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

Financially it's been devastating. The legal bills are now over $1 million, and I'm personally over $100,000 out of pocket. I'm living pension check to pension check. They have really hurt me. That's all right, though, because--I'm not trying to sound like a jerk here, but my life is my message, right? And I've got to stay true. I couldn't have looked my own daughter in the face if I hadn't blown the whistle concerning those Indian kids. But it cost me, big-time.

CP: How much did the FBI's view of women agents change during your time there?

Turner: Culturally there's still a very strong resistance against women. Of course Hoover died in May of 1972, and women came in that July. They tell you it's coincidental, but you and I know that's not true. From '78 up to the present time, women have been a minority. A lot of people have promulgated the idea that they're only there because the Bureau was forced to take them, and we really don't deserve it, can't handle it.

Diana Watters

Some senior management people use what we call the "little bit nutty, little bit slutty" approach toward female FBI agents. I've had female FBI agents who I've been in contact with through the [fbiwhistlestop.com] website who have been accused of promiscuity, which is like--who cares? Do they do this with the male agents?

Even today among some senior management, the feeling is that women agents are both irrelevant and unworthy. That's why you have so many women agents, I think, who work so hard. Because you've got to do twice as much to hold your ground. Most of the women agents I've known in my 25 years do not want to be known as anything but FBI agents. Certainly not female agents. So you really strive not to make a production out of that.

We have a memo that passes among women agents that was done just before Hoover died, and it gives reasons why there shouldn't be any female agents. He had it prepared to counter anything that should come from Congress asking, Why don't you have women? Because we were getting into that time period.

It's just a hoot. It talks about the same issues that guys in the Bureau have today toward women. It talks about how when a man goes into a disturbance, he's got to know that his backup will be there for him, and that may not be possible with a woman. What's interesting, since women have been in after '72, I'm not sure how many have been involved in getting their partners hurt. But one of the first women who died was killed by her fellow agents. [See "Hoover's Ghost"]

Black agents have had a class-action suit; Hispanic agents--the ones who alleged they were on a "taco circuit"--have a class-action suit. The only ones who haven't are the women, who always hang in hoping they'll be accepted. Being the only woman on a SWAT squad, I saw that at best they would tolerate you. But they would never accept you.

In fact, you have guys still working in this [Minneapolis] office who once said they would never work for a woman SAC. But they do now.

What's interesting is that they'll put these women in these media-visible spots, such as media spokespeople. If you look in the papers, it appears that the spokespersons for most offices are women. Well, why would that be? First, it's a dead-end job. There's nowhere to go from there. Second, it makes the public think there's a lot of women agents. There's not. They also like to use women agents in the perp walk. I worked organized crime in New York, and that was always something they liked to do. They thought it added a little bit of humiliation to the whole thing.

CP: You came into the Bureau in the late '70s, in the age of the Church Committee and a lot of terrible disclosures about past FBI abuses in the areas of surveillance, intimidation, COINTELPRO, and so on. Was there ever a time then or at any other point in your tenure when the external calls for reform were taken seriously on the inside?

Turner: A lot of it depends on the director. One difference is, the Bureau believed traditionally that it was autonomous from the Justice Department. And in fact we were often told that: The Justice lawyers don't tell us how to do a case, we tell them how we're going to work it. That has changed. After Ruby Ridge and Waco and so forth, the Justice Department said, We'd better rein this in a little bit. I've seen more of the Justice Department pulling the Bureau back into that fold.

But the attitude comes from the top, and it can go as high as the president. It depends on what kind of signals they get. And oftentimes you would see that the Bureau tended to reflect who was in charge of the country. If the administration in power allows a huge amount of latitude in what you're doing, the FBI will take it. If they signal from the top that they're not going to allow that, then the Bureau won't take that latitude, because they know it's politically not a good idea. It's a very political agency.

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