COL Whistleblowers honored

Time Magazine names women as 'Persons of the year'

Time Magazine made a significant departure this year in its annual choice of a significant newsmaker to feature on its cover page.

Instead of the usual "Man of the Year" -- a prominent figure or power broker -- it chose three women as "Persons of the Year," and none had been well known prior to 2002.

All three were whistleblowers who risked their careers to call attention to failed or dishonest policies. The best known of the three was Colleen Rowley, a Minneapolis FBI agent who criticized the agency's bureaucracy for not allowing agents to pursue Zacarias Moussaoui, sometimes referred to as the 20th Sept. 11 hijacker.

The Minneapolis office of the FBI wanted to get search warrants for Moussaoui, who was attending a Twin Cities flight school and trying to learn how to fly a 747 jetliner even though he had no experience as a pilot. The national office of the FBI said there was insufficient evidence to justify obtaining a warrant.


; After the terrorist attacks, Moussauoi's rooms and computer were searched and three clues were found that could have tipped agents off to the plot to use airliners for the Sept. 11 attacks.

Rowley still is employed in the Minneapolis FBI office and has said that she continues to send suggestions to headquarters but receives minimal responses.

The other two women -- Sharon Watkins and Cynthia Cooper -- called attention to irregularities in the corporations where they were employed. Watkins was a vice president of Enron who wrote a letter to the firm's chairman, Kenneth Lay, informing him of false accounting practices that she said could destroy the company. Enron later filed bankruptcy and a number of its executives face serious criminal charges. Watkins resigned last month.

Cooper was an internal auditor at WorldCom who informed members of the board of directors of accounting irregularities totaling $3.8 billion. Within a month the corporation filed the largest bankruptcy case in U.S. history.

Women are in the minority in the FBI and in the upper echelons of U.S. corporations. It might be significant that while many more men were in a position to detect and denounce poor judgment or dishonesty, those who actually did so were women.

Time Magazine should be commended for recognizing their public service and each of the three should be honored for following her conscience at the risk of possible personal loss.

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