Theodore “Ted” Gunderson was, to put it mildly, an extremely odd and controversial figure. To his supporters, he was a whistleblower and a champion of truth who stood up to corruption and dark forces including satanic cults and the New World Order. To his detractors, he was either a con artist or a conspiracist whose paranoia bordered on insanity. Gunderson became a key player in many conspiracy theories, beginning with the Jeffrey MacDonald case and satanic cults. He later became involved with Michael Riconosciuto, of Inslaw affair fame, and “Chip” Tatum who made claims that are impossible to reconcile with the facts – such as claiming to report to CIA Director William Colby well after Colby left the Agency.
Gunderson is most notorious for his claims that there were nation-wide child molestation rings that involved slavery and the highest echelons of society. While every mainstream investigation has contradicted his conclusions, many of his supporters point to his long history in the FBI as reason enough to believe him. This in-depth look at the man examines him primarily through the lens of his 2,200+ page FBI file.
Before joining the Bureau, Gunderson grew up in the midwest and graduated from the University of Nebraska at Lincoln with a Bachelor’s degree in Business Administration. Although he didn’t meet the age requirements when he applied to join the FBI, he petitioned the Director to allow him to join anyway. The initial review process produced mostly positive remarks about Gunderson. His interviewer marked him as being “good” or “very good” for all categories of the physical appearance, personality and intelligence as part of the special agent examination.
Gunderson’s former employer considered him to the best of the three employees, and didn’t want to see him go but thought he would make a good special agent. While one of Gunderson’s early educators considered him slightly lazy, he was now described as ambitious, extremely industrious and having an excellent reputation. Every criminal check came back negative while the character and background checks were almost universally positive. The only negative comments in Gunderson’s early file are a former University instructors who thought that he could have put more effort into his school work than he did, likely due to his other “worthwhile campus activities.” Perhaps most persuasive to the FBI, though, was the endorsement from Special Agent Harold P. Turner, who had known Gunderson and his family for years. Turner considered Gunderson “alert, intelligent, and sufficiently aggressive” to work for the FBI.
After the interview the FBI concluded that although he had no investigative experience, Gunderson had the potential to become a better than average agent. On November 29, 1951 the Bureau sent Gunderson a letter informing him that he was being offered a probationary position as a Special Agent. On December 10th, Gunderson signed the affidavit and oath of office with the Bureau and given the badge number 3083 along with the entrance rating of “Satisfactory,” beginning a career that would ultimately help shape American conspiracy theories.
After completing his time at the New Agents’ Training School and his two week assignment with a more experienced agent, a review of his performance noted that he was “not capable of handling involved types of cases, however he appears to be energetic and anxious to progress.” The review also notes that while there was nothing to indicate any administrative or executive ability, he was entitled to the Satisfactory rating. Over time and with experience, his individual scores improved and he gained the reputation of a skilled, but not exceptional, FBI agent as he was rotated through different field offices and types of work, including the Miscellaneous Espionage Section (and later the Yugoslav Espionage Section) of the New York office. After three years with the Bureau, he was promoted from GS-10 to GS-11 and his performance rating was eventually raised to Excellent.
His file as an employee wasn’t all gold stars, however. Twice in 1956, he was censured for matters relating to an Atomic Energy Act – employee case, the details of which are redacted from Gunderson’s file. As a result, it was recommended that he be passed over for a promotion in early 1958. Soon after, a memo to J. Edgar Hoover noted that Gunderson’s average voluntary overtime was “consistently below that of the Albuquerque Office” he was assigned to. This was followed soon by a personal letter from Hoover to Gunderson, chastising him for chargeable delinquencies and warning him to demonstrate better judgment and performance in his duties. By October, he had earned the promotion he had been denied earlier in the year.
Overall, most reports on Gunderson were positive and by 1960 he had been assigned as a Supervisor in Fugitive Section of the Criminal Intelligence Unit, and by 1961 he was being considered for yet another promotion. During this time, he received another censure and letter from Hoover chastising him for being “very derelict” in his handling of a case. However, after ten years of service with the Bureau he was considered “Excellent” or “Outstanding” in most categories. After his time completing his time in the Fugitive Section, Gunderson was transferred to Division 9, the Criminal Intelligence and Organized Crime Section then to Training and Inspection Division as a Counselor for the New Agents’ Training Class. He was chastised in his new position for giving Bureau property to one of the agent’s under his supervision, property which wasn’t properly returned. Despite these occasional censures, which his supervisors saw as isolated or unavoidable incidents, his performance reviews continued to be positive. Shortly before JFK was shot, Gunderson was again transferred to the Employees Security and Special Inquiry Section of the Special Investigative Division.
In late 1965, he was transferred to New Haven as the Assistant Special Agent in Charge. It was during this period that Gunderson received threats from the Bridgeport chapter of the Black Panther Party. A few months later, Gunderson received a personal letter from J. Edgar Hoover commending him on his “leadership in a matter of vital concern to the Bureau in the racial field” along with $150.00 ($970.00 in 2016, adjusting for inflation). Hoover congratulated him on the “extremely sensitive operation and the aggressive and imaginative way” Gunderson handled it. The bottom of the letter makes it clear Hoover is referring to the Bridgeport chapter of the Black Panther Party. The State’s Attorney’s office wrote to Hoover, commending Gunderson for providing information and services “far beyond the reach of [the Office’s] jurisdiction under normal circumstances.” The New Haven Black Panther trials have elsewhere been identified as being the result of FBI operations that were part of COINTELPRO (a series of FBI projects aimed at surveilling, infiltrating, discrediting and disrupting domestic political organizations). A memo in Gunderson’s file explains:
Following the murder of a Black Panther member on 5-21-69, New Haven instituted a vigorous, incisive investigation under the direction of Gunderson to ascertain facts concerning the murder, persons responsible, and to locate and bring to trial these individuals. AS a result of these efforts, three Black Panther leaders were arrested and a number of items of evidence seized, including a taped recording of a kangaroo court held by the Black Panther Party prior to the murder of its member.
In view of the above, I strongly recommend that Gunderson be considered for reassignment to the Inspection Division preparatory to his designation as an SAC [Special Agent in Charge].
Most historians agree that this affair was the turning point that marked the decline of support for the Black Panther Party (BPP). Another memo commends Gunderson for his work in “security-type cases,” and handling of double agents. Other memos from that period identify Gunderson as being responsible for the “supervision of racial informant matters.” Financial incentives and praise continued to roll in for Gunderson, with one memo directly crediting his work with disrupting the Black Panther Party and its operations. Another describes Gunderson’s role in the Black Panther Party operation:
Source, a Negro, male was not a member of the BPP at the time, however through direction and guidance he was successfully admitted in membership and since then has been considered a trusted and active Panther. In addition to providing information on local BPP activity, including details of the meetings, identity of members and information concerning funds, finances, travel, etc., informant has also furnished extensive information on a national and international level. In a number of instances, he was the first informant in the country to provide such information…
This informant is now in a trusted position to furnish extremely valuable information concerning BPP activities. Our most valuable weapon against Soviet intelligence and domestic extremist organizations such as the BPP is the development of quality informants such as these two informants. ASAC Gunderson’s efforts in these cases is exemplary.
A 1973 memo states Gunderson had “direct responsibility” for the Criminal Informant Program and for increasing the quality and quantity of coverage. Later that year, he was promoted to Special Agent in Charge and transferred to Memphis. The next month, he reported to the Bureau that he had been having serious marital problems for years and that his wife, who had “no love or feelings” for him, had been depositing his money into their daughter’s savings account. As a result, he announced his intention to divorce her.
