Stansfield Turner was born in Highland Park, Illinois, on 1st December, 1923. He entered Amherst College in 1941 and graduated from United States Naval Academy in 1946. After obtaining a Rhodes scholarship he studied philosophy, politics, and economics at Oxford University.
During his service in the United States Navy Turner commanded a mine sweeper, a destroyer, a guided-missile cruiser, a carrier task group and a fleet. He also was President of the Naval War College. Admiral Stansfield Turner's last naval assignment was as Commander in Chief of NATO's Southern Flank.
In 1977 President Jimmy Carter appointed Turner as Director of the Central Intelligence Agency. The journalist, Edward Jay Epstein, has pointed out that: "Although Turner had had little previous experience in intelligence, he viewed it simply as a problem of assessing data... he assumed that he could bring the CIA, and American intelligence, to the same standard of operational efficiency he had brought the ships under his command. He quickly found, however, that the CIA was a far more complex and elusive entity than he had expected.... Not only did he view such secrecy as irrational, he began to suspect that it cloaked a wide range of unethical activities. He became especially concerned with abuses in the espionage division."
Turner discovered that President Richard Nixon and the CIA had been involved in the overthrow of Salvador Allende, the elected leader of Chile. "Complementing the CIA effort, the US government exerted economic pressure on Chile, again to no avail. A second approach, entirely under CIA auspices, encouraged a military coup. President Richard Nixon directed that neither the Departments of State and Defense nor the US Ambassador to Chile be informed of this undertaking."
Turner left the post after the defeat of Jimmy Carter in 1980. After leaving office he worked as a lecturer, writer and TV commentator and is a director of several American corporations. Books by Turner include Secrecy and Democracy: The CIA in Transition (1985), Terrorism and Democracy (1991), Caging the Nuclear Genie: An American Challenge for Global Security (1997), Spy Stories (2003) and Burn Before Reading: Presidents, CIA Directors and Secret Intelligence (2006).