«Brian R. Hollstein/ (H): The date is the eighth of August, 2008. I’m talking on the telephone with Bernardo and then in quotation marks “Mat” ...»
© Society of Former Special Agents of the FBI, Inc. 2008
Interview of Former Special Agent of the FBI
Bernardo “Mat” Perez (1960 – 1996)
Brian R. Hollstein, Interviewer
Interviewed on August 8, 2008
Edited for spelling, repetitions, etc. by Sandra Robinette on November 3, 2008. Final edit with Mr.
Perez’s corrections made by Sandra Robinette on January 10, 2009.
Brian R. Hollstein/
(H): The date is the eighth of August, 2008. I’m talking on the telephone with Bernardo and then in quotation marks “Mat” (M-a-t), Perez.
Before we get started with things I’d like to just give you a little bit of ground rules here.
No classified information that we’re aware of, no mention of informants by actual name or by Bureau identification numbers or codes. If you do want to talk about an informant, we’ll just give him a name of some sort and we’ll use it that way, but the major thing is we don’t want to be in the position of identifying the informant.
This particular conversation is copyrighted by the Society of Former Special Agents of the FBI, Inc., and I’m sending you a little form to fill out and I’d appreciate it if you’d do that and send it back to me.
Bernardo “Mat” Perez/ (P): Okay.
H: And there we have it. Let’s start off with your early years. Where were you born and where’d you go to school?
P: I was born in Lone Pine, California, September 26, 1939. I went to grammar school there, then went away to the seminary when I was thirteen to Ryan Preparatory College for four years of high school and my first two years of college. I transferred to the major seminary, St. John Vianney in Camarillo, California, the Archdiocese of Los Angeles.
Left the Seminary in 1960 and joined the FBI in April of 1960 as a GS-2 messenger at headquarters H: In Washington?
P: In Washington, D.C. I was in the Records Management Division, became a file clerk.
After a year and a half as a clerk, and going to school at night at Georgetown, I quit the FBI and pursued my education full time at Georgetown University where I graduated in June of 1963 with a Bachelor’s Degree in Spanish Literature and a minor in classical Languages. I re-joined the Bureau as an Agent in NAC-5, September 16, 1963.
Bernardo “Mat” Perez August 8, 2008 Page 2 P: My first office was Tampa, Florida for six months, transferred to Monterey Language School in California. The school was cancelled and I was transferred to the San Antonio division where I served for exactly one year, working Foreign Counter-Intelligence and criminal matters and civil rights.
In Tampa, I worked Foreign Counter-Intelligence, Internal Security, the Cubans. I went to Washington to the Naval Intelligence School at Anacostia for six months, intensive course in Portuguese, then I was transferred into the Washington Field Office on to Ernie Belcher’s squad, a Security squad. Served in Washington Field for approximately two years and then I was transferred to Miami, about 1965, where I again worked bombing matters mostly, Internal Security.
I was assigned to Howard Albaugh’s squad, the Internal Security Squad, in Miami, Florida until about 1970. I was transferred to Headquarters, Division Five, the Internal Security Division. I worked New-Left matters. Then after a year and a half I was sent to Legat Mexico to a one-man Resident Agency in the State of Sonora which is just south of the Arizona border. Served there for approximately four and a half years locating fugitives. Then I transferred onto the Inspection Staff at Headquarters in about 1975. I was on the staff for about a year and a half, thirteen different divisions were inspected.
Then I went into the Records Management Division again for FOIPA (Freedom of Information Privacy Act).
FOIPA had just been created and then I was in the Document Classification Section and then transferred as a Field Supervisor to the Los Angeles Division where I led Squad Six, terrorism and the New-Left.
I supervised an outstanding case on the Weatherman Prairie Fire. We arrested the Weatherman with two undercover Agents who had penetrated the Weatherman. We convicted five people. Then in 1979 I was transferred as ASAC to San Juan. After seven months I became SAC San Juan, served there for approximately a year and a half. We had over 150 bombings in one year. This was the beginning of terrorism in America.
H: In ’79?
