News reports described CIA agent Elizabeth Hanson ’02 as a soft-spoken young woman who studied economics and Russian at Colby and who quietly set out on the path that would lead to her death.
Serious student? Yes, say her close Colby friends. Soft-spoken? No way.
"She was anything but quiet or soft-spoken," said Roary Stasko ’99, who had known Hanson since she was a first-year living in East Quad. “She was loