Mena: The Oral Deposition of Richard J. Brenneke


Joint Investigation by the Arkansas State Attorney General's Office and the U.S. Congress


The following deposition was taken from Mr. Brenneke at

The Office of the Attorney General
323 Center Street
Little Rock, Arkansas

on June 21, 1991 at 10:10 a.m.


(Excerpts are from pages 3, 4, 6, 7-12, 13, 14-21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 28-30, 39-41.)


MR. ALEXANDER: My name is William Alexander, Jr., and I'm an attorney and a member of the United States Congress. I'm a member of the Bar of the State of Arkansas as well as the District of Columbia and other states. And I'm taking this deposition today as a member of the United States Congress in my investigative authority under the Constitution, and as a member of of the Appropriations Committee having jurisdiction over all agencies of the federal government, specifically those agencies of the Departments of Justice, State, Commerce and the Federal Judiciary. For some time I have been involved in investigating the subject of inquiry today with full authority as a member of the United States Congress. In addition, I'm acting as a Special Assistant to the Attorney General of the State of Arkansas, who is represented here today. And, Chad, would you state who are you, and what you're doing here?

MR. FARRIS: My name is Chad Farris. I'm the Chief Deputy Attorney General for the State of Arkansas. And Representative Alexander is right, that he has been so designated, and I am attending as a representative for the Attorney General's Office and will participate in this investigation.

MR. ALEXANDER: I'll state further for the record, that the nature of this inquiry is confidential. And that it is - the evidence is intended to be used to produce for the benefit of the Special Prosecutor in the Iran-Contra case now pending in Washington and for other purposes. And I'd now like to ask the reporter if he would swear the witness.

(The witness was sworn.)

EXAMINATION BY MR. ALEXANDER:

Q. Would you state your name, age and residence?

A. Okay. The name is Richard J. Brenneke, B-R-E-N-N-E-K-E. My home address is [deleted] Street in [deleted], and that's [deleted]....

Q. So you were an independent contractor with the Central Intelligence Agency?

A. That's correct.

Q. Beginning when and through what years?

A. 1968 through about 1986, somewhere in 1985, '86 is when I called it off.

Q. So what services did you perform for the Central Intelligence Agency?

A. Specialized in two activities; I handled money for them, I handled East Bloc weapons purchases primarily made in Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia....

Q. And you were a pilot for the CIA?

A. That's correct. Q. During what period? A. During the whole period I worked for them.

Q. And that what years?

A. That would be '68 through '80 -- I think the last flying I did for them was in '84.

Q. Did you ever pilot an aircraft to a location at Mena, Arkansas?

A. Yes, sir. I did on a number of occasions.

Q. And what aircraft did you fly into Mena?

A. I generally flew a C-130. Aircraft would be brought into Mena, the first trips that I made started in early '84.

Q. I see. Were you based out of Mena for a period of time?

A. That would be a very appropriate description.

Q. How many flights would you say that you made from the Mena, Arkansas airport for the CIA during the period of time that you worked for them?

A. Ten to twelve.

Q. Ten to twelve flights? And you flew a C-130?

A. Generally flew a C-130. I did, however, on occasion come in -- on one occasion specifically I recall coming in on a Lear Jet, on one occasion on a 400 Series Cessna.

Q. You kept flight logs of all of your flights for the CIA?

A. Yes, sir. I certainly did.

Q. You have those logs?

A. They're lodged with my attorney.

Q. And would you submit to us copies of -- exact copies of those logs, and make those an attachment to this record?

A. I certainly will....

Q. All right. Now, Mr. Brenneke, could you tell us when you first made a flight for the CIA from Mena, Arkansas?

A. It would have been March, April of 1984.

Q. 1984. And what was the cargo that you transported for the CIA from Mena?

A. From Mena?

Q. Yes.

A. Okay. From Mena I would generally take people who had been trained in the area around Mena, generally paramilitary or military forces from Central America. They would be taken back to Panama City, where I would drop them. And, in addition to that, we would carry weapons that were being shipped down there. The weapons, as I've said, frequently came either from government stores or through [deleted] Gun Shop in Miami, Florida.

Q. Now, were the shipments made from Mena, though?

A. Yes, sir, they were.

Q. Okay. Now, the guns, how did you know they were guns?

A. I could see them being loaded on my aircraft.

Q. Were the guns in boxes?

A. The guns were in crates, and they were stamped clearly on the outside as to what they were.

Q. Now, can you identify for the record some of the kinds of guns that were being shipped from Mena to Central America?

A. M-1's, M-1 rifles, recoil -- small recoilless rifles, [illegible], I've forgotten the exact caliber on it, grenades, ammunition for these weapons, fuses, detonator fuses. And I remember that one very specifically because it only happened once. But we had detonator fuses on board, and my concern was that we might have the equipment being detonated on the same flight, and I didn't want that.

