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Stansfield Turner

Stansfield Turner

Former United States Navy admiral and former Director of Central Intelligence and President of the Naval War College
The basics
Quick Facts
Intro Former United States Navy admiral and former Director of Central Intelligence and President of the Naval War College
Countries United States of America
Occupations Officer
A.K.A. Stansfield M. Turner
Gender male
Birth December 1, 1923 (Highland Park, Lake County, Illinois, U.S.A.)
Politics Democratic Party
Education Amherst College, Exeter College
The details

Stansfield Turner (born December 1, 1923) is a retired admiral in the United States Navy who was Director of Central Intelligence from 1977 to 1981 and President of the Naval War College from 1972 to 1974. He was also a senior research scholar at the University of Maryland, College Park School of Public Policy.

Early life and education

Following graduation from Highland Park High School (Highland Park, Illinois), Turner initially attended Amherst College, entering it in 1941, and graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy with the Class of 1947 and attained a commission in the United States Navy in June 1946 (during World War II, classes were graduated in three years). He was a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford University while serving in the Navy, earning a degree in Philosophy, Politics and Economics in 1950. During his naval career he served as commanding officer of an ocean mine sweeper (MSO), executive officer of the destroyer USS Morton (DD-948) in 1961 and 1962, and as commanding officer of the Guided Missile Cruiser USS Horne (DLG-30) [1].

He later commanded Cruiser-Destroyer Flotilla 8 as a rear admiral, leading a task group in 1970-71 consisting of the aircraft carriers Independence and John F. Kennedy monitoring the Soviet Fifth Eskadra in the Mediterranean. Later he served as NATO Commander in Chief, Allied Forces Southern Europe, headquartered in Naples.


Central Intelligence Agency

Under Turner's direction, the CIA emphasized technical intelligence (TECHINT) and signal intelligence (SIGINT) more than human intelligence (HUMINT). In 1979, Turner eliminated over 800 operational positions in what was called the Halloween Massacre. In a memoir/analysis published in 2005, Turner expressed regret for the dismissals stating, "In retrospect, I probably should not have effected the reductions of 820 positions at all, and certainly not the last 17. The reductions applied to Vietnam-era personnel according to later-era employee and then novelist Jason Matthews. ”Turner gave notable testimony to Congress revealing much of the extent of the MKULTRA program, which the CIA ran from the early 1950s to late 1960s. Reform and simplification of the intelligence community's multilayered secrecy system was one of Turner's significant initiatives, but produced no results by the time he left office.

During Turner's term as head of the CIA, he became outraged when former agent Frank Snepp published a book called Decent Interval which exposed incompetence among senior U.S. government personnel during the fall of Saigon. Turner accused Snepp of breaking the secrecy agreement required of all CIA agents, and then later was forced to admit under cross-examination that he had never read the agreement signed by Snepp. Regardless, the CIA ultimately won its case against Snepp at the U.S. Supreme Court. The Court forced Snepp to turn over all his profits from Decent Interval and to seek preclearance of any future writings about intelligence work for the rest of his life. The ultimate irony was that the CIA would later rely on the Snepp legal precedent in forcing Turner to seek preclearance of his own memoirs, which were highly critical of President Ronald Reagan's policies.

On March 12, 1980, President Jimmy Carter and Turner presented Antonio J. Mendez (also known as Tony Mendez) with the CIA's Intelligence Star for his role in the exfiltration of six U.S. State Department personnel from Iran on 28 January 1980.

Post-CIA activities

Upon leaving the agency, Turner became a lecturer, writer, and TV commentator, and served on the Board of Directors of several American corporations. Turner served as a member of the Graduate School of Oceanography at the University of Rhode Island's Marine Advisory Council. Turner has written several books, including Secrecy and Democracy – The CIA in Transition in 1985, 'Terrorism and Democracy' in 1991, Caging the Nuclear Genie – An American Challenge for Global Security in 1997 (a revised edition of which was published in 1999), and 2005's Burn Before Reading: Presidents, CIA Directors, and Secret Intelligence, in which he advocates fragmenting the CIA.

Turner has been sharply critical of the Bush administration's handling of the 2003 Invasion of Iraq. In September 2003 he wrote that "most of the assumptions behind our invasion have been proven wrong: The intelligence did not support the imminence of a threat, the Iraqis have not broadly welcomed us as liberators, the idea that we could manage this action almost unilaterally is giving way to pleas for troops and money from other nations, the aversion to giving the U.N. a meaningful role is eroding daily, and the reluctance to get involved in nation building is being supplanted by just that." [1]

In November 2005, after Vice President Dick Cheney had lobbied against a provision to a defence Bill that Republican Senator John McCain had passed in the senate banning "cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment" of all U.S. detainees, Turner was quoted as saying "I am embarrassed that the USA has a vice president for torture. I think it is just reprehensible. He [Dick Cheney] advocates torture, what else is it? I just don't understand how a man in that position can take such a stance." Cheney countered the bill went well beyond banning torture and could be interpreted by courts to ban most forms of interrogation.

Turner served on the Military Advisors Committee for the Business Leaders for Sensible Priorities, whose mission was to reduce the amount of the discretionary budget going to the military by 15% and reallocate that money to education, healthcare, renewable energies, job training, and humanitarian aid programs.

Personal life

In January 2000, Turner survived a plane crash in Costa Rica. He was on board a L-410 Turbolet operated by Taxi Aereo Centroamericano, on a flight from the small airport of Tobías Bolaños International Airport in San José, destined towards Tortuguero. Three minutes after take-off the airplane crashed into a home killing 4 people on board, including Turner's wife. Turner currently resides in Great Falls, Virginia, and is a Christian Scientist.

Awards and honors

Stansfield Turner is an Honorary fellow of his University of Oxford alma mater, Exeter College, where he studied as a Rhodes Scholar.

Stansfield Turner was inducted as a Laureate of The Lincoln Academy of Illinois and awarded the Order of Lincoln (the State’s highest honor) by the Governor of Illinois in 1999 in the area of Government.

Medals and ribbons

Gold star
Gold star
Bronze star
Bronze star
Bronze star
1st Row Navy Distinguished Service Medal Legion of Merit with two gold stars Bronze Star with Combat “V”
2nd Row Joint Service Commendation Medal Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal with Combat “V” Navy Meritorious Unit Commendation China Service Medal
3rd Row American Campaign Medal World War II Victory Medal Navy Occupation Service Medal National Defense Service Medal with one bronze star
4th Row Korean Service Medal with two bronze stars Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal Korean Presidential Unit Citation United Nations Service Medal

In popular culture

  • Turner is mentioned in the film Charlie Wilson's War by the character Gust Avrakotos as played by Philip Seymour Hoffman who received an Oscar nomination for the role. While arguing with Henry Cravely, the CIA Director Of European Operations, Avrakotos makes reference to Turner's firing of 3,000 agents (Halloween Day Massacre), claiming that all of the fired agents were first or second generation Americans, and that this reduced the number of agents who could speak foreign languages. Cravely replies by suggesting that Turner was rightfully skeptical of the loyalty of the fired agents.
  • Turner is played by Philip Baker Hall in the movie Argo.
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