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: Everything I did was wrong. Everything. They would take reports that I wrote and dissect them, change the words. Which is highly insulting to an FBI agent, because they weren't there at the interview. They started turning all my paper back, saying it wasn't complete. That's what is known in the Bureau as "death by a thousand paper cuts." It's a phenomenon everyone was aware of. I'd never been the recipient of it before. It was very painful. You have to redo everything. It would get to the point where I'd say, listen, if you change this interview any more, you have to put your name on the bottom and testify to it in court. Because I can't.

I also found out that they were going behind me and contacting people, saying, how was your contact with SA Turner? Obviously searching for any information they could get. It was horrific. I was meeting with some very influential people to draw support for the Amber Alert and other things that could have made a difference in the crimes against children program. They would call up people I was involved with and start asking questions about my behavior, what we talked about, which cast me in a very bad light.

CP: You've said that, in retrospect, you managed to stay naive about the politics of the Bureau for an awfully long time. How do you think that happened?

Diana Watters

Turner: It wasn't that I had no awareness of politics, or anything else. I'm a student of human behavior. I'm aware of human motivations. I could see where there was senior management who were motivated by their own selfish interests: getting ahead, getting monetary awards, whatever. That is true in any profession. That is true at this newspaper. There are people everywhere who have selfish motives.

But I saw the Bureau itself as a concept that was legitimate and pure. It's kind of like the Catholic Church, and a lot of FBI agents like to say that the Bureau is a calling, not a career. They feel very strongly. The Catholic Church and the FBI are both very strong into paternal values and paternal power. There's a cultural identity in each case that doesn't share power freely with anyone who's not of a certain gender. There's also, I think, a certain aspect of feeling chosen, special. Our title, in fact, is "special agents." Of course we're special. We're doing God's work.

There are several FBI agents I've run into in my career who believe that. And I certainly believe that I was "to the Bureau born," as they say. It's almost like joining a religious community. There's a pretty closed culture, and there's certain expectations, and you take a vow that sets you apart. It's not so different from the Church in some respects.

I certainly have run across several senior managers whose whole goal has been self-enrichment, and to protect the Bureau at any cost. We've had a string of occurrences--Waco, Ruby Ridge, certainly my situation--where it can be seen that the persona of the Bureau is more important than truth, justice, and the American way.

What has been missing from the FBI is accountability. Senior management is not held accountable. And over a period of years there is this culture that has arisen in which you're safe from ever doing anything if you're a manager. Ruby Ridge, Waco, a series of other things--you just never have to say you're sorry when you're in the FBI. That word does not exist in the FBI.

In this case that was closed as a car accident, I told one of the bosses, What we need to do is to apologize and move on. We need to tell them we screwed up, do it the right way, and move on. He said, If you're waiting for the FBI to apologize, it's not going to happen.

Another part of being an agent is that you get to hide behind the Bureau. Your name never comes out. That's part of the accountability issue, too. It's always "The FBI stated" or "The FBI declined comment." You know you have that shield.

It's the culture. Over time, it's such a small pond, senior management, that they all know each other. And they know how to survive. They're dealing in matters of life and death. And if you never can say you're sorry, and never can say you made a mistake, what does that leave you? You simply have to join this group that makes these big decisions and doesn't want to be accountable if they go bad. It's the only way you can survive.

Built into the FBI is that you can rise, do your whole career and collect your paycheck, and never do anything if you don't want to. It is a very lucrative job at the senior management level. Nobody is willing to risk such a lucrative position. They frequently get big bonuses--and some of them have done, if anything, a C-grade job. They'll get a huge bonus that comes out of Washington, and some of that is just for not having any problems occur on your watch.

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