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Coleen Rowley

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Coleen Rowley
At Georgetown University, 2014
Born (1954-12-20) December 20, 1954 (age 69)
Fort Belvoir, Virginia, United States[1]
Occupation(s)Political activist, retired FBI special agent
Years active2006–present
Political partyMinnesota Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party
SpouseRoss Rowley

Coleen Rowley (born December 20, 1954) is an American former FBI special agent and whistleblower. Rowley is well known for testifying as to concerns regarding the FBI ignoring information of a suspected terrorist during 9/11, which led to a two-year investigation by the Department of Justice.[2]

Rowley was also a Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party (DFL) candidate for Congress in Minnesota's 2nd congressional district, one of eight congressional districts in Minnesota in 2006. She lost the general election to Republican incumbent John Kline.[3] As of 2024, she is a member of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity.

Early life and education[edit]

Rowley grew up in New Hampton, Iowa, and graduated valedictorian of her high school class in 1973. Her father was a letter carrier for 31 years.[citation needed] She received her B.A. degree in French and with honors from Wartburg College in Waverly, Iowa, in 1977. In 1980, she received her J.D. degree from the University of Iowa College of Law and passed the Iowa bar exam that summer.[4]



In January 1981, Rowley became a special agent with the FBI and was assigned to the Omaha, Nebraska, and Jackson, Mississippi, divisions. Beginning in 1984, she spent six years working in the New York City field office on investigations involving Italian organized crime and Sicilian heroin. During this time she served three temporary assignments in the U.S. embassy in Paris and the consulate in Montreal. In 1990, she was transferred to the FBI's Minneapolis field office, where she became chief division counsel. There she taught constitutional law to FBI agents and police officers, and oversaw the Freedom of Information, Asset Forfeiture Program, Victim-Witness and community outreach programs.[4]

After the September 11 attacks in 2001, Rowley wrote a paper for FBI Director Robert Mueller documenting how FBI HQ personnel in Washington, D.C., had mishandled and failed to take action on information provided by the Minneapolis, Minnesota, Field Office regarding its investigation of suspected terrorist Zacarias Moussaoui. Moussaoui had been suspected of being involved in preparations for a suicide-hijacking similar to the December 1994 "Eiffel Tower" hijacking of Air France 8969. Failures identified by Rowley may have left the U.S. vulnerable to the September 11, 2001, attacks. Rowley was one of many agents frustrated by the events that led up to the attacks, writing:

During the early aftermath of September 11th, when I happened to be recounting the pre–September 11th events concerning the Moussaoui investigation to other FBI personnel in other divisions or in FBIHQ, almost everyone's first question was "Why?—Why would an FBI agent(s) deliberately sabotage a case?" (I know I shouldn't be flippant about this, but jokes were actually made that the key FBI HQ personnel had to be spies or moles like Robert Hanssen who were actually working for Osama Bin Laden to have so undercut Minneapolis's effort.)[5][6][7]

In May 2002 Rowley testified to the Senate and the 9/11 Commission about the FBI's pre-9/11 lapses due to its internal organization and mishandling of information related to the attacks.[4] "We have got to call America's attention to this in order to stop the continuation of errors",[8] Rowley stated. Mueller and Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) pushed for and achieved a major reorganization, focused on creation of the new Office of Intelligence at the FBI.[9] This reorganization was supported with a significant expansion of FBI personnel with counterterrorism and language skills.[citation needed]

In February 2003, Rowley wrote a second open letter to Mueller, in which she warned her superiors that the bureau would not "be able to stem the flood of terrorism that will likely head our way in the wake of an attack on Iraq".[10] In April 2003, Rowley stepped down from her legal position to return to being an FBI special agent. At the end of 2004 she retired from the FBI after serving for 24 years.[4]

Honors and awards[edit]

Rowley jointly held the Time magazine Person of the Year award in 2002 with two other women credited as whistleblowers: Sherron Watkins from Enron and Cynthia Cooper of WorldCom.[11] She also received the 2002 Sam Adams Award; she was the first person to ever receive this award.[12]


Coleen Rowley at her rally in Rosemount, Minnesota, on September 17, 2006
US Rep. John Murtha (D-PA) endorsing Rowley at a rally in Rosemount, Minnesota on September 17, 2006
Protestors at her rally in Rosemount, Minnesota, on September 17, 2006

In May 2005, Rowley announced that she was considering running against incumbent Representative John Kline for Minnesota's 2nd District seat in the United States House of Representatives in 2006. At the time of her announcement, she had been living in Apple Valley, Minnesota, for 15 years. Rowley had formerly voted and identified as a Republican, but on June 27, 2005, she announced that she was entering the race as a DFLer, and on July 6 officially kicked off her campaign at her home.[13]

On August 18, 2005, Rowley attended a vigil in Crawford, Texas, outside President George W. Bush's ranch requesting that the president meet with Cindy Sheehan to answer Sheehan's questions about the War in Iraq and the death of Sheehan's son, Casey.[13]