In 1975, Gunderson was made Special Agent in Charge in Dallas, Texas. He was also placed on in the top twenty personnel for the proposed chain of command for the Bureau. The next year, his ex-wife took him to court over child support issues. In 1977, he was transferred to the Los Angeles office as Special Agent in Charge. In 1979, he was chastised by the FBI Director regarding a letter Gunderson had published in the newspaper. While speaking with the Director on the phone, Gunderson informed him of his intention to retire from the FBI after over 27 years as a Special Agent. Gunderson may have left the Bureau partially out of resentment over not being picked as the new FBI Director, as it’s been alleged he was interviewed for the position, although no mention of it appears in his file. After his retirement, he filed compensation claims with the government over hearing loss which he believed was the result of the repeated discharge of firearms at the shooting range.
Once he left the Bureau, Gunderson’s path took an unexpected turn after he became a private investigator.
In 1982, Gunderson was the focus of an Obstruction of Justice investigation when he reportedly hired a woman to plant drugs on a key witness in a major DEA methamphetamine investigation in order to discredit the witness. The DEA requested that the FBI perform a criminal investigation, and early memos described the case as “very strong.” Once the drug case began to fall apart due to repeated motions to suppress, however, they were left only weak evidence of a case against Gunderson. When the government’s cooperative witness suddenly began acting unstable and contradicting herself, the case fell apart. Significantly, Gunderson had been hired to coordinate the investigation for the defense.
In 1984, Gunderson was being investigated as part of an advance fee/fraud by wire investigation regarding Dekla International and fraudulent commitment letters – one of which had been personally signed by Gunderson. The company was shut down through the service of a search warrant and Gunderson soon resigned. Memos said that indictments were likely and Gunderson would likely be a defendant under aiding and abetting statutes and that the FBI knew the people interviewed had spoken amongst themselves and coordinated their information. Gunderson demanded that the files regarding the investigation be destroyed as soon as possible. When the Bureau didn’t agree to destroy the records, Gunderson terminated the in-progress interview. The transcript of the interview gives the strong impression that Gunderson asked to speak to the FBI to gain an idea of what evidence and witnesses they had gathered. A week later, a source came forward to allege that Gunderson had played an active role in the fraud scheme. It was in this same time period that Gunderson was in hiding due to an alleged contract out on his life.
A later memo states that Gunderson had become involved in “numerous suspect activities involving persons allegedly dealing in narcotics and advance fee swindles.” The memo goes on to mention the attempt to plant evidence to discredit a witness and that the Bureau had encountered “questionable acts” on Gunderson’s part in regard to his handling of a defense witness in the Jeffrey MacDonald case. Subsequent memos in the series notes that Gunderson is “armed and dangerous.”
According to the prosecutive report, the company was originally called Jurange Group Limited (JGL) which was run by David Allen Jurgenson while in the Los Angeles area, and moved operations to Dallas in 1982 when it used the names SASS Entertainment, SASS International and Dekla International. The loans would allegedly come from an international trust in Amsterdam called Unicoop (also spelled Unicop). In the six weeks that Gunderson was with the company, he signed many papers including at least one commitment letter. In later interviews, Gunderson claimed he had “very limited knowledge” about the company and its finances, and that he was used as a recognizable name to front for the company. Investigations determined, however, that he was aware in advance of the criminal history that his new business associates had. The report concludes that Gunderson was “active in the daily operations of [Dekla] and executed documents in his capacity as President.”
Once again, however, he avoided prosecution – possibly by virtue of not being important enough. The prosecutive report was to the Assistant U.S. Attorney, who agreed that Gunderson was “likely a co-conspirator” and that he would seek indictments for Fraud by Wire, Mail Fraud and possibly Interstate Transportation of Stolen Property. At the end of the year, no progress had been made in the prosecution due to “matters of greater priority,” but the Assistant U.S. Attorney still planned to prosecute them. All told, the report stated that Gunderson faced up to twenty five charges. The high workload of the Assistant U.S. Attorney forced the case to be transferred to someone else, who also had to put the case on the back burner. By mid-1985, the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Texas, on his last day as a U.S. Attorney, informed the Bureau that there would be no prosecution of Gunderson.
