Ned Timmons grad­uated from Hillsdale College in 1970. He served for nine years on an FBI SWAT team in Detroit, infil­trated motor­cycle gangs, helped bring down infamous Pana­manian dic­tator Manuel Noriega, and posed as a mer­cenary gun­boatman in one of the largest drug busts in U.S. History. He cur­rently runs L.S.S. con­sulting, a cor­porate security company.


How did you get from Hillsdale to the FBI?

I’d always been inter­ested in getting to the FBI, but there’s not a proven path to getting there. When I was at Hillsdale the Vietnam War was still going on. There was a lottery system and I was already past the lottery number. So I knew the second I grad­uated I was going into the mil­itary.

Just about everybody in my training group went to Vietnam, but they took 12 of us and sent us to South Korea, assigned to the criminal inves­ti­gating detachment of the army. When I got out of the army, I went to work for the Highland Park Police in northern Detroit. I did nine years of SWAT, patrol, and regular police work and then fin­ished my masters at MSU. I was actually working on a Ph.D. when I got accepted into the FBI.

In the FBI I started working on fugi­tives and bank rob­beries and developed some high end sources that I cap­tured as fugi­tives. That led us into motor­cycle gang inves­ti­ga­tions. The bureau became very inter­ested in motor­cycle gang inves­ti­ga­tions because they began to realize in the early ’80s that the bikers were doing all the dirty work for tra­di­tional, orga­nized crime.


What were some of the more intense inves­ti­ga­tions you were involved with?

We found a group closely aligned with Manuel Noriega, dic­tator of Panama. The problem was that Noriega was the CIA’s source into Castro, and the Castro was aligned with the Rus­sians. So the CIA did not want its source to go down, because he was the main source of infor­mation on what Russia was trying to do in Cuba and what was going on in Russia.

The CIA was very unhappy with our project. I guess I’ll just leave it at that. You can imagine that the two big agencies butt heads. The potential for the CIA to want to sab­otage the whole oper­ation was a concern every minute. Not only did you have to worry about the bad guys, but you had to worry about the CIA too.


Were you under­cover?

I was never under­cover in Panama, but I was under­cover in the Cayman Islands. We coop­erated in Cayman for over a year, and the whole inves­ti­gation took five years. I became a con­fidant of one of the main guys, and would move money and oversee daily func­tions and security con­cerns. There was so much money that we burned through six money counting machines. The motors wouldn’t with­stand the volume of cash we were moving through them. We went to a system of weighing the money. We would weigh 50 pounds of hun­dreds.


What was your under­cover identity?

They believed I came out Saudi Arabia and that I trained people on how to use high-powered gun­boats, for the Arabs. I had a mer­cenary-type back­ground, and they liked that a lot.

What was it like to become one of the bad guys?

I’d been oper­ating two to three years with motor­cycle gangs, and I think you have to become an actor and watch for people within the orga­ni­zation that might resent you coming in.


Was there temp­tation?

We had some green berets that were corrupt, gone to the dark side, and former mil­itary that had gone with the smug­glers. If you wanted to go to the dark side, you could obvi­ously become a very wealthy indi­vidual. But [in my mind] that was never an option.


Did you face any sit­u­a­tions that were life or death?

There was a time when the main power group in Cayman came to me and said, “There’s an agent on the island and he looks just like you.” Then, I was at the hotel and all the sudden I saw an agent out of Detroit who was on his hon­eymoon. He showed up with his wife. The risk was that he’d come and say some­thing. It could have been a dis­aster. We couldn’t call the police, because we didn’t trust the police. But I was able to give him a signal. Luckily his wife was gor­geous, and they were paying more attention to the wife in the bikini then to him. I was able to catch his eye and give him a signal to keep his mouth shut. We dodged a bullet there. Anytime you’re out with a bunch of drug smug­glers who are making mil­lions, and you’re out all night, and you’re out on boats and air­planes, there’s a pretty high risk of a problem arising.


What got you through those sit­u­a­tions?

I think that when you’re in police work, and you do SWAT, and you have a mil­itary back­ground, you always believe that you’re bullet proof. You always believe that nothing is going to happen to you, and that you can get yourself out of any sit­u­ation. I think in those sit­u­a­tions you always have to have in the back of your mind a plan of what you would do and how you would overcome a sit­u­ation and evade it.


How do you infil­trate a motor­cycle gang?

As an FBI agent you would never become a “made member” of an orga­ni­zation. You have to pick some­thing that they need, and you have to remain on the outer fringes. We pro­vided trans­portation — air­planes and trucks to move the motor­cycle gang’s drugs. We made them believe we could provide various chem­icals for the pro­duction of metham­phet­a­mines. They needed to come to you. You don’t want to go to them. I would always remain aloof from the drugs by just saying, ‘I’m a busi­nessman; I don’t partake in that; but thank you very much.’


Is there one group of people you never want to see again?

The smallest person can pull a trigger and end your life real quick. The Colom­bians are very dan­gerous. Obvi­ously the motor­cycle gangs are dan­gerous. So are smug­glers. There is a danger level from anybody. Anytime you’re chasing a bank robber or murder fugitive, you’ve got to assess the sit­u­ation, have a plan, and count on your team.


Is it dif­ficult to go back and forth between your career and your family life?

My wife claims that she had to retrain me. She claims to have done so suc­cess­fully. Reprogram me or whatever her words are. Things are pretty calm now.


Are we safer now than we were 30 years ago?

Every era has its crisis. You go back to the Cuban missile crisis. That could have been the beginning of the end of the world. Today Iran and these rogue coun­tries are like motor­cycle gangs. They’re uncon­trol­lable. You don’t know what they’re going to do. They’ve got massive weapons. North Korea and Iran are a concern every minute. There is always going to be trauma and turmoil and problems out there that are con­cerning to all of us.