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William Turner: Deadly Secrets


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Could you explain the reasons why you decided to become an investigative journalist?

The decision to become an investigative journalist was the result of my experiences as an FBI agent from 1951 to 1961. I had worked criminal and counerespionage cases, and was appalled at J. Edgar Hoover's refusal to face up to organized crime and by running an arbitrary disciplinary machine forced out the brightest agents best equipped to cope with security threats. I wrote letters to Congress seeking a Congressional investigation of Hoover's conduct and priorities, thus becoming the Bureau's first whistle-blower. After decamping, I continued on the mission by writing a book, "Hoover's FBI," which opened up the subject to media discussion and eventuated in some change. I have written ten books now, some of which have been brought out in Spanish, French, Russian, Japanese, Polish and United Kingdom editions. In 1964 I was outraged when J. Edgar Hoover lashed out at Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., a Nobel Peace Prize winner, as "the most notorious xxxx in the world" and sat down to write an article "After J. Edgar Who?" The piece was published by Ramparts magazine, launching my career writing for periodicals I must say I was greatly aided by my experience in investigating, writing complex reports and developing informants and sources.

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I had worked criminal and counerespionage cases, and was appalled at J. Edgar Hoover's refusal to face up to organized crime

Some people have said that Hoover didn't tackle the Mafia because they had comprimising photos of him (dressed as a woman with one of his lovers IIRC) others have suggested he was in cahoots with them. What do you think of these charges?

and by running an arbitrary disciplinary machine forced out the brightest agents best equipped to cope with security threats. I wrote letters to Congress seeking a Congressional investigation of Hoover's conduct and priorities, thus becoming the Bureau's first whistle-blower.

Please elaborate.

Len

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(1) Is there any real difference between the role of an investigative journalist and a historian?

(2) How do you decide about what to write about?

(3) Do you ever consider the possibility that your research will get you into trouble with those who have power and influence?

(4) You tend to write about controversial subjects. Do you think this has harmed your career in any way? Have you ever come under pressure to leave these subjects alone?

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(1) Is there any real difference between the role of an investigative journalist and a historian?

Commonly an investigative journalist conducts a contemporary probe, going out into the field to get the story. On the other hand, a historian must rely on records and oral histories, usually doing little field work.

(2) How do you decide about what to write about?

I decide on the basis of whether the story is something important that needs exposure or correction.

(3) Do you ever consider the possibility that your research will get you into trouble with those who have power and influence?

It is not a consideration.

(4) You tend to write about controversial subjects. Do you think this has harmed your career in any way? Have you ever come under pressure to leave these subjects alone?

Writing on controversial topics surely has harmed my career. It limits the potential print-media market. My FBI file, obtained in 1978 under FOIA, consists of 17 volumes of 200 pages each. It reveals that the Bureau waged a relentless back-door campaign to dissuade publishers from books and articles, cut me off from electronic media interviews, blacklist me in the industry, and plant rebuttal articles with media collaborators.

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(1) The House Select Committee on Assassinations reported that the “committee believes, on the basis of the available evidence, that President John F. Kennedy was probably assassinated as a result of a conspiracy”. However, very few historians have been willing to explore this area of American history. Lawrence E. Walsh’s Iran-Contra Report suggests that senior politicians were involved in and covered-up serious crimes. Yet very few historians have written about this case in any detail? Why do you think that historians and journalists appear to be so unwilling to investigate political conspiracies?

(2) What is your basic approach to writing about what I would call “secret history”? How do you decide what sources to believe? How do you manage to get hold of documents that prove that illegal behaviour has taken place?

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(1) The House Select Committee on Assassinations reported that the “committee believes, on the basis of the available evidence, that President John F. Kennedy was probably assassinated as a result of a conspiracy”. However, very few historians have been willing to explore this area of American history. Lawrence E. Walsh’s Iran-Contra Report suggests that senior politicians were involved in and covered-up serious crimes. Yet very few historians have written about this case in any detail? Why do you think that historians and journalists appear to be so unwilling to investigate political conspiracies?

(1) I think a lot of the reluctance of mainstream historians and journalists to take on conspiracies is a fear of being cut off of information by agencies and the various branches while their colleagues are fed the story. Also, the concern of being ridiculed as a "conspiracy theorist," which originated in the JFK case, has had its effect.

(2) What is your basic approach to writing about what I would call “secret history”? How do you decide what sources to believe? How do you manage to get hold of documents that prove that illegal behaviour has taken place?

(2) There is always someone who is willing to talk, whether out of vanity or a change of heart. In 1972 I interviewed Ambassador William Pawley in Miami. When I called to seek an interview he issued a flat no since he had been involved up to his ears in the CIA secret war against Castro. I appealed to his vanity by telling him how important he was in the contemporary history of the Caribbean. He said okay, come over and I'll at least shake hands with you. A non-interview went on for close to two hours, and I came away with the information I wanted. I always try to double-source key information, and also rely on what I deem the person's credibility to be. I look for inconsistencies that indicate the person is not telling the truth.

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  • 1 year later...

Although it was quite some time ago, I remember that you wrote an article entitled The Garrison Commission on the Assassination of President Kennedy, which was published in Ramparts. In one section detailing David Ferrie and his trip to Galveston at the time of the assassination you wrote.....“At Houston International Airport, more information was gleaned. Air service personnel seemed to recall that in 1963 Ferrie had access to an airplane based in Houston. In this craft, the flight to Matamoros would take little more than an hour.

Can you cite a reference for this passage, did you interview anyone from Houston International Airport?

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  • 3 weeks later...
Although it was quite some time ago, I remember that you wrote an article entitled The Garrison Commission on the Assassination of President Kennedy, which was published in Ramparts. In one section detailing David Ferrie and his trip to Galveston at the time of the assassination you wrote....."At Houston International Airport, more information was gleaned. Air service personnel seemed to recall that in 1963 Ferrie had access to an airplane based in Houston. In this craft, the flight to Matamoros would take little more than an hour."

Can you cite a reference for this passage, did you interview anyone from Houston International Airport?

Now that Bill Turner is scheduled to be at LA COPA on RFK next week, maybe he'd be able to return to Ed Forum and answer some questions?

BK

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