When Adm. Stansfield Turner served as director of the CIA from 1977 to 1981, the country was swept up in its concern about the Soviet Union. The fear came at a price.
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We probably focused more attention on what the Soviets were doing than we should have and neglected the problems that were developing in other parts of the world, Turner said Wednesday from Seattle.
Certainly the Middle East deserved more attention in my day than we gave it, he said. It was an area of strategic importance to us, both to the oil and geographic location. I dont think we appreciated the instability that was inherent in that area.
Turner, now 83 and a senior research scholar, will visit Juneaus Assembly Chambers at 5:30 p.m. tonight for a free public discussion and question-and-answer session moderated by Gregg Erickson. Admission is free. The event is sponsored by KTOO and the Juneau World Affairs Council.
Among other things, Turner will address the countrys general malaise toward current events.
The (1979) hostage crisis in Iran really awakened people to realize that America and Americans were at risk in the world, and that we need to be involved to protect American interests and individuals, Turner said.
I think there is less public concern today with events (today) than there was back in the Carter years with events in Iran, he said. And Im not quite sure why. But we need to be involved and much more interested and much more willing to tell the government which way it ought to be going. Thats what democracy is all about.
Turner was a longtime naval commander when former Naval Academy classmate President Jimmy Carter named him director of the CIA. Outside of the Naval War College, he had little experience in intelligence. He famously referred to his position as bean counting.
Known for his operational efficiency, Turner eliminated 832 positions. He sought to peel away what he viewed as the agencys multi-layered bureaucracy of secrets.
His 2005 book, Burn Before Reading: Presidents, CIA Directors, and Secret Intelligence, rails at the agencys inefficiencies. Some have interpreted it as a call to disband the CIA.
Overall, the CIA has done a tremendous job for our country, he said. But its done some things in the past that it should not have done, and we need to rein it in in some form.
It would be helpful to dispense with the baggage of the term CIA, and to draw some distinct line between spying activities and analytic activities, he said. We need a chief of analysis to bring in all 16 agencies together and coordinate their intelligence activities.
The term Central Intelligence Agency, Turner said, seems to create a sense of paranoia.
There are several misperceptions, he said. One is that the CIA can do all kinds of things that it cant, like topple governments at will anywhere in the world. It neither tries to do that nor does it have the capability.
There are also people who have exaggerated impressions about how much spying the CIA does, even in our own country, he said. It really doesnt do that at all.
In recent years, Turner has been outspoken against what he considers corrupt intelligence to support the war in Iraq.
After Vice President Dick Cheney lobbied against Sen. John McCains 2005 bill to bar cruel treatment of prisoners in U.S. custody, Turner told the ITV network in Britain: I am embarrassed that the United States has a vice president for torture. I think it is just reprehensible.
Korry Keeker can be reached at 523-2268 or firstname.lastname@example.org.