like from the national police of El Salvador...
There were death squads operating you know...Out of...
Q: Inside the National Guard?
Q: You knew that?
Q: And you told that FBI that?
A: Yes, I told them.
Q: You came back to the United States and went to the FBI and what
A: I made my report about my meeting with Cassanovo and how he had
approved that we could call straight to the National Guard Intelligence
Unit and that they were going to provide the FBI with any kind of
information that was needed. And also that we could request, we can
exchange services, with them. I presented the different lists of
individuals that were included in those death squad lists and I told
them that I believed that there were many innocent people included in
that list because of some personal problem or somebody that was in
charge of preparing the list.
Q: What people?
A: The people in the death squads were very serious and they had
already started killing people. And I told them that they were going to
make sure that they would finish the list. I expressed to them also my
desire to clean the list of all the names of people that I felt were
innocent. But I was never given opportunity to clear the list of all
those names of innocent people. But also, I made a recommendation that
people included in that list that were traveling to the United States,
should be warned or if possible, protected because if elements of the
right-wing death squads of El Salvador were living here in the United
States, they were going to make sure that they would finish that list
even here in the United States. So, Flanagan received and passed along
to the entire unit, up to headquarters, to Washington. But the list was
never clear of the people that were killed.
Q: You had an ongoing relationship from that point on with the National
Q: What kinds of things would you talk to them about? What would you
A: We would exchange information. We would provide them with names of
individuals that will be traveling to El Salvador...
A: Americans, people that were just traveling to visit, religious
members, members of religious orders...Another thing that we would do is
in case people were deported, Salvadoran citizens were being deported,
yes, we did call ahead of time, and we confirm to the Guard that people
were being deported from the United States and that we thought they were
terrorists. Sometimes they were able to get to the airport on time and
get some. Sometimes they were not so successful. Now, I do not know if
they ever killed anybody as a result of those calls, but I wouldn't be
Q: You called the National Guard when Salvadoran citizens were being
deported from this country back to El Salvador?
Q: And told them that these people were-
A: Communists Members of the F.D.R. or F.M.L.N.
Q: Isn't that dangerous to tell the National Guard in the early
A: Yes. It was. And it still is. It is. But I was-I was only
obeying orders. My orders-
A: From the FBI that came directly from the Attorney General. And even
though I am a citizen-well, I was born in El Salvador, and that is my
people, I am an American citizen above all. And I felt that my
responsibilities, you know, were to my government that had requested my
service in a time of need, of danger, because that's how they present
it. So, you know, I was convinced that I was doing right.
Q: Now, they called you from time to time and asked you for
Q: What kind of information did they ask you?
A: Sometimes if we knew of demonstrations. Remember, there was a big
demonstration on June 12th in New York, and there was a other one in
Washington, if I'm not wrong. And also-of groups involved in - like
CISPES, that were opposing the Reagan Administration. Those names of
those individuals were reported there to El Salvador first so they could
put them on file, second, because they will make that official statement
to the press indicating that there were communists in the United States
influencing the United States Congress and opposing the good policy of
President Reagan. Therefore, since they are even doing that in the
United States, then let's kill them here.
Q: Did the National Guard ever ask you for information about specific
A: Yes, they did.
Q: Do you remember who?
A: Well, like when Father Roy, I guess you pronounce it
A: Bourgeois. A member of the Maryknoll order came down to El Salvador
and disappeared. And there was a problem if he had-if he had actually
been kidnapped or killed, or what was going on. He later showed up in
the American Embassy...
Q: Did the National Guard call you up a lot?
A: Yes, they did.
Q: What types of things did they ask you?
A: Background information we had about groups. You see, if for example
an American had traveled to El Salvador, and he was from an organization
called NACLA, North American Council on Latin America, or American
Friend Service Committee, or the Institute for Policy Studies, I will go
back to the Bureau and request background information on those groups.
Immediately it will show up that yes, they've been active in a left
wing, and even with communists, since the sixties, seventies, and all
that. There was all that kind of background information. I would relay
that information to the National Guard so by the time that people arrive
in El Salvador they already knew.
Q: Where would you get the information?
A: From the FBI. Of course, there's files there. They're
Q: Why did you give the National Guard the name of the Coalition for
New Foreign and Military Policy?
A: Because they are also in the files of the FBI, and that's where the
information was obtained from. And the Bureau has it there because the
Coalition for New Foreign and Military Policy has been very outspoken,
and according to FBI records, they are even supported by the Soviets.
They claim to have information that the Soviets are handing money to
Q: And were Coalition members going to El Salvador?
A: At a certain point in time, people travel from all these
organizations, and from the Coalition, yes. Somebody traveled there. I
don't recall at this very moment who did.
Q: But the Guard called you up or you called them up?
A: Well, if we had knowledge, previous knowledge of the trip, we will
Q: Did you always give addresses and phone numbers for organizations
that they were interested in?
A: No, only the ones that we were more interested that they will keep
an eye on. I mean, if I gave a name following the orders from my
superior officers there in the FBI, that meant that if they will take
care of anybody belonging to that organization down there in El Salvador
everyone will be happier here. When I say "to take care," that is any
name or any organization, they belong to any organization that we had
provided the names-if they would take care in the sense of killing them,
it will be better.
Q: Was this the Bureau's attitude?
A: Yes, sir. Through Flanagan, and there are many others that I came
in contact with, said that if the death squads in El Salvador will kill
the communists it will be much better for the United States, because
that way it will save time and headaches, and in a cynical way the
Q: Mr. Varelli, excuse me, but it's difficult to believe that agents of
the FBI would say that it would be okay and in fact better than okay if
Salvadoran death squads would kill Americans in El Salvador. That's
hard to believe.
A: You see, in that field, in this operation, remember, keep in mind
that it's not Americans, you know, it's not the FBI protecting the
country. It's the FBI protecting themselves and what they believe that
they are by law to protect. They don't care if it's American, Soviet,
Africa, whatever. The basic principle, and I was taught that
constantly, is us against them. "Them" meaning everyone out of the FBI.
"Us," everyone inside. And they don't care color, they don't care about
nationality, religious position. And they just care about, you know,
protecting, you know, or carrying out the orders that they are given.
So it doesn't surprise me a bit.
Q: What possible good would it do for the National Guard to have an
address in Washington of this group?
A: Well, we learned that the Guard, National Police, or the death
squads from El Salvador were interested in gathering intelligence,
gathering information on where or who was opposing the aid to El
Salvador so they can also carry on activities here.
Q: What type of activities?
A: Well, bombing, arson, or just plain-
Q: In the United States?
A: In the United States, yes sir. Because there's a large Latin
American community and there's a lot of money, also from the people, you
know, that are willing to pay at this time-
Q: Did anybody from the National Guard or from any organization in El
Salvador tell you that they were prepared to commit arson or break-ins
or any kind of criminal acts inside the United States?
A: Yes sir.
Q: Who told you that?
A: Well, a number of people that I knew live in the Miami area.
Q: Did any officers in the National Guard in El Salvador tell you that?
Q: How common was it for you to give the National Guard in these phone
calls that you had with them fairly frequently addresses in the United
states of organizations that were opposed to the Reagan administration
A: They received every single organization that might be left-wing or
against the Reagan Administration policies. All the organizations,
their names, addresses, and phone numbers, all of those names were sent
to El Salvador. We gave them to them because it was a reciprocal type
of operation that we were having.
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