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Former FBI whistle-blower runs for Congress
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Coleen Rowley, who retired from the FBI last year, gained notice for pointing out flaws in the FBI after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. (MPR Photo/Mark Zdechlik)
FBI 9/11 whistle blower Coleen Rowley formally launched her campaign for congress today. Rowley is challenging Republican John Kline in the 2nd District. She's running as a Democrat even though she says until recently she voted pretty much straight-line Republican, including a vote for the congressman she's now trying to unseat.

Apple Valley, Minn. — Former FBI agent Coleen Rowley gained international attention following the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

Rowley went public with criticism that FBI officials failed to heed calls from agents in Minnesota for an aggressive investigation of Zacarias Moussaoui, who was arrested just a few weeks before the attacks after officials at an Eagan flight training center where Moussaoui was taking lessons, alerted authorities about his suspicious behavior. Moussaoui allegedly wanted to learn how to fly a jet, but not how to land it.

But FBI officials in Washington concluded there was not probable cause to seek a search warrant of Moussaoui's computer. Now Moussaoui is only person in the U.S. charged in the attacks.

In announcing her campaign for Congress, Rowley was highly critical of the Bush administration's pre-911 terrorist preparedness. She also criticized the president over the handling of the war on terrorism and the invasion of Iraq.

"For the most part people are waking up that this was not really connected and, in fact, it hurt us because we diverted resources away form Afghanistan before we stabilized the country, before we found the true terrorists that are still to this day not located," she said.

Although highly critical of the Bush administration now, Rowley says she voted for Bush in 2000 and that she's voted before for John Kline, the incumbent Republican whom she accuses of voting in lock-step with the GOP.

Still, she says if she's elected she'll seek to honor the legacy of Democratic leaders such as former Sen. Paul Wellstone.

"The reason that I've had this big sea change is I don't think that the Republican leadership is being true to their conservative roots and their background. I think they've done some very radical things," she said.

Although she's running as a Democrat and says she'll abide by the party endorsement, Rowley says she hopes 2nd District voters will view her as something of an independent thinker. She says ethics will be a cornerstone of her campaign, not partisanship.

"Hopefully we can get this message across to other people in this district to think independently. Think for themselves and don't listen to what people say is the party line etcetera," Rowley said.

Rowley, who shared the cover of Time as one of the magazine's 2002 "Persons of the Year," she says she's spent the last few years speaking about ethics and civil liberties issues throughout the country.

"She's not going to be just the run-of-the-mill challenger," according to Minnesota State University Mankato political science professor Joe Kunkel.

"I think that's going to give her a national base from which to raise funds. So, from that respect she'll probably be a stronger candidate than others that come up," Kunkel said.

The Rowley campaign says it has just begun raising money and that its goal is to collect a minimum of $2 million.

The Kline campaign will soon file its fundraising report for the first half of the year with the Federal Election Commission. Kline's last report indicated at the end of March he had a little more than $100,000 in campaign cash. Kunkel expects, like Rowley, Kline will have little problem raising money.

Beyond sharp criticism of the Bush administration's war on terrorism and fiscal management, Rowley had little to say about specific issues. She said she would need to study trade, transportation and agriculture issues before addressing what she referred to as "the hard questions" in those areas.

Joe Kunkel says Rowley will likely face challenges in getting her message to voters because she has no campaign experience, especially compared to Kline who's run several times.

Kunkel says the Democrat will have her work cut out for her garnering support among the second district's base of mainly conservative Republicans. Kunkel says saying she used to vote Republican won't likely be enough to convince most GOP voters she's worth considering.

"The devil is going to be in the details are she flushes out her own issues positions and explains why given whatever her issue positions are she's decided to become a Democrat," he said.

Congressman Kline's chief of staff had little to say about Rowley's decision to run against Kline other than to point out it's very early in the process and to say that Kline won't be focusing on a opponent until Democrats endorse a candidate about a year from now.

Burnsville City Councilmember Teresa Daly was the last Democrat to run in the 2nd District. In 2004 Daly spent nearly $1.2 million in her bid to defeat Kline. Kline spent $1.6 million and easily won that election by more than 15 percentage points.

Daly did not return telephone calls from Minnesota Public Radio regarding a possible congressional candidacy in 2006.