Q. Did you inspect the crates yourself prior to airlifting?

A. No, sir. I didn't look at every crate. But I would, from time-to-time, open one because I wanted to make sure of the weights on them.

Q. And who was with you as co-pilot on the first flight?

A. [deleted], a friend of mine who lives in Denver, Colorado.

Q. Did he accompany you on all the flights or were there other co-pilots?

A. No, there were other co-pilots from time-to-time.

Q. Can you describe -- name for us the co-pilots that accompanied you on the several flights that you made to Central America?

A. No, sir, I can't. It's been too long.

Q. Do you recall names other than [deleted]?

A. Yes. Unfortunately only nicknames. There was a fellow that I flew with regularly that was called "The Hippie." He worked out Medellin, would frequently fly the trips up north to us.

Q. "Up north," what do you mean?

A. Up to Mena.

Q. To Mena?

A. And also into Iron Mountain Ranch in Texas.

Q. Into Texas. So you -- let's deal with the Mena location at the moment, and we can go to other locations today if we wish --

A. Sure.

Q. -- at a later time. There is an airport at Mena, and what's the name of it?

A. It's Mena Airport.

Q. Mena Airport. And who did you see personally involved in the loading of these crates and the management of these cargoes that you knew personally and you can identify for the record? Did you see anyone there you would --

A. Yes, a man by the name of [deleted].

Q. Were there -- [deleted], is he from Mena?

A. [deleted] owns and operates [deleted].

Q. In Mena, Arkansas?

A. In Mena, Arkansas. And he would be the individual directing his workers, because they followed his direction in loading and unloading aircraft.

Q. How many workers do you recall were used for the purpose of loading and unloading aircraft?

A. Depending on the equipment, it could run as high as twelve, more often than not it was around five or six people.

Q. Five or six people. Would you -- do you recall any of the names of the people who participated?

A. I was never introduced to who they were.

Q. I see. So as I understand it, they would load the guns and munitions on the C-130, and you and a co-pilot, one of who you've identified as [deleted] --

A. Uh-huh.

Q. -- would fly these munitions and equipment to locations in Central America. Where was the cargo destined for; where did you fly it to?

A. We flew it to Panama City and off loaded it there.

Q. Do you remember where in Panama City?

A. Panama -- at Tecuman Airport.

Q. Which airport?

A. Tecuman.

Q. Tecuman?

A. Tecuman, T-E-C-U-M-A-N.

Q. Tecuman Airport. That's in Panama City?

A. In Panama City.

Q. Did you fly them to other locations?

A. Yes, sir. We also flew to a point on the East Coast of Panama and Colon.

Q. Colon?

A. It's a Greek word.

Q. Now, could -- were the shipments met by people in Panama?

A. Yes, they were. They were. They were met by military types who wore military uniforms and were easily identified as members of the Panamanian Defense Force, which essentially is the Palace Guard....

Q. I see. Now, what would happen to the cargo once you landed in Panama at either of these locations when it was met by the Panamanian Defense Forces?

A. The cargo would be immediately off loaded off the aircraft and loaded either onto trucks or stacked in warehouses. If we were going into Colon, there are bonded warehouses where it would simply be stacked in warehouses where it would simply be stacked.

Q. Were these military trucks?

A. Yes, sir.

Q. Could you identify the military insignias on the trucks?

A. No. They were just --

Q. They were military trucks?

A. Drab olive green.

Q. Olive green trucks?

A. With numbers stenciled on the side.

Q. I see. Operated by --

A. Operated by people in military garb. I assume they were military trucks.

Q. Okay. And then what would be your actions following the arrival there when the -- after the cargo was unloaded; did you stay the night, or would you immediately turn around an return to the United States? What was your --

A. No, we always stayed the night. Generally we would stay just one night, there were times when we stayed two or three.

Q. Now, you would stay a night or a couple of days and you returned. And would you return with cargo?

A. Yes, sir, we would. We would come back with individuals and from time-to-time unmarked boxes of items that were put in one aircraft along with the individuals. Now, being conservative by nature and not having a death-wish, I opened the boxes on a number of occasions to find out what I was flying. And what --

Q. What did you discover the cargo to be?

A. I found the cargo to be cocaine, in some cases marijuana.

Q. How, would you describe what you saw when you opened the boxes?

A. What I saw when I opened the boxes were plastic bags filled with a white powdery substance. On one occasion I wanted to know more about what it was, so I cut one of them open and tasted it; and I have tasted cocaine in a controlled environment before at the request of law enforcement officials, so this --

