Colleen Rowley: Minders Ensured She Didn't Say Anything About 9/11 the FBI Didn't WANT Told, Even to Government Officials With Top Security Clearance
FBI whistleblower Coleen Rowley was interviewed by Scott Horton, professor
at Columbia Law School and Contributing Editor of Harper's Magazine.
Rowley said that in her testimony to the Joint Intelligence Committee regarding
9/11, she was "minded". Specifically, she said that "FBI minders"
listened to her every word, to trail her and make sure that she didn't
tell government personnel with top secret clearance even higher than her
own anything which the FBI did not want to be told.
While this might sound fantastic, it is nothing new.
9/11 Commission chair Thomas Kean points
out that if "minders" had been present during the Commission's
investigation, that would have been intimidation, which would have stemmed
the flow of testimony from the witnesses:
I think the commission feels unanimously that it's some intimidation to
have somebody sitting behind you all the time who you either work for or
works for your agency. You might get less testimony than you would.
However, that's exactly what happened to Kean's own 9/11 Commission.
A recently released 9/11 Commission memo
[released in January 2009 from the Commission to the National Archives; referenced
in the The National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States,
Aid: Series Descriptions and Folder Title Lists, page 52, "Memo Concerning
Minders Conduct" *] highlights the role of government "minders" who accompanied
witnesses interviewed by the commission. It was added to the National Archives'
files at the start of the year and discovered there by History Commons contributor
The memo, entitled "Executive Branch Minders' Intimidation of Witnesses,"
- Minders "answer[ed] questions directed at witnesses;"
- Minders acted as "monitors, reporting to their respective agencies on
Commission staffs lines of inquiry and witnesses' verbatim responses." The
staff thought this "conveys to witnesses that their superiors will review
their statements and may engage in retribution;" and
- Minders "positioned themselves physically and have conducted themselves
in a manner that we believe intimidates witnesses from giving full and candid
responses to our questions."
The memo was drafted by three staffers on the commission's Team 2, which
reviewed the overall structure of the US intelligence community. One of the
drafters was Kevin Scheid, a senior staffer who led the team. His co-writers
were Lorry Fenner, an air force intelligence officer, and lawyer Gordon Lederman.
The complaint was sent to the commission's counsels, Daniel Marcus and Steve
Dunne, in October 2003, about halfway through the commission's 19-month life.
The memo makes clear that the problems were not occurring only with witnesses
talking to Team 2, but also in "other teams' interviews." A hand-written note
on a draft of the memo says, "not one agency or minder -- also where
we've sat in on other Teams' interviews."
According to the memo, some minders merely policed prior agreements between
the commission and their parent agency about what the commission could ask
witnesses, and others were simply there to make a list of documents the commission
might want based on a witness' testimony. However, some minders saw their
Intimidation through Physical Positioning
The three staffers argued minders should not answer questions for witnesses
because they needed to understand not how the intelligence community was supposed
to function, but "how the Intelligence Community functions in actuality."
However: "When we have asked witnesses about certain roles and responsibilities
within the Intelligence Community, minders have preempted witnesses' responses
by referencing formal polices and procedures. As a result, witnesses have
not responded to our questions and have deprived us from understanding the
Intelligence Community's actual functioning and witnesses' view of their roles
The memo also describes the minders' conduct in detail: "... [M]inders
have positioned themselves physically and have conducted themselves in a manner
that we believe intimidates witnesses from giving full and candid responses
to our questions. Minders generally have sat next to witnesses at the table
and across from Commission staff, conveying to witnesses that minders are
participants in interviews and are of equal status to witnesses."
The staffers also worried about minders taking "verbatim notes of witnesses'
statements," as they thought this "conveys to witnesses that their superiors
will review their statements and may engage in retribution." They believed
that "the net effect of minders' conduct, whether intentionally or not, is
to intimidate witnesses and to interfere with witnesses providing full and
Another problem with the verbatim notetaking was that it "facilitates agencies
in alerting future witnesses to the Commission's lines of inquiry and permits
agencies to prepare future witnesses either explicitly or implicitly."
In response to this, the three staffers proposed not that minders be banned
from interviews, but a set of rules governing minders' conduct. For example,
minders were to keep a "low profile," sit out of witnesses' sight, not take
verbatim notes and not answer any questions directed at the witnesses.
Perhaps the most remarkable proposal is that the number of minders be limited
to one per witness. The memo indicates that where an interviewee had served
in multiple agencies, more than one minder would accompany the witness. The
memo therefore requests, "Only one minder may attend an interview even if
the witness served in multiple agencies," meaning a witness would at least
not be outnumbered by his minders.