Special Agent Jane Turner vs. The FBI
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.
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."
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.
Once again Turner found herself outside the loop, working a token caseload that included little of any note. In February 2002, her supervisor forwarded Turner a minor case involving the alleged theft of items recovered from the ruins of the World Trade Center by employees of a Twin Cities-based private contractor hired to assist in the cleanup. "I don't anticipate we will do anything," he wrote, "but we will respond to [the FBI field office in] New York as requested." Turner launched an investigation of the company, during the course of which she came to believe that the Bureau's investigation might be compromised by its relationship with a retired FBI agent employed by the firm as a private investigator.
The terminal phase of Turner's long battle with management began that summer, when she noticed a striking Tiffany crystal globe on the desk of a Minneapolis division secretary. Where had she gotten it? Turner asked. It was a Ground Zero souvenir, the secretary explained, given to her by a member of the FBI's own recovery team.
Turner informed her supervisor. Two weeks later, with the globe still sitting on the same desk, Turner and an agent from the Federal Emergency Management Agency bagged and tagged it as evidence and flew to Washington, D.C., to present it to the Justice Department's Office of Inspector General.
A month later, Turner was suspended for the second and last time, pending proceedings to fire her. Her supervisor wrote on her final performance review, "SA Turner does not meet expectations... She has tarnished the FBI's reputation with FEMA and USAO [the U.S. Attorney's office] by telling them the MP [Minneapolis] FBI office is corrupt and leaks information."
But if Turner was gone, she was hardly forgotten. Some months later, she received an anonymous letter, apparently from someone at the local FBI division, indicating that she had become a poster child for the wrath of management: During the 2002 office Christmas party, "your picture was displayed on the overhead screen in front of the entire division, while [an office staffer] made negative remarks about you... The SAC and others have made numerous negative public remarks about you... Your photograph has been displayed to the division with jokes made on more than one occasion..."
"They used me to teach a lesson to anyone else who might ever think of stepping out of line," Turner says now.
After another 12 months of legal machinations, Turner formally retired from the FBI a year ago this month. Now 53, she is pursuing multiple lawsuits against her former employers on grounds that include job discrimination, violation of her privacy, and violations of the federal Whistleblower Protection Act. Last month, as this story was being written, one of Turner's suits was dismissed by a local U.S. District Court judge on the grounds that the FBI had already performed an "independent and objective" evaluation of her claims. Turner, who says the FBI report in question contains demonstrable falsehoods about her, plans to appeal the ruling. "This is not the first nor the last time," she says pointedly, "that the FBI has provided the judicial system with documents that they manufactured and knew to be false."
(The Minneapolis FBI office, asked to comment on the claims in Turner's lawsuits, had not done so by the time this story went to press.)
City Pages: You were working in the Minot office when you began voicing criticisms to management about how the FBI did things. What were the cases in point?
Jane Turner: The very first thing was an EEO [Equal Employment Opportunity, or job discrimination] complaint when I saw that there was a pre-selection of management positions in the FBI, and that there was a pattern of lower performance ratings for female agents out in Indian country, even though the female agents' work was sometimes superior to that of the males. We seemed to be handling a disproportionate amount of sexual crimes--child abuse, rape, things like that. So it was almost like we were being punished for handling some of the hardest, most distasteful crimes in our division.
I demanded a certain standard of investigatory procedure among other FBI agents in these cases of sexually abused children on Indian reservations. As SRA, I had certain duties in that particular territory for two Indian reservations, Fort Berthold and Turtle Mountain. I had the expertise and the background to create and run successful programs and get convictions of offenders in child sex abuse cases. I saw that some of my fellow FBI agents did not have the expertise, the enthusiasm, or the desire to pursue those cases, and in fact were closing or not responding to some child sex abuse situations.
There was one case that was formally closed by the investigating agent even though it absolutely made no sense. I had run across situations like this more than once. Agents didn't feel these cases were worth their time. I also got a sense they felt that those victims were not worthy of service.