Q. So you positively identified the substances that you were carrying as cocaine?

A. Yes, sir, I did.

Q. How much cocaine would you judge that you were carrying?

A. In the course of time there?

Q. Well, in each load?

A. In each load, 4 to 600 pounds.

Q. 4 to 600 pounds. And did you see people loading this cargo onto the airplane?

A. Yes, sir, I did.

Q. And who -- can you identify those people?

A. Those were Panamanian Defense Force soldiers. They were in military uniform and easily identifiable as such.

Q. The same people that took the guns off, put the cocaine on?

A. Absolutely.

Q. Is that right?

A. That's correct.

Q. Now, what would you do with the load of cocaine once it was loaded onto your C-130; where would you go with it?

A. We would bring it to Mena, Arkansas.

Q. And how long would it take you to fly to Mena?

A. Four to six hours, depending on the wind.

Q. And you have a flight log that would identify this flight?

A. Yes, sir, I do.

Q. Each one of the flights?

A. Yes, sir, I do.

Q. And when you landed at Mena, what would be the disposition of the cargo?

A. On one or two occasions the cargo was taken off by people who were not residents of the Mena area and put into other aircraft which departed from there. However, the most frequent activity was that the aircraft would be unloaded in front of [deleted]'s hangers and it would be stored in the back of the hanger....

Q. And go back in your mind to the first trip you took and describe to me the disposition of the cargo; that is, the cocaine, once it returned to Arkansas, once it was delivered to Arkansas? And I am especially -- I am particularly interested in the identification of persons other than [deleted]. You've talked about [deleted]. You've identified him. Can you identify other people who might have received this cocaine?

A. Yes. I can identify people who in fact received the cocaine, not "might have." And --

Q. Can you tell us who they were?

A. I can tell you that they were members of John Gotti's family in New York. One of them was an individual know to me by the name of Sal Reale.

Q. Could you spell that name for us?

A. R-E-A-L-E.

Q. Sal Reale?

A. Salvatore Reale.

Q. Salvatore Reale?

A. Correct.

Q. And how did you know Mr. Reale?

A. Mr. Reale at that time was the Director of -- I believe it was that time, was the Director of Security of Kennedy International in New York City.

Q. In New York City. Speak to the subject of your knowledge of Mr. Reale and his activities as the head of security at Kennedy? Tell us what you know about him and what he did?

A. Okay. Mr. Reale was a -- was one of Mr. Gotti's lieutenants. I watched the two of them interact. Mr. Gotti would provide directions, Mr. Reale would carry them out. It was his job to make sure that cargo being shipped through Kennedy was not lost, but properly located, and in some cases avoiding customs -- avoided the customs procedures....

Q. So you worked for Mr. Gotti as well as for the CIA?

A. Actually the CIA told me to do that on his behalf.

Q. So the CIA was in, would you say, partnership or association with Mr. Gotti?

A. Yes, sir. I would say a partnership.

Q. And can you describe the nature of that partnership?

A. Sure. The organized crime members had a need for two things: they needed drugs brought into the country on a reliable, safe basis; they needed people taken out of the country or people brought into the country without alerting customs or INS to the fact that they were being brought into the country; they also needed their money taken offshore so that it would not be subject to United States tax where they might have to declare its source. And so we performed these kinds of functions for them.

Q. Mr. Brenneke, are you saying that the CIA was in the business of bringing drugs into the United States?

A. Yes, sir. That's exactly what I'm saying.

Q. And that they were in partnership with John Gotti in this operation?

A. I would say that they worked with Mr. Gotti and his organization very closely. Whether it was a formal partnership, I don't know. But there certainly was a close alliance between the two.

Q. All right. Now, let's go back to Mena Airport in Arkansas for a moment. At a time when you saw Mr. Reale there, did he receive any of the shipment, the cargo of the drugs that your brought back from Panama?

A. He did not personally take any of the drugs. He did, however, see that they were transferred into aircraft and vehicles so that they would be moved off the field, and that was his function. His function was not to load the vehicles, but to see that nothing got lost on transit.

Q. Are you saying that drugs that you brought back from Central America to Mena were for the purpose of delivery to Mr. Reale, who was in the employ of Mr. Gotti, the New York crime syndicate boss?

A. Yes, sir. I would say that.

Q. And Mr. Reale was there to manage the transhipment of those drugs?

A. From time-to-time there were other people from the family down there.

Q. Did you have any conversations with him about where he intended to take those drugs?

A. Yes, sir. I asked on more than one occasion where the drugs would be taken, and I was told the New York City area, specifically Kennedy International Airport....

Q. Now, I was asking you about whether or not the CIA had a "black bag" operation at [deleted] in Mena, Arkansas. And maybe a more interesting way to ask that question would be, you knew that you were dealing with criminals; is that correct?