P: Yes ’79 to ’82. Then I returned to the Los Angeles Division as Senior Administrative ASAC for approximately two and a half years. Then I was transferred as ASAC to the El Paso Division [and] served there for approximately six years until 1989, when I became the Deputy Assistant Director of the Laboratory and served in Washington approximately a year and a half until 1991, when I became SAC Albuquerque and served until January of 1996 when I retired. I served thirty- four years total in the Bureau.
H: Wow. I don’t know if I’ve got enough tape to handle this whole career. We may have to come back.
Bernardo “Mat” Perez August 8, 2008 Page 3 P: I’m amazed that I can still recount it.
H: (Laughing) That’s amazing. Where’s Lone Pine, California near?
P: Lone Pine is in central eastern California, Inyo County. It’s the bottom of Mt. Whitney and ninety miles from Death Valley. It’s on the Highway 395 between Los Angeles and Reno, Nevada.
H: Oh okay, good. I hadn’t heard. It sounded like it was some place way out [there].
P: It’s a little town of twelve hundred people and near nothing.
H: Okay, so you were preparing for the priesthood in your early education then?
P: Yes. I studied for the priesthood for seven years and then after I got out I was recruited by the FBI Story, Jimmy Stewart. I had never seen or met an FBI Agent. I was interested in joining L.A. P.D. but I had an uncle who was assigned there and he told me to go to the FBI - they were the best. Being young and naïve, I paid my own way to Washington and was hired as a messenger.
H: Well, it’s interesting. There’s a lot of people in the Bureau who have religious training, religious backgrounds.
P: Yeah, yeah.
H: That’s surprising.
P: Yeah, you change Hoover for the Pope and it was very similar.
H: (Laughing) Really?
P: The Pope for Hoover rather.
H: (Laughing) Well I don’t know. Hoover didn’t dress as well.
H: At least as far as I know anyway.
P: But he was strict.
H: (Laughing) Okay. So Georgetown then, were you continuing your religious studies at Georgetown too?
Bernardo “Mat” Perez August 8, 2008 Page 4 P: No, I wanted to go into the Foreign Service and I took the Foreign Service exam and passed, but there was a hiring freeze so I went back to the Bureau to get a job as a translator’s aide in the interim. I met a young man named Rick Miller who was in the Recruiting Section, I guess, or unit, who had served in the seminary also. He convinced me that I could become an Agent.
I was not really impressed. I’d seen Agents at Headquarters and they did not impress me.
I had never seen a Field Agent, but when he told me that I could make $7,690 a year I was very impressed and joined.
H: (Laughing) That changes your whole outlook. I had somewhat of a similar background. I was preparing for Foreign Service also. My Bachelors was in Modern Languages. I had studied French mainly.
H: And I had a year of college Spanish and I went in the Army into Intelligence and they said, “Oh, we’ll send you to Paris.” That was my first assignment and I thought well that’s only right and then I came back the next morning, they said, “No, you’re going to San Juan instead.” So I went down there and learned a little more Spanish on the ground and then when I joined the Bureau I was sort of in the Spanish circuit myself.
P: Were you at Fort Buchanan?
H: Right there on the Morro, the big castle there yeah.
P: Yeah, I had a brother-in-law who was born there.
H: Oh is that right? Well our daughter was born there too.
Bernardo “Mat” Perez August 8, 2008 Page 5 H: We got a lot of things in common, yeah.
P: A lot of things in common.
H: By the time you graduated then, that’s when you came in as an Agent?
H: Now it doesn’t sound though like you had the usual assignment of car thefts and fugitives and that type of thing.
P: I did and I was told, they told us in the Academy to not worry about the Internal Security because we wouldn’t get it until we were much more seasoned but my first case was ISCuba. I did, I had a case load of about sixty-five, sixty-seven cases I remember and I had bank robberies, ITSP, extortion, bank frauds. I had a little bit of everything including the Internal Security. So I worked both criminal and security.
H: So with your native Spanish ability and background?
P: Well it wasn’t native, no.
H: It worked pretty well.
P: My father was born in El Paso. My mother is sixth generation American.