On January 3, 2006, an unauthorized professionally retouched image appeared on Rowley's campaign website. This image depicted Kline, a retired Marine Corps colonel, as Colonel Klink from Hogan's Heroes. Kline objected to the photo, and the Rowley campaign removed the image the same day and initiated an investigation. Rowley apologized quickly.[14]

Representative John Murtha (D-PA) endorsed Rowley. He visited the district during the campaign and held a rally for Rowley at the local VFW in Rosemount, while veterans protested outside. The Rowley campaign subsequently focused efforts on veterans' groups and others with direct experience of the war in Iraq. Financing her campaign proved difficult. Opposing an incumbent conservative such as Kline in a conservative district did not attract money from the most robust Democratic resources, such as the DNC.[15]

Kline's campaign achieved a 2–1 advantage in raising funds,[16] and he easily retained his seat.[17]

Civil liberties and peace activism[edit]

Since 2003 Rowley has spoken publicly on ethics and ethical decision-making to various groups.[18] She is a writer and blogger. She joined other whistleblowers on the June 2015 speaking tour "Stand Up for Truth" which went through London, Oslo, Stockholm and Berlin.[19] She returned to lecture at her alma mater three times, in 2003,[20] 2004[18] and 2015.

Personal life[edit]

Rowley is married and has four children. During her time in the FBI she was "the sole breadwinner of a family of six".[6]


Rowley authored a chapter in Patriotism, Democracy, and Common Sense: Restoring America's Promise at Home and Abroad. edited by Alan Cutis and Kevin Phillip (Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2005, 496 pages, ISBN 0742542173).

She has been a regular contributor at The Huffington Post since January 2006[21] and Rowley has written for The Guardian.[22]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Villareal, Timothy (January 3, 2014). "Q & A with Coleen Rowley, F.B.I. Whistleblower: Part One". Tikkun Daily Blog. Retrieved January 21, 2019.
  2. ^ "Coleen Rowley". National Whistleblower Center. Retrieved March 22, 2022.
  3. ^ "Results from Congressional District 02". Minnesota Secretary of State. Archived from the original on June 13, 2007. Retrieved December 27, 2006.
  4. ^ a b c d Max Lerner Coleen Rowley Civil liberties in times of war. PBS Now, April 3, 2005
  5. ^ Kevin Johnson "Letter shifts heat to FBI" USA Today, 28 May 2002
  6. ^ a b Coleen Rowley APFN.org Memo to FBI Director Robert Mueller. An edited version of the agent's 13-page letter Archived 2019-09-20 at the Wayback Machine American Patriot Friends Network, May 21, 2002
  7. ^ "The Bombshell Memo: Were Warnings Ignored?". Time. May 26, 2002. Archived from the original on January 6, 2010. Retrieved April 30, 2010.
  8. ^ "Truth: Coleen Rowley". charterforcompassion.org. Charter for Compassion. Retrieved March 22, 2022.
  9. ^ Neil A. Lewis "F.B.I. Chief Admits 9/11 Might Have Been Detectable". The New York Times, May 30, 2002. "reassigning 400 of the bureau's 11,500 field agents from narcotics investigations to counterterrorism. Another 59 agents would be reassigned to counterterrorism from white-collar crime investigations and an additional 59 from the violent crimes unit."
  10. ^ "Full Text of F.B.I. Agent's Letter to Director Mueller". The New York Times. March 5, 2003. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved March 21, 2018.
  11. ^ Ripley, Amanda & Sieger, Maggie (December 30, 2002). "Coleen Rowley: The Special Agent". Time.
  12. ^ Shaun Walker "Edward Snowden: first photo appears since Russian asylum granted". The Guardian, October 10, 2013.
  13. ^ a b Mark Zdechlik Kline, Rowley provide clear choice on Iraq Minnesota Public Radio, July 26, 2006
  14. ^ Gordon, Greg (January 30, 2006). "Rowley issues apology to Rep. John Kline over his depiction on website". Star Tribune.
  15. ^ Melo, Frederick (December 19, 2006). "What's a Rowley lawn sign go for?". TwinCities.com. St. Paul Pioneer Press. Archived from the original on September 26, 2007. Retrieved December 28, 2006.
  16. ^ Meggen, Lindsay (November 3, 2006). "Kline leads Rowley in fundraising, 2-1". St. Paul Pioneer Press. Retrieved February 22, 2007.
  17. ^ Ebling, Garrett (November 8, 2006). "Kline wins easily over foe Rowley". Faribault Daily News.
  18. ^ a b University of Iowa News Service Rowley To Discuss Patriot Act, Ethics At UI Lectures Archived November 17, 2017, at the Wayback Machine University of Iowa, February 9, 2004
  19. ^ Coleen Rawley Standing Up in the Spirit of America's First Whistleblower Benjamin Franklin! The Huffington Post, June 13, 2015
  20. ^ University of Iowa News Service FBI Whistleblower And UI Law Graduate Colleen Rowley To Speak At UI Archived November 17, 2017, at the Wayback Machine University of Iowa News Release, December 1, 2003
  21. ^ Coleen Rowley The Huffington Post. undated, retrieved September 29, 2015
  22. ^ Coleen Rowley The Guardian. undated, retrieved September 29, 2015

Further reading[edit]

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