CP: When did you begin to go toe-to-toe with your bosses about their handling of certain cases?
Turner: It was shortly after I reopened and successfully investigated that closed child abuse case I mentioned. Until we closed that case, for a period of several months, the three-year-old victim had been placed back into the perpetrator's household and allowed to remain there with someone who had inflicted terrible rectal injuries on him. That, to me, is totally unacceptable and morally indefensible.
I brought my superiors all the information and corroboration that this case had been closed based on a declination from a federal attorney who had been told [by an FBI agent] that the injuries were suffered in a car accident. I brought corroboration that it was actually sexual abuse by a family member, and corroboration that the interviews allegedly obtained by the agent were false. I brought that all to the attention of management, and their response was to paint me as a whistleblower and to try to protect the reputation of the FBI. It was a duck-and-cover. The actual declination letter disappeared from the file. It was removed by somebody. So management could say the case had never been closed, and therefore there was no malfeasance. They obstructed justice. That was their answer to my concerns.
CP: So it was very much a "kill the messenger" culture.
Turner: Oh, definitely. In the FBI we have a history of that. Fred Whitehurst, who blew the whistle on the lab problems, John Roberts, who blew the whistle on the inequality of discipline or accountability for FBI management members--there's a long list of people who have attempted to blow the whistle and were absolutely destroyed. In my case, they rewrote personnel details, such as the arrest of Christopher Boyce. They said I was delusional, because I was never really there.
In 1999, I got in contact with the director of the FBI and other highly placed FBI personnel. That seemed to put the nail in my coffin, because the contacts I made--with the director, with Thomas Pickard and others in OPR--were immediately routed back to the very people I had lodged the original complaints against. It all resulted in more retaliation and retribution. The more I pushed, the more the retaliation escalated. It resulted in a forced transfer, a national security background check, a Fitness For Duty, just a whole series of punitive things. A gradual ratcheting down of performance ratings, when I had statistics that were not only as good as those of others, but higher.
They rewrite what they want to rewrite. They deny what they want to deny. They distort what they want to distort. It's what my mom calls the Golden Rule: He with the gold rules. And the Bureau has all the power. In my case, they used it in a criminal manner.
CP: Did you understand from the start that there was a backlash from management, or were you behind the curve in seeing that?
Turner: I was behind the curve at all times. There were documents being filed that I had no clue about. The forced transfer was a bolt out of the blue. I was called right before Christmas and told, You're going to report down here. I'd just purchased a house. That was a real hard shot. And then there were these documents filed with FBI HQ, which I subsequently got under civil suit--it turns out that false documents had been filed [about me], documents known to be untrue. So it was a vicious attempt to discredit me and destroy my reputation by misusing the process. And they did. Management utilized Bureau resources and manpower to try to neutralize me and my accusations.
But I still didn't see it even when I was transferred, because I was brought down under the premise that [the Minneapolis office] needed me to run their crimes-against-children program. That was my expertise and I'd done very well up there. Meanwhile there was all this paperwork being sent to headquarters saying, You know, she's not performing, or she did this and this--and it wasn't true.
I was totally unaware that all this stuff was going on. The Fitness For Duty, totally unaware that was being filed. Nobody ever talked to me about these concerns. They told me that they needed me down here, not that it was a matter of performance issues or anything that was wrong up there.
CP: So when you got to Minneapolis and saw that you were being ostracized by your new colleagues, what did you make of it?
Turner: I thought it was a misunderstanding, and that as soon as they looked at all this documentation, right would prevail. I figured all along the way, when I was talking to Pickard and Louis Freeh and my own SAC and supervisor and saying, there's possible obstruction of justice, there's theft of property--I kept thinking, one of these days someone is going to shake my hand and say, you held to your oath and you made the Bureau a better place.
The only time someone took my hand was to lead me out the door and slam it behind me.
CP: Besides shunning casual contact with you, and the eventual Fitness For Duty evaluation, what else did management do to let you know you were unwelcome?
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?
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.
