Coleen Rowley obtained a B.A. degree in French from Wartburg College (Waverly, Iowa), graduating Summa Cum Laude in 1977. She attended the College of Law at the University of Iowa and graduated with honors in 1980, passing the Iowa Bar Exam that summer.In January of 1981, she was appointed 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 where, for more than 6 years, she worked on Italian organized crime and Sicilian heroin drug investigations.
In 1990, Coleen was transferred to Minneapolis where she assumed the duties of Principal Legal Advisor (which later became "Chief Division Counsel"). Her responsibilities 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 some outside police training.
Coleen retired from the FBI in December 2004. She has been invited to speak publicly to a number of groups, ranging from school-aged children to business-professional-civic groups on two principal topics: ethical decision-making (and) balancing civil liberties with the need for effective investigation. She wrote a chapter on the latter topic for Patriotism, Democracy and Common Sense: Restoring America's Promise at Home and Abroad, a book published by the Milton Eisenhower Foundation.
FBI whistleblower Coleen Rowley discussed the problems facing the FBI and the intelligence community, as well as the bombshell memo she had written to her superiors about Al Qaeda prior to the 9/11 attacks. She was joined by Michael German and Ray McGovern of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS).