published Wednesday, June 12th, 2013

Who is Ed Snowden? Friend shares memories, offers support for NSA leaker

Mavanee Anderson
Ed Snowden
Ed Snowden
Photo by Associated Press /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

Editor's note: Mavanee Anderson, a Vanderbilt Law School graduate who lives in Washington, D.C., is a personal friend of Edward Snowden, the former Central Intelligence Agency employee and National Security Agency contractor who leaked classified material on top-secret NSA programs including the PRISM surveillance scheme. In support of Snowden, Anderson, who is friends with Free Press opinion page editor Drew Johnson, wrote the following guest commentary as a special to the Free Press.

The Free Press applauds the brave, patriotic steps Snowden has taken to expose excessive government surveillance tactics. We share his concerns about the federal government's threats to the privacy and liberty of its citizens.

The current narrative on NSA leaker Ed Snowden (yes, his friends call him "Ed") has been devoid of those close to him who know him as a person. In one of his interviews with The Guardian he said he didn't want the discussion to be about him, he wanted it to focus on the issues at hand; but in a situation like this I suppose I can be forgiven for wanting to show support for Ed any way I can.

Many of Ed's friends and co-workers can't speak out, fearful of losing their jobs, or because there's an ongoing criminal investigation/manhunt. Some must stay quiet because they worked with him in clandestine services and can't expose themselves.

This, perhaps, places me in a rather unique position. I don't work for the CIA or NSA, but I obtained top secret clearance for a position I held in Geneva when I met Ed. My security clearance allowed him to talk to me as a friend about some of the things that weighed on his mind and conscience. He never divulged anything to me he should not have. He spoke in the context of the information I already knew, and in a general sense about the stresses and burdens of the work he performed. Even verifying anything about him may mean that my work options in the future are limited. That's a risk I'm willing to take so that he doesn't have to stand alone. Compared to the sacrifice he's made, it seems insignificant.

Ed is an incredibly smart, kind and sincere person. He talked a great deal about the fact that he didn't complete high school when he and I were in close contact, but he is an IT whiz — I've always taken it for granted that he's an IT genius, really — who came by most of his skill and knowledge on his own.

He is introspective and, perhaps, a bit prone to brood: the type of person who thinks long and hard before coming to a decision. At the time when we were in close contact — from the summer of 2007 through the first part of 2009 — he was already experiencing a crisis of conscience of sorts. I think anyone smart enough to be involved in the type of work he does, who is privy to the type of information to which he was privy, will have at least moments like these. And at some point during that time he left the CIA.

Ed is interesting and brilliant; accomplished in martial arts and an active participant in related activities. I know he used to participate every year in Chinese New Year parades with his martial arts organization. He once gave me a one-on-one martial arts lesson, and I was surprised at his abilities — and very amused that he seemed unable to go very easy on a newbie.

He has some skills and talents that I prefer not to share because he is currently a fugitive on the run. I don't want to reveal anything about him that those who wish him harm could utilize in any way, even though, as Ed so eloquently pointed out to the world, the powers that be likely already know all there is to know.

As far as his method goes, I would have counseled him to fight his fight in a different way. No one, however, can deny that his approach has been an effective catalyst for a much-needed dialogue about issues of privacy and security in this country and beyond. I would have suggested a more measured approach involving lawsuits or activism.

It's such a tricky subject. Of course national security is incredibly important. But then this isn't a simple question of choosing one or the other — national security or privacy rights. It's more a question of how much the stripping away of our privacy rights actually does improve national security. And whether any incremental improvement in security — if, indeed, there is any improvement at all (which has currently not been proven) — is worth the price of our privacy rights. And whether the executive branch should have such extensive and unchecked powers to take away our privacy rights without our knowledge.

I think Ed already may be a symbol of something much bigger than himself. As a friend, I admire his courage — this strength of purpose is a very real aspect to his character — but I fear for him. Quite selfishly, I would have told Ed that he didn't have to take this burden on himself. I'd prefer him to be safe at home, brooding away.

There has been a great deal of discussion about what might happen to Ed in the days, weeks and months ahead. To me, the possibilities aren't just subjects for enlightening discussions on extradition agreements or asylum or Chinese interrogation methods, they are possible scenarios that are playing out in the flesh-and-blood life of my friend. I wish I could be with him to help or protect him in some way. I wish I could get him a message that says I'm thinking of you and pulling for you. And I'm proud of you.

Comments do not represent the opinions of the Chattanooga Times Free Press, nor does it review every comment. Profanities, slurs and libelous remarks are prohibited. For more information you can view our Terms & Conditions and/or Ethics policy.
jesse said...

The entire Obama admin. could take a lesson in "BACKBONE" from this young man!

Matter of fact so could every body in politics!

June 12, 2013 at 7:10 a.m.
EaTn said...

The Bush Patriot Act made me shiver, and the fallout from that anti-constitutional act has only supported my feelings. Hopefully Snowden's stance will get Congress off their duff to investigate and the Supreme Court to rule on the validity of the Bush Patriot Act.

June 12, 2013 at 8:04 a.m.
daytonsdarwin said...

Here's an American hero — a rarity in these times — A man of character.

Humanity needs more of these whistle-blowers in business, government, non-profits, and religion.

There's more courage in this man than the entire Congress.

June 12, 2013 at 8:30 a.m.
klifnotes said...

daytonsdarwin said... Here's an American hero — a rarity in these times — A man of character

But you have to ask yourselves why now? After all, this has been going on since 2006. If this is somehow just another rightwing ploy to destroy the president, then it becomes just another deceitful political ploy, insult of the intelligence of the American people and an all around exploitation and diversion. All these back to back so-called scandals are suspect, and appear to be just another rightwingnut strategy that keeps backfiring on


"With stories swirling around about the Obama administration siccing the IRS on the Tea Party and abusively spying on journalists, this revelation obviously strikes a disturbing chord. But then, as we read further, we learn that the telephone record gathering is proceeding under court orders, and that the surveillance actually goes back to 2006.

June 12, 2013 at 9:01 a.m.
daytonsdarwin said...

Actually, the right-wing in Congress is responsible for many of the crimes. Corker, Alexander, Wamp, Chambliss, McCain, Graham, and the list goes one, are guilty.

It certainly doesn't make these bed-sniffers look good as either incompetent or complicit (most likely a combination of the two).

I'll also include Bradley Manning as a hero. I hope others around the world will reveal the clandestine activities of government and military gestapos against humanity for the sake of greed, power, and domination.

June 12, 2013 at 10:13 a.m.
fairmon said...

The scandal that bothers you, if any, the most?

Benghazi, IRS, AP, NSA, Guns to Mexican Cartels, Holder and others lying to congress.

June 13, 2013 at 1:12 a.m.
anticorp said...

I have no doubt Snowden was in a position with access to our private information and he is for sale.

He is not stupid, even as a high school drop-out. He is of the "Libertarian" bent. That last alone should stir the angst of the skeptic.

His story, for sure, is being exploited by Fox and Talk radio and of course the rest of the media, in mob mode, is running to join the rally.

The focus of this should be that our national security was privatized. Booze Allen Hamilton is the cyber version of Black Water, another no bid black hole for American tax dollars and the expected careless drive for profit and let the devil take the hindmost. How big of a hind end are we going to become before it is over is yet to be determined.

June 13, 2013 at 5:56 a.m.
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