So everything is based on, Were there any problems? Everybody is reluctant to get involved in problems. Just holding the status quo is the thing. As long as there is nothing adverse, we can still cling to the concept that we're everywhere and we do everything, and we do it perfectly. Because there's nothing to dispute that, is there? If you can just hold to that status quo, that seems good.
CP: As a profiler, say a little more about how the management program works, and give me a thumbnail profile of the sort of person who thrives in it.
Turner: As it stood when I was there--and I don't think it's changed--the Bureau could move you anytime, any place. Which is fine. When you sign on, you know that. Going into the management program means going to a series of different postings as you work your way through: supervisor, ASAC, and so on. And you have to go back to [work at] FBI HQ, sometimes twice. And then, for the inspections, you're out on the road a lot.
It's difficult. It forces you to choose between the Bureau and your family in some cases. I had an old SAC say to me one time, I put everything on the line for the Bureau. My wife divorced me, my kids won't talk to me, and it wasn't worth it. As you watch the management program work, you begin to understand that the Bureau demands total fidelity. So oftentimes what you get is people who put the Bureau before their own families.
They make the kind of managers to whom defending the Bureau is everything, because to them the Bureau is everything. They've sacrificed everything for it. And truth suffers as a result. Because it's such a cold-blooded position, anything around you is subject to being sacrificed as well, whether it's your employees, your wife, your kids, whatever. Everything is expendable.
That's why a lot of agents stay grunt agents. The type of personality you get in [management] often has allegiance to no one except themselves.
CP: Do you think the veil of secrecy around the FBI serves to encourage corruption and inaction?
Turner: Well, certainly there's no watchdog. At least at the time that this happened. Because of documented abuses, they have now put the Department of Justice Inspector General [in charge.] But when I started my whole thing, our internal watchdog, which was the Office of Professional Responsibility, was responsible for doing this. But unfortunately, a lot of the senior management has come through OPR, and they all know each other. And here again, it's quite a cozy relationship. Sometimes it's, You watch my back and I'll watch yours. I may save you when I'm in OPR, and when I go out in the field to be an SAC, you may be in OPR and save me. So they protect each other, and that's true of any law enforcement. It's part of that insular nature, us against them. And I think our senior management take it to an even higher level.
CP: When did you realize, or accept, that your own situation was not going to turn out happily?
Turner: Until I retired out on Halloween of last year, up until that day, I always expected somebody to say, You know, Jane, this has really been unfair. We're going to fix this culture.
I'm very disappointed in our director, because I kept waiting for him to call our senior management in Minneapolis and say, She's a whistleblower who's talked to Senators Leahy and Grassley, and you really need to climb off of her.
But it's our director. Values are established from the top. So if we get the impression from the top that the Bureau can get away with anything, chances are good your senior management is going to get away with a lot. If it comes from the top, don't be engaging in criminal activity, don't be doing things that are wrong, agents will suck it up and not do that kind of behavior. This director has said, "I will not tolerate retaliation against whistleblowers." But every single whistleblower, definitely including me, has suffered under this director. He's talked the talk and done nothing else.
CP: During these years from 1999 to 2002, were you ever offered the chance to come back into the fold?
Turner: I was brought down here in 2000, allegedly to work on the crimes against children program. I was told at that time that if I dropped my pressure on all these issues, just stopped pushing, I could get a transfer I had requested once before. He said to me, I know you want to get down to Rochester. If you drop this, I'll get you down there within a year. I could have a posting I really wanted, doing profiling research with some of the people at the federal medical center prison there. I had initiated some research with Quantico earlier. I wanted to do that very badly.
I went home and considered it. I knew I was in a world of hurt, because the attitude in the office was so negative toward me, like I had betrayed the family. I really wanted to get back in the family. I had crossed that thin purple line, and I wanted to come back. I wanted to go to lunch with my fellow agents. I wanted to get those awards I used to get, and the high ratings. But then I thought, if I don't speak up for those kids up there, and if I don't speak up for the kids down here, if I don't pursue the fact that they are worthy of service from the FBI, then how can I find honor in my career?