In 1989, Sheriff Holter of Mason County, Washington informed the Bureau that Gunderson was associating with known drug dealers in the area, and was being quite public about his former employment by the FBI. Holter warned the FBI that Gunderson appeared “somewhat disheveled in expensive clothing and alleges to be involved in some kind of clandestine project.”
In 2003, Gunderson received a threatening letter. When asked why someone would try to kill him, “Gunderson told how a satanic cult out of Washington, D.C. called the Bohemian Grove (BG) has a contract out on him. The BG wants to kill Gunderson to prevent him from exposing that they are behind the terrorist movement. There are approximately 4,000,000 satanic cult members in the United States. BG is headed by the President of the United States. The cult has a poison that will kill someone in 30 seconds and will make it look like a heart attack.” Gunderson did not explain why he survived getting the deadly powder on his skin without any ill effects. The letter was apparently Gaelic and linked to other letters that had been received by Judges and store owners in the area and organized in file 279B-LA-234125.
Gunderson had originally told the FBI he wasn’t worried about the letter and thought it was from a “nut”, but later sent out an affidavit where he stated it was a threat on his life and he had been after opening the letter, he “was immediately showered with a fine mist of red, brown and beige powder.” In his earlier interviews, he had described it as beige and resembling crushed concrete. DNA and fingerprints were retrieved from the envelopes, but no matches were identified.
Throughout his post-FBI career, Gunderson endorsed a number of conspiracy theories. Some, like the Inslaw affair, are relatively well documented. Other theories, such as the satanic cults that abducted and sacrificed 50,000 children every year, are clearly patent nonsense. Yet Gunderson was able to support himself by charging $100/hour as a private investigator and selling videos and documents online. From Gunderson’s file, the Bureau was never terribly concerned about Gunderson’s claims that they were covering up massive conspiracies. There are, however, hints of frustration in his file at having to deal with his continuing briefings and missives to the Bureau about how they had made mistakes in the Jeffrey MacDonald murder. While the Bureau did note some of his questionable activities and ties to illegal operations, he managed to avoid prosecution by encouraging silence and waiting for the proverbial heat to die down, and that he helped others do so by coordinating their defense and submitting affidavits on the behalf of people like Robert Booth Nichols.
Looking through his FBI file and what’s known about his life, it’s easy to divide Gunderson’s life into two sections: before and after he left the Bureau. Before he left the Bureau, he was a hard worker who was dedicated to the job. Afterwards, he was driven to bizarre conclusions by either paranoia or profit. These conclusions have been championed by conspiracy theorists, who point to his long FBI career, which included work on the famous JFK and Marilyn Monroe cases, as evidence of his reliability. An examination of the documents shows that he was indeed involved in the JFK case, along with thousands of other FBI employees, in a supervisory capacity twelve years later when the Rockefeller Commission was investigating, among other things, the JFK assassination.
Time will tell if people will remember him for the admirable parts of his FBI career, the less admirable parts of his FBI career (COINTELPRO), his crazy conspiracy theories or his ties to narcotics traffickers and other illegal activities. History, however, must remember him as all of these and avoid reducing him to a single dimension, no matter how odd or controversial he may be. Some questions still remain about his ties to narcotics figures and the obstruction of justice charge. Was it related to the infamous Company that involved Robert Booth Nichols, Michael Riconosciuto and Ben Kalka?
You can read Ted Gunderson’s nine-part FBI file here. Due to the connections to the Inslaw affair, files relating to the Company and several people mentioned in this article are being requested as part of the Iran-Contra, October Surprise and Reagan’s Wrongs project with MuckRock. Please visit the project page and sign the letter of support waive the privacy exemptions and duplication costs associated with these FOIA requests.