The Real Story Behind the Real Story of Ladar Levison and Lavabit

Ladar Levison and his dog Princess.  (photo by Elizabeth Lavin)
Ladar Levison and his dog Princess. (photo by Elizabeth Lavin)

I’ll be honest with you. When I read a news story a couple months back about the guy who owned the email service used by Edward Snowden and about how the guy shut down his company when the FBI came looking for more information than the guy thought the feds were entitled to, I wanted to profile the guy just because of his name: Ladar Levison. It’s fun to say. Imagine if Ladar Levison liked to shop at Lululemon for his lady.

Then, as always happens in these situations, I spent way too much time with the guy, and I got to know him as a human, not just a name. Ladar is one of the most fascinating people I’ve ever met. He’s a socially awkward (yet very popular) autodidact computer geek who also happens to play competitive volleyball. I spent seven weeks following him around, bothering him with questions. So now I care about the guy, and I care about his Fourth Amendment legal battle with the feds. In fact, that’s what I told Ladar when he agreed to let me spend time with him: I wanted to make him a real person, someone readers would care about, so they’d pay attention to his court case.

We posted the story this morning. Now comes the hard part. I’ve got to wait for the guy to read it.


  • justacitizen

    This is so important we should all send it to everyone we know. We’ve got to undo the Patriot Act. Thank you for this well-written and frightening story.

  • Dubious Brother

    As Levinson alluded to in your story, this isn’t his Fourth Amendment legal battle but all Americans’ Fourth Amendment legal battle. As is the norm, the Feds used a crisis to grab more power and control over Americans – this time to help them supposedly sniff out the enemy but who is the enemy? With the Feds, if you give them an inch, they will take a mile, a phrase that I heard more than once from my Dad. We already give our financial information to the IRS and now they want access to our medical information through Obamacare. Good job on the story and I hope Ladar prevails but I have a feeling the game is fixed against him.

  • RAB

    Geez, you moonlighting as a fluffer now?

  • Marcus

    With Tim’s connections to Barrett Brown and Ladar Levison one can only assume that the John Grisham’esque ending to this whole “fire myself from editor” plot will come to a conclusion that includes midget strippers, a trip down the trinity a barge made of pallets, and a krokodil addiction.

  • Bill Marvel

    “Now comes the hard part. I’ve got to wait for the guy to read it.”

    If you’ve done your job, Tim, there will be parts of it he doesn’t like.

  • SkyMasterson

    Great article, Tim.

    Thanks to you and D Magazine for reporting Ladar’s story and shining a light on the federal government’s illegal surveillance of Americans

  • Tim Rogers

    Man, I hope so. Because that would make a GREAT story. I’m sure Mooney is right now calling dibs on it.

  • Tim Rogers

    Yes, I understand that, Bill.

  • Tim Rogers

    For those who want to go deep on Ladar’s court case and where it stands, read this New Yorker post:

  • Marcus

    My original post needs an editor. I also wanted to mention that the article was very interesting and well done, despite the missing midget strippers.

  • Tim Rogers

    Finally heard from Ladar this morning. He hasn’t read the story and probably won’t. He told me a few weeks ago that it made him feel strange when friends came up to him at volleyball and said, “Dude, you’re famous.” He just found it disorienting. I asked him about some story or other that mentioned him, and he said he hadn’t read it, that he tried not to read about himself. I think he sees that indulging in his own notoriety (employing here the neutral sense of the word) would not be healthy. Thus, for now, he’s avoiding what I wrote about him.

  • Claire

    Unfortunately, as we contemplate the liberty-for-security bargain we’re being offered by our government, our human brains are wired to make a terrible miscalculation:
    –>”This is Your Brain on Terrorism”

  • Jack Jett

    This is an AWESOME article. I have been following the Snowden story and this is an issue that never crossed my mind. Well written and intriguing. I want to be his dog.

  • Reader

    I thought this article was an interesting insight into Ladar, but I also thought it was quite demeaning. As I kept reading, I felt like the author was most interested in diagnosing Ladar and chose quotes that also belittled him to an extent.

    Ladar has read this article and it may be interesting to ask him what he honestly thought about it vs. what he thought the article was going to be written about.

    • Tim Rogers

      I texted with Ladar today. He has not read the story — or at least not the entire thing. So it seems like you might not know what you’re talking about.

      As for your assessment that the story demeans him, I don’t know what to say. If anything, I worry that I painted a picture too heroic. Glad you read it, though. Let’s hope Princess liked the story.

  • theauthenticamerican

    OK, let me see if I’ve got this right. We have here, an American entrapreneur sole proprietor of his business who decided that his personal values should over trump the safety and well-being of millions of American citizens. I really haven’t been able to come up with David deeming graces and what I’ve read about this guy but I know one thing for sure. Anyone who will pose for a picture like the one above has some really questionable values. I’m sorry, Snowden is a traitor and deserves to be treated as a traitor. I’m not quite sure what makes people think that the government doesn’t have a responsibility to know what’s going on but I can tell you that it is not Pres. Obama who set this stuff up. It’s been there for years and years. This guy is no hero, he’s a jerk and based on the letter that I received requesting financial aid he also wants others to financially support his wacky, undescribed exploits.