I came back and said I couldn't do it. Fireballs came down. My life was hell.
My supervisor brought me in and told me the senior management hated me. He made me cry. He had me in his office for three hours while he told me everything, called me everything, denigrated me, said nobody likes me. He said, the front office [in Minneapolis] feels you are "evil." He said it was not a performance issue, it was a management issue. And after about two and a half hours, I started to cry. And I said, Okay, I give up. I want back in.
He said, It may be too late. I'll talk to them. He came back the next day and said, It's too late. He never explained. A lot of paper had already been put in. Things had been rolling from the time I put in the complaint up there [in Minot], and I just wasn't aware of it. I had no idea what was going on in the background.
CP: So you were pretty much already done in politically when the Ground Zero theft case came up?
Turner: Yes. And I think that [case] really shocked them. The first performance evaluation [after my return from suspension], [my supervisor] had a problem getting it by management, because they wanted me out. They needed to discredit me to make my allegations against them not credible. And they had to attack me personally to do that. [My supervisor] had gone to management and said, I can't bang her. She's doing too good a job. He told me that. And he said to me, Please don't prove me wrong.
That was at three months. After another 60 days I was supposed to get another review, but things were going swimmingly. I had evidence stacked up, Coleen Rowley had gone back to Washington and mentioned this [Ground Zero] case as one of the biggest cases happening in Minneapolis. Ground Zero was getting huge play on the East Coast. So people were just starting to warm up. At first people said they were warned not to talk to me. I said, I understand. So if I met with anybody, we had to meet in the women's bathroom. If I did have any conversations, that's where I'd have them--with another female agent, or with clerical staff.
I was just getting to the point with this huge successful case where people were starting to warm up a little bit. I wasn't asked to lunch or anything, but I could tell there was a thaw. My supervisor, instead of being very rigid, now was more conversational, kinder, warmer. Before, he wouldn't even take a cup of coffee from me, but now I could take him a cup of coffee. As soon as I left his office, he no longer started writing things down immediately.
And as this little thaw was occurring, I came around the corner one day and took this path I normally didn't take through this squad down the hall from ours, and saw on a secretary's desk this artifact that was really unusual. I said, what is that? It was on a pedestal. I thought it was something that had been used in target practice. It had what looked like .22 caliber fractures in it. She said, it's from Ground Zero. I knew what these artifacts were worth, and I was stunned to see one here in Minnesota. I asked her, How did you get it? She said, One of the guys on the evidence response team gave it to me. And I said, Who? She said, You'll just get him in trouble. My reputation obviously preceded me.
I said [to an FBI manager], If I get up on the stand and they bring that [globe incident] up, this is going to make the Bureau look like a donkey's you-know-what. He agreed with me that there was a problem. Our management did nothing. That thing still sat there. A period of time passed, and then I, along with the FEMA agent who I was working with on this case, removed the globe from the desk where it was sitting--long after we had advised management--tagged it, bagged it, and gave it to the DOJ IG.
Sometimes FBI agents--you know, it's like a war trophy. You know what I'm saying? It proves you're special. You were in a situation that very few people had access to. But the fact remained, you could not have people removing artifacts from crime scenes. We have no right.
About a month later, that's when I got this note that I embarrassed the Bureau. And that I had performance issues. It wasn't true, but how else could they get me? Could they say, You embarrassed the Bureau, so you're fired? No. So they called it performance issues, and I was gone, and this time I didn't come back.
CP: Talk a little about the emotional and physical toll of these battles.
Turner: You know, I have fibromyalgia, which is related to stress. I have stress-induced asthma. I have severe post-traumatic stress, which has created a host of problems. Weakened immune system. High blood pressure. Skin problems. Digestive problems. My self-confidence is diminished. I just don't have the intuitive abilities I used to have with respect to law enforcement.
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.
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.
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?
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.
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you’ll never miss City Pages' biggest stories.