Special Agent Jane Turner vs. The FBI

Before Coleen Rowley, another whistleblower rose from the ranks of the Minneapolis FBI division. Retired agent Jane Turner talks at length for the first time about the Bureau's good old boy management culture--and how it goes about silencing its internal

Introduction: The Making of a Whistleblower

WHEN JANE TURNER LEFT THE BUILDING ON HER last day of active duty at the FBI--November 21, 2002--several of her colleagues turned out for the occasion. It was the end of a distinguished 24-year career in which Turner went places that few, if any, women in the Bureau had gone before her: criminal psych profiler, New York organized crime squad member, senior resident agent in Indian country. Some fellow agents were on hand for her big day, she recalls, along with members of the clerical staff.

And the special agent in charge, the boss of the Minneapolis FBI office--Deborah Strebel Pierce, the division's first female SAC--she was there, too. In fact, Pierce's attendance was obligatory. As SAC, she held the responsibility of removing from the premises any agent who was being terminated.

Diana Watters

For more than four years, Turner had waged a quiet and increasingly isolated battle to address what she saw as troubles at the FBI, ranging from job discrimination toward female agents to malfeasance in the handling of numerous cases. She had taken her complaints, and the corresponding evidence, up the chain of command all the way to then-Director Louis Freeh's office. In response, claims Turner, the Bureau waged a campaign to undermine her reputation, suppress evidence of its own wrongdoing, and drive her out.

When Turner was escorted to the parking garage on that last day to remove any personal items from her Bureau car, the last step prior to her being turned out on the street, she found a number of co-workers milling around the area, apparently tipped to the chance to see Jane Turner get hers at last.

 

IT WAS HARDLY THE ENDING SHE envisioned back in 1978, when the 27-year-old Turner became part of the first generation of women to enter the FBI training academy. "In those days the Bureau still counted, literally, the women and minorities in the academy classes," she says. "I was woman number 100-and-something, and I remember I was in class with Native American number six."

Turner first contacted City Pages last spring. She phoned to say she had liked a piece I wrote about Karl Rove, and that I might find interesting her own tales about the abuse of official power. We met a couple of times over the summer to discuss the details of her claims. She was right: It was a good story--the first time, to my knowledge, that an FBI whistleblower had sat down to discuss not just his or her specific allegations but the larger culture of the Bureau and the way it goes about purging its own when they turn critical.

Why hadn't she taken it to the daily papers? I asked her one day.

"They weren't interested," she laughed. "That's all I know for sure, but I mean, the Star Tribune has excellent access to people in this FBI office. I'm sure they understand that they would find themselves cut off if they published some big story about my case." She tapped a nail on the glass enclosing her now-framed badge and FBI credentials. "Never underestimate," she added, "the power of the creds."

The FBI that Turner entered in the late '70s was just six years removed from the age of J. Edgar Hoover, the director-for-life who raised the agency to a law unto itself--master of politicians' secrets and self-anointed hellhound on the trail of America's deviants and dissenters, be they purported Red spies or civil rights agitators. The historical picture of Hoover's near-50-year reign that has coalesced in the generation since his death yields two consistent themes: the director's unsurpassed prowess as a bureaucratic in-fighter, and his absolute obsession with promoting his own image and that of the Bureau, which were after all synonymous. Hoover managed appearances and kept them starkly at odds with reality when necessary, with a zeal and ruthlessness that perhaps only a man like himself--a gay, cross-dressing paragon of patrician authority--could have grasped, much less mustered. During his time and afterward, one institutional imperative trumped all others. The FBI's reputation for being everywhere, and doing its job infallibly, was to be sustained at any cost.

This was the canon that Jane Turner and the other FBI whistleblowers--a group that presently numbers around half a dozen; all of them within the past decade, two of them from the Bureau's Minneapolis division--violated most grievously by their actions. In Turner's case, the irony was palpable: It was precisely her faith in the Bureau's motto of "Fidelity, Bravery, Integrity" that made her so slow to fathom how her efforts were being received by management. She told herself that her troubles were all a misunderstanding that someone in the FBI chain of command would rectify in the end. Only a true believer could have failed to see so much writing on the wall, she agrees now. "What was stunning to me," she says, "was that my beloved FBI put me in a situation where I had to choose between the Bureau, which I loved, and doing the right thing. It would have been simpler for everyone involved to address the problems."

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