A. That's correct, sir.

Q. You were dealing with criminals that were transporting and selling cocaine in the United States?

A. Yes....

Q. Now, did the Gotti organization, through Reale, pay money to the CIA for the drugs?

A. Yes, they did.

Q. Do you know how much money?

A. Firsthand knowledge, somewhere in the $50,000,000 bracket.

Q. How do you know how much money?

A. Because I banked that money for them in Panama City, and ultimately transferred it to other locations in Europe....

Q. So what would be the procedure for you to receive the payment from the Gotti organization for the drugs?

A. Generally the money was -- okay. Let me restate that. The money was given to us in cash. Q. "Us," you mean the CIA? A. "Us," meaning the people I worked with, who were also associated with the Central Intelligence Agency. We would transfer that money to banks in Central and South America. And from there transfer via accounts that I had established back in 1970 -- they were accounts which I was a beneficial holder and the named signee on it....

Q. Can you recall any conversations you had with any of the CIA agents about the money, and tell us the nature of that conversation, the scope of it?

A. Sure. When I found that we were bringing drugs into the United States, and that we were receiving money which was being put into accounts which I knew to belong to the United States Government, as I'd set them up specifically for that purpose, I called Mr. Don Gregg, who was a CIA officer with whom I was acquainted, and complained about the nature of what we were doing.

Q. Now, who is Mr. Don Gregg?

A. At that time, he was George Bush - Vice-President George Bush's National Security Advisor.

Q. And do you recall the date that you had this conversation with Mr. Gregg?

A. I am more than willing to look for it in my telephone records.

Q. And when you discover that, you can provide it for us?

A. I will provide you with --

Q. You have records of the conversation?

A. Yes, I do.

Q. And will you make a copy of that record available for this --

A. Yes, sir, I will. Including my handwritten notes that are contemporaneous.

Q. Now, you don't have any notes with you at this time?

A. No, I do not.

Q. But do you recall the conversation with Mr. Gregg?

A. Very well.

Q. And can you tell us what you remember about that conversation?

A. I surely can. I was told that it was not my business, what I was flying in and out of the country. That I was hired to do specific things, and if I would do those things and not pay any attention to anything else, we would all be very happy. I didn't like that.

Q. Well, what else did he say?

A. Shut up and do your job.

Q. He said, "shut up and do your job?"

A. Essentially, yes.

Q. Did you have any further contact with him?

A. I talked to him in 19 --

Q. "Him," I'm talking about Mr. Gregg?

A. Yes. Subsequently I talked to Mr. Gregg on a number of occasions as well as to other people in the Vice-President's office to voice my concern over the use of drugs in -- importing drugs into the United States and using the cash generated from that to perform operations which I perceived to be not put before Congress in any form....

Q. I think, finally, I want to ask you if you have any knowledge of the money that you're talking about coming from the Gotti organization being used for any other purposes, other than depositing in the bank accounts for the CIA?

A. Sure. We had to run the operations at Nella, for instance. The training facilities at Nella had to be paid for.

Q. Now, where is Nella?

A. Nella is about 10 miles out of Mena, north.

Q. North of the Mena Airport. We've not talk about that, Mr. Brenneke. Can you tell us what your know about Nella; what it is, and for what purposes it was established?

A. Sure. Nella was a training base for military and paramilitary folks from south of the border, Mexico, Panama.

Q. Who managed the base? Who operated the base?

A. Don't know the names of the operators.

Q. What agency operated the base?

A. Central Intelligence Agency, as far as I knew.

Q. Did you know anyone from the agency that was responsible for the operation?

A. I knew the names of some of the people over there. I didn't spend much time at Mena, so I'd have to answer that by saying, no, I really don't know. I did know one of the folks who was a flight instructor over there, and that was Terry Reed.

Q. Terry Reed.

A. And on another occasion, I did provide Mr. Reed with a deposition in a case in which he was acquitted.

Q. Mr. Brenneke, I have here in my hand a copy of a videotaped deposition which was presented as evidence in the United States District Court for the District of Kansas in the case United States of America, Plaintiff versus Terry Kent Reed, Defendant. And I will ask you if you can identify this document?

A. (Witness viewing document.) Yes, sir. That is the testimony that I gave under oath in Portland, Oregon....

Q. (BY MR. ALEXANDER) Mr. Brenneke, I don't want to dwell on this too much at this point. But I think it's important just to summarize the connection between the Mena CIA operation and the Nella CIA operation. And can you just tell us briefly what distinctions there was, if any, and whether or not these operations were one in the same? And let's move onto something else after you have explained that.

A. The operations were one in the same. The equipment that was used at Mena would frequently transport people and equipment to the truck, for instance, you know, would drive up to Nella and leave people and equipment there.

Q. So, in other words, the CIA had an operation in Mena which included Nella?

A. Yes....

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