BY SILKIE CARLO
“There were times when I thought it would never happen,” Coleen Rowley, a former FBI agent, said about her recent trip to Moscow. “I’m still amazed.”
I too was amazed when I received an encrypted email at 2am one recent October morning, with a photo of her and three other whistleblowers standing shoulder to shoulder with one of the most wanted men on the planet.
When Edward Snowden abandoned his Hawaii home, a long-term relationship, and a six-figure salary as a government contractor in order to lift the veil on the U.S.’s transnational surveillance system, he also left behind any sense of safety or security. The U.S. Justice Department has charged the 30-year-old former “infrastructure analyst” with theft of government property, and two serious charges under the Espionage Act. The former director of the NSA, Michael Hayden, even recently “joked” during a cybersecurity panel that Snowden should be put on America’s kill list. (Rep. Mike Rogers R-Mich., chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, responded, “I can help you with that.”)
For four high-profile former spooks, each with their own histories of whistleblowing and government persecution, arranging a secret meeting with the world’s most wanted whistleblower was no simple thing. In early October, they embarked on their mission to inaugurate Snowden into the Sam Adams Associates for Integrity in Intelligence, a group of ex-intelligence officials who demonstrate “courage, persistence, and devotion to truth — no matter the consequences.” They had chosen Snowden as the awardee of their 2013 Sam Adams Integrity Award, and felt it would only be right to deliver the award—a candlestick holder made on a 3-D printer—in person. They would be the first Americans known to meet with him since he arrived in Moscow on June 23.
Holding a 3-D-printed candle to power: From left, Coleen Rowley (retired FBI agent), Thomas Drake (former NSA senior executive), Jesselyn Radack (former Dept. of Justice advisor), Snowden, Sarah Harrison (WikiLeaks journalist), and Ray McGovern (retired CIA analyst).
“Arrangements were made,” said Thomas Drake, a former senior executive at the NSA who was on the trip and who spoke carefully about its details. Drake, who warned about abuses at the agency after 9/11 and was indicted under the Espionage Act before most of the charges were dropped, has been cited by Snowden as an inspiration. After Snowden’s disclosures, Drake warned him publicly to “always check six”—make sure you know what’s behind you. “Obviously, with Snowden, no communications can be electronic.”