Scott Horton Interviews Coleen Rowley

Scott Horton, May 10, 2011

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Coleen Rowley, retired FBI agent and 9/11 whistleblower, discusses her Washington Times article (with Philip Leggiere) “Let the Patriot Act Die: Invasive provisions about to expire haven’t made us safer;” Senator Russ Feingold’s “Justice Act” designed to reign in the excesses of the Patriot Act; how war is making the US less safe and poorer; how the FBI’s uses National Security Letters to collect vast amounts of information on Americans with little oversight or accountability; and the many perfectly adequate terrorism-fighting laws already on the books before the Patriot Act’s passage.

MP3 here. (21:13)

Coleen Rowley grew up in a small town in northeast Iowa. She obtained a B.A. degree in French from Wartburg College in Waverly, Iowa and then attended the College of Law at the University of Iowa. She graduated with honors in 1980 and passed the Iowa Bar Exam that summer.

In January of 1981, Ms. Rowley was appointed as a Special Agent with the FBI and initially served in the Omaha, Nebraska and Jackson, Mississippi Divisions. In 1984, she was assigned to the New York Office and for over six years worked on Italian-organized crime and Sicilian heroin drug investigations. During this time, Ms. Rowley also served three separate temporary duty assignments in the Paris, France Embassy and Montreal Consulate.

In 1990, Ms. Rowley was transferred to Minneapolis where she assumed the duties of Chief Division Counsel, which entailed oversight of the Freedom of Information, Forfeiture, Victim-Witness and Community Outreach Programs as well as providing regular legal and ethics training to FBI Agents of the Division and additional outside police training.

In May of 2002, Ms. Rowley brought several of the pre 9/11 lapses to light and testified to the Senate Judiciary Committee on some of the endemic problems facing the FBI and the intelligence community. Ms. Rowley’s memo to FBI Director Robert Mueller in connection with the Joint Intelligence Committee’s Inquiry led to a two-year-long Department of Justice Inspector General investigation. She was one of three whistleblowers chosen as Person of the Year by TIME magazine.

In April 2003, following an unsuccessful and highly criticized attempt to warn the Director and other administration officials about the dangers of launching the invasion of Iraq, Ms. Rowley stepped down from her (GS-14) legal position to resume her position as a (GS-13) FBI Special Agent. She retired from the FBI at the end of 2004 and now speaks publicly to various groups, ranging from school children to business/professional/civic groups, on two different topics: ethical decision-making and “balancing civil liberties with the need for effective investigation.”

Ms. Rowley authored a chapter in a book published in 2004 by the Milton Eisenhower Foundation entitled, Patriotism, Democracy and Common Sense: Restoring America’s Promise at Home and Abroad. She is also now an avid blogger on the Huffington Post.

9 Responses to “Coleen Rowley”

  1. Thank you very much for this. Ms. Rowley is an American hero, as Scott Horton. To care about the USA and to have the courage to publicly criticize the government, that is heroic.

  2. I was struck by Ms. Rowley's comment that private information about American citizens is being vacuumed up by the national government, in expectations that software will be developed that can sort this and find terrorists. There is a math theorem called "Bayes' Theorem", that is the basis of calculating conditional probability. For example, what is the probability that xxx is a terrorist given that the NSA software and follow-up investigations conclude he or she is a terrorist. The main components in estimating a conditional probability are: 1) the base-rate, ie, what percentage of the US population are terrorists; 2) the false-positive rate, ie, what percentage of the identified terrorists are, in fact, not terrorists, and 3) the false-negative rate, ie, what percentage of those who pass surveillance analysis really are terrorists. Because the base-rate for terrorists in the USA is extremely, extremely small, and because the two error rates can never be zero, Bayes' Theorem calculations show that the probability that xxxx is a terrorist given that surveillance and follow-up says so, is always going to be low. Bayes' Theorem is a theorem, which means that it has the logical force of 2 x 2 = 4. We cannot disregard Bayes' Theorem because we don't like it or because we don't "believe" it. Software cannot over-come or disprove a theorem. Mass surveillance is a waste of resources. Sting operations, inducing turn-coats, and police detective work are much more effective. There really are terrorists and they really are dangerous, especially should they shift to biochemical or radiological attacks. It is tragic to waste resources on ineffective methods, while reducing funds for effective methods. Worse, mass surveillance turns large portions of the population against the government. The legitimacy of the US government now hangs by threads. From the left, the right, and the impoverished middle, a minority of Americans now feel that Washington is their government. It is seen as incompetent, corrupt, criminal and oppressive from every perspective. There is a limit to how much a government can alienate its citizenry before it starts to cause chaos. We live in fragile and dangerous times. Our society hangs by threads.

  3. “Mass surveillance is a waste of resources.”

    So true. For some reason, when searching for that needle, they throw down more hay. It defies logic.

  4. Damn straight.

    The PATRIOT Act is fascist bullshit.

  5. Because of the insane wars, occupations, drone attacks, night raids by Godfather Obama. He kills 50 kids and old people for every SUPPOSED terrorist by drone attacks. They can wait a hundred years to revenge their dear family members. Obama is a stupid, evil, crazy, arrogant war criminal. He will be the next stay-at home-former-president for not being arrested for war crimes.

  6. Um…I know it's off-topic, but it's been two weeks since they announced the death of Emmanuel Goldstein.

    No comment?

  7. Sorry, I missed a week moving, and darn near another trying to git my phone patch working right. I was live all last week though.

  8. No Government should ever be given these powers.
    Secret kidnaping, people sent to torture countries, people held for years with no access to public trials, secret trials, snooping on anyone & everything with no proper prior judicial approval?….come on!

    It is a certain formula for corruption, totalitarianism by "gradualism".

    Habeas Corpus or totalitarianism? Your choice.

  9. Coleen Rowley is a success woman.we are proud of her.We can learn more something from her.
    GPS tracking

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