McLaughlin: Remembering Former CIA Chief Stansfield Turner

John McLaughlin
Former Deputy Director, Central Intelligence Agency

Former CIA director and retired Adm. Stansfield Turner passed away last week at 94. Former CIA Acting Director John McLaughlin offered this remembrance.

Stansfield Turner arrived at CIA in March 1977 at a tumultuous time — the nation was still shaking off Watergate and the Nixon resignation, and it had an unusual new president, Jimmy Carter.

Stan was a friend of Carter’s from Navy days, and he brought in a lot of Navy folks with him — the 7th floor was very blue. Turner was also succeeding a very popular director and future president, George H.W. Bush.

I know that many criticize Stan for concluding too quickly that technology could supplant much of our human-derived intelligence. It’s a fair criticism, I think, but I nonetheless have a fond recall of Stan Turner as director.

I was a very junior officer at the time and was impressed that he learned my name and remembered it. I had occasion to brief him a number of times, mostly on classic Cold War issues, and found him smart, approachable and courteous.

After leaving office, Stan would occasionally criticize the agency, but I was struck that he always showed up loyally at agency-sponsored events, including those of the CIA Officers Memorial Foundation.

Like every CIA director, Stan Turner was one of those “for the U.S.,” as Teddy Roosevelt put it in praising the person “who strives valiantly” despite mistakes and inevitable criticism. We can be grateful for his service to the agency and the nation.

The Author is John McLaughlin

John McLaughlin is a distinguished practitioner in residence at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies.  He served as the Deputy Director of the Central Intelligence Agency from 2000-2004 and Acting Director of the CIA in 2004.

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One Reply to “McLaughlin: Remembering Former CIA Chief Stansfield Turner”
  1. I was very saddened to read of Admiral Stansfield Turner’s recent passing. I, too, remember Turner from his days as CINCSOUTH in Naples, Italy in the mid-’70s. There seemed to be a general feeling of both awe and surprise around AFSOUTH when he was tapped by President Carter for his appointment at CIA. Yet the surprise was mixed with a sense of great disappointment at NATO’s southern headquarters that he would be giving up his military command to depart before the end of his NATO assignment. That disappointment did not diminish as I tracked from afar reports of Admiral Turner’s seemingly rough and tumble reception as a civilian in the rarified air inside the Washington beltway. Life in the fast lane.

    Though I did not work directly for Admiral Turner at AFSOUTH, I was one of a small group responsible for providing his daily classified briefings and 24/7 communications support. He was very well liked and highly respected by everyone at AFSOUTH and had a presence and demeanor like no one else I had encountered in such a high leadership position–the quintessential, professional Naval Officer from my vantage point as a junior ranking Air Force officer at the time. And as John McLaughlin suggests, he had a steel-trap memory for detail–and for names, both of those who worked for and around him and others who he might have met only once even months before. It was an honor to have served Admiral Turner at AFSOUTH. I have no doubt countless others who worked for him and with him over the years have felt the same.