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ROWLEY: I don't think everything is really rosy and peachy now, and I don't see any concrete changes that are directly attributable to my actions. But it doesn't mean you can stop trying. And if I end up flipping burgers, come buy some.
TIME: What price have you paid for these actions?
COOPER: I certainly knew it was possible that I would lose my job. I told my husband that I am going to report to the [WorldCom board's] audit committee what I need to report. I even cleared some things out of my office. But the fear of losing my job was very secondary to the obligation I felt.
WATKINS: I was really shocked when I saw a detailed memo about the pluses and minuses of discharging me. You think, I am doing this for the good of the company. I have got the best interests in mind. You think the company should be on your side.
TIME: Have any of you been thanked? [All three women dissolve into laughter.]
TIME: O.K., what was your lowest moment?
ROWLEY: There's no doubt that the lowest moment was 9/11. The towers hadn't fallen yet, and we were trying to finally get permission from headquarters to seek a search warrant [to get into the computer of Zacarias Moussaoui, who was indicted last December as a Sept. 11 co-conspirator]. This agent [said to me], "This is going to be just like the inquiry at Pearl Harbor. We are going to have to tell the truth."
TIME: All of you shy away from discussing the fact that you're all women, but it's something other people notice. Why do you think there's no connection?
COOPER: I think it could have just as easily been a man. We are all people who are looking to stand up and give our best. I have always been honest and forthright, and it doesn't matter who it is I'm talking to.
WATKINS: I do think there's something to being a woman. There's a little bit of a boys' club, whether it's the golf or the sports talk. I am really uncomfortable with making general statements. But men are more reluctant to put their friends in jeopardy. I don't necessarily want friendships in the workplace. I think most men have no friendships outside the workplace. [Also] society doesn't ask women what you do for a living. Your ego or self-worth isn't [as] tied to what you do.
TIME: Did you love your jobs?
ROWLEY: The idea of this law-enforcement group that is able to solve a crime, get the bad guy and ideally even prevent the crime from occurring? Honestly, I would not want to do anything else. All agents join the FBI with that in mind. We are the good guys. The sad thing is, at some point you see the warping of it, the overlegalization of it, the gaming of the criminal-justice system.
WATKINS: It's also the gaming of corporate America. Enron was a love-hate thing. The opportunities I was afforded and the deals I got to do and the places I got to see--on that end, it was just stupendous. Then there are the times when you say, Why can't we do it right? Why do we have to be pushing the accounting envelope?
COOPER: I love my job. I have always loved it. There was an entrepreneurial spirit; it was an exciting place to be.
TIME: Are there any specific things you've done to help cope with the stress?