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

Today's director [Robert Mueller, Jr.] makes all these comments about protecting whistleblowers, and we've never had so much punitive action toward whistleblowers as under his reign. He's been hell on whistleblowers. And he does that in concert with the highest levels of government. Mueller is part of that core intelligence group that is relied upon. Leahy and Grassley have written letter upon letter to him about his handling of whistleblowers. It's not an issue that's under the rug. It's a present-day issue that's beat on all the time. I know it's a concern to both political parties, because you've got people like Sibel Edmonds--that's a big deal. I mean, a globe from Ground Zero may not be that important to political figures at that level. But certainly what Sibel Edmonds [see "An October Surprise for the FBI?"] has got to say is very important to everyone.

CP: You pointed out earlier that the FBI is more politicized now that it's under the eye of the Justice Department Office of Inspector General. Can you talk about the relationship you see between the Bush administration and the FBI?

Turner: The FBI takes its lead from the bosses. And they do what they're instructed. The FBI under a strong president like Clinton is going to be fairly different from the FBI under Bush. It's the same way with the Justice Department--don't you see a difference there?

Diana Watters

The Bureau is smart enough to have stayed above the fray for many years. They know which way the wind blows, and they go with it. That's how you get the excesses you've got today. If you've got a Rottweiler, you're fine as long as it's on its chain, right? If you slip off the chain, what do you get? It's the same with the Bureau.

I think the Bureau has had a license [under the Bush administration] to do what it's wanted. They've gotten more money. They haven't been penalized. They've been rewarded, correct? Nobody pays any price except the whistleblower who calls attention to the problem. When you get company people like Coleen Rowley--and she was totally, 100 percent a company person--going outside the boundaries, you know that the chains are off the Rottweilers.

I loved the Bureau. You have a lot of people who are very dedicated, very loyal, very upstanding. But the FBI has implemented a system that rewards some of the people with the least conscience and fewest honorable intentions.

Like I said before, it all comes from the top. When Louis Freeh said, You can't hang out in bars while on duty anymore, they stopped. When he said, You can't drive Bureau cars when you're out drinking anymore, it stopped. But no one has ever said, "Stop retaliating against whistleblowers" and meant it.

CP: Why is it that no one had ever heard of "FBI whistleblowers" until just a few years ago?

Turner: The first one who survived the process was Fred Whitehurst in the 1990s. I call him the grandfather of FBI whistleblowers, and he's referred to me as the grandmother. He was the first. Up until him, nobody had made it through the gauntlet.

We have tried to figure out what makes a whistleblower in the FBI survive. And you have to be a certain personality, saint or sinner. Maybe you could say you have to be too stupid to know any better. The psychologists have said it's a strong sense of right and wrong. Also, most whistleblowers tend to be close to retirement. They have many years in. The younger ones, they just get rid of. They fire them. They were in the process of firing me with 25 years in. So imagine someone with 10 years in, or five.

Fred's example allowed people to say, Well, he got there. The first time I heard about Fred, I was at a retirement conference. I'd already started this process. Remember, it took five years. There was an SAC there who had been involved in one of these horrific cases, specifically I think Ruby Ridge, and he had a couple of other people with him, briefcase-holders. They were supervisors or SACs from another area. I happened to be sitting at a table with them, and Fred's name came up. And all of a sudden this SAC just exploded. He was so angry he was foaming at the mouth. He called Fred every name he could think of. All I could think was, oh my God, years from now this is how they're going to be talking about me.

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