P: We had lost it. My Spanish was academic that I had learned through Georgetown and in the seminary.
H: Well, that’s like me with German. I come from a German background but I don’t speak any German.
P: That’s right. Some people think it comes in the genes but it doesn’t.
H: No, no. So you, the Cubans, there’s a good size Cuban community there I remember, from my time there?
P: Yeah, in Tampa.
Bernardo “Mat” Perez August 8, 2008 Page 6 P: But again, I’m Mexican-American descent and of course the cultural differences were quite noticeable. I remember Gene Peterson, I don’t know if you remember him?
P: He was the supervisor and he was telling me to go out and interview people without identifying myself and I told him, “I don’t look like them and I don’t speak like them.
They know that I’m different.” He couldn’t understand that I was only getting about twenty percent of what they were saying.
H: Oh yeah, yeah. It’s a real problem, the Caribbean accent in general.
P: Very different.
H: Yeah. It’s kind of interesting. The Cuban population there was from what? Turn of the century right, shortly after the Spanish American War?
P: Oh yeah and the, remember the cigar factories, Consolidated Tobacco, and all that?
H: So you were there for what? A year?
P: No, six months.
H: Six months.
P: They had me on tickler for that for the language school because I’d scored highly on my aptitude test and I wanted, I volunteered to go to language school because I wanted to go into the Legats.
P: Because I wanted Foreign Service first. My father-in-law was a Foreign Service Officer so when I saw that I could be in the FBI and do Foreign Service at the same time, that to me was ideal.
P: I wanted to be Legat Brazil eventually, but they closed it by the time I got half way there.
H: Yeah that was, they were rather tentative in those days in terms of the Legat Program.
P: I think a lot of it depended upon Mr. Hoover and his relationship with the Legat at the time and apparently that’s what closed Legat Rio.
Bernardo “Mat” Perez August 8, 2008 Page 7 P: He married a woman who was in the CIA.
H: Oh I remember that yeah.
P: Hoover didn’t care for that, so Legat Rio was closed.
H: Yeah I had hoped to get a, that was one of the reasons why I left. I’d hoped to get into Legat work and it just wasn’t panning out.
P: Well for me it was going that way so it worked out.
H: Well that’s good. You left Tampa, you’re Santoiana-trained then?
H: And you left Tampa and headed out to San Antonio?
P: Yeah. San Antonio for exactly a year where I worked again Internal Security, but mostly Criminal.
H: Now what was out in San Antonio in Internal Security?
P: There was just the Soviets and things like that coming through. We had some work on the base, some Espionage work at Kelly Field, but nothing sophisticated and there was a very small Cuban community there.
H: All right. So most of the people that would have been of Hispanic background would have been Mexicans then, I would assume?
P: Mexicans, yeah. So most of my work, ninety plus percent of my work there was Criminal plus I had all the civil rights cases on the road trip out of Headquarters City.
H: Now this was getting to be civil rights time, wasn’t it?
P: Yes, it was very heavy civil rights. Because when I came out of Tampa, I think it was MIBURN, was ongoing where they had buried the civil rights workers in the dam.
P: And I came through Jackson, Mississippi on my way to language school, and they had a Special going on there. I remember one of the Agents told me not to call in because he had done that and they snagged him and he’d been there eight months; hadn’t been home.
It was a big Special. They had about two hundred Agents working on that thing.
H: Oh yeah, MIBURN was a big deal.
Bernardo “Mat” Perez August 8, 2008 Page 8
P: So then but, the civil rights that I was working did involve African-Americans but mostly police brutality, ‘44’ matters, involving Mexican-Americans.
H: Yeah, that was the traditional stuff that we did.
H: Police brutality.
P: I worked the Klan in Tampa, over in Plant City. I had several cases on the Klan.
H: Oh, is that right?
P: Yeah. Because Klan work and Internal Security were sort of seen somehow in the Bureau as kind of close there. So I don’t know what the connection was but anyway I worked quite a bit on civil rights in Tampa.
H: Well there was also a large community of migrant workers all around Tampa there.
P: I didn’t get involved much in that; most of it was with African-Americans.