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

 

TURNER'S FIRST FIELD POSTING after the academy took her to the Seattle division, where she entered the career management program and continued her studies in the then-emerging specialty of psychological profiling. She participated in the pursuit and arrest of the spy Christopher Boyce, a case later made famous by Robert Lindsay's book The Flight of the Falcon and a feature film starring Sean Penn and Tim Hutton. (The Boyce case is significant because years later, the FBI, in its efforts to discredit Turner, would cite her story of being present at the Boyce arrest as evidence of a personality disorder marked by fabrication and grandiosity--even though she possesses a letter of commendation from then-Attorney General William French Smith, and her role is documented in the Lindsay book.)

After four years, Turner was transferred to a bigger field office in accordance with FBI policy. Turner drew New York City, where she became one of the first women to work the drug squad and the organized crime unit. She taught profiling to local police and worked such high-profile cases as the Chambers/Levin "Central Park preppie" murder and the New York state abortion clinic bombings. Then, in 1987, Turner applied for and won a senior resident agent position at the FBI's Minot, North Dakota, outpost, working the Fort Berthold and Turtle Mountain reservations. (Her first supervisor, Turner says, referred to the agents in North Dakota as his "Indian fighters.") Turner liked the notion of being the first woman SRA to work the reservations. A native of Rapid City, South Dakota, Turner knew the culture of the area. She set about building liaisons to local law enforcement and officials of tribal government--several of whom would later call her the finest FBI agent ever to work the region.

She came to take a special interest in child sex abuse cases on the reservations, which arose with distressing frequency and rarely got investigated. She began to pursue those cases aggressively and found that her bosses were by and large uninterested. She says that her superiors failed to execute a child pornography search warrant in one case, and her fellow agents sometimes refused to answer calls from the reservation concerning child abuse. Turner complained repeatedly to her bosses about these lapses, and about other alleged misconduct by her fellow agents. In turn her colleagues began to whisper and fret about Turner. She had "gone native," they feared--had come to care more about the people she encountered every day than she did about the Bureau.

Her career as a whistleblower began formally in June 1998, when she filed an employment discrimination complaint after learning that she and other women agents were receiving consistently lower performance ratings than the male agents in the office, some of whom the women agents were outperforming statistically. Relations with her bosses and colleagues grew worse in the fall of 1999, when she took her claims of malfeasance in the Minot office up the chain of command to the SAC of the Minneapolis division and to officials at FBI headquarters in Washington.

 

TURNER DID NOT HAVE TO WAIT long for action on her complaints. In December 1999, the FBI launched two separate investigations--of Jane Turner. Her bosses instigated a full field investigation to look for infractions in the way she did her job, and a national security background check. Both failed to turn up any dirt. The security check in particular was an gratuitous gesture toward an agent working reservation lands. (As Turner puts it, "There are very few national security interests on an Indian reservation that I've discovered.") Unbeknownst to her at the time, the SAC had also requested that she be subjected to a psychological Fitness For Duty evaluation. On that first try, the request was denied for lack of any evident grounds.

Nine days before Christmas that year, the SAC phoned Turner to notify her that she was being transferred to the Minneapolis office to apply her expertise in child abuse cases at division HQ. Without informing Turner, he had also filed paperwork that characterized her Minot performance as "ineffective and inefficient."

Turner reported for duty in Minneapolis in May 2000. "When I got there," she remembers, "they simply seated me in an area that isolated me, and people told me they had been warned to stay away from me. I wasn't really given any work. I had no contacts down here. I was frozen out. That's when I started realizing there was more going on than I was aware of."

Turner proceeded to tackle the job she was ostensibly transferred to do. "I reached out to Patty Wetterling," she says, "and we began working on an Amber Alert system. We had that pretty well going, and I hooked up with some other missing-children organizations and developed some excellent sources. I opened some good cases." On February 6, 2001, Turner was escorted from the building and placed on administrative leave pending a Fitness For Duty evaluation. "You've had a wonderful career," Turner says the SAC told her, "but it's over."

After the FFD examination, and nearly a year's legal wrangling, Turner was restored to active duty on January 13, 2002. In reviewing the files of cases involved in her complaints, Turner says she found certain key documents missing. She promptly retrieved copies of the missing paperwork from her own files and presented them to FBI management.

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