Stansfield Turner relaxing in his rooms in Exeter College
Exeter alumnus and Honorary Fellow Admiral Stansfield Turner (1947, PPE), a former director of the CIA, has died at his home in Redmond, Washington. He died on Thursday 18 January, aged 94.
Stansfield Turner came to Exeter College as a Rhodes Scholar in 1947 to read Philosophy, Politics and Economics. He served in the US Navy during the Korean and Vietnam wars, commanding a minesweeper, a destroyer, a carrier group and a fleet.
In 1977 Admiral Turner was appointed Director of Central Intelligence by President Jimmy Carter. He took over the CIA in the wake of the Watergate scandal, inheriting what he described as a demoralised and disorganised organisation.
Early on, he faced a life-or-death question. According to Admiral Turner, CIA officers approached him and told him they had an agent “almost inside” a terrorist organisation. The officers wanted to ask the agent “to do one more thing to prove his bona fides” — “to go out and murder one of the members of the government.” They asked Admiral Turner “Do we permit him to do that?”
Admiral Turner’s response was emphatic: “No, we pull him out.” He explained afterwards that he “was not going to have the United States party to a murder.”
Admiral Turner led the CIA during a time of considerable CIA-backed clandestine action inside the Soviet Union, during the early years of the Soviet-Afghan War, and during the Iranian Revolution of 1979 and the Iran hostage crisis that followed, which saw 52 American diplomats and citizens, including four members of the CIA, held hostage for 444 days. On 20 January 1981 all 52 hostages were safely released and, hours later, newly inaugurated President Ronald Reagan dismissed Admiral Turner from his post.
After his career in the CIA Admiral Turner went on to write and lecture extensively on the CIA and American national security. Following the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001, he publicly criticised George W Bush’s administration for using the CIA to conduct unjustifiable interrogations of suspected terrorists. “I am embarrassed that the USA has a vice president for torture,” he said, referring to Vice President Dick Cheney. “I think it is just reprehensible.”
Admiral Turner was made an Honorary Fellow of Exeter College in 1979. He is survived by his third wife, Marion Weiss Turner, his son, Geoffrey, and daughter, Laurel, three stepsons, one stepdaughter, 12 grandchildren, and four great-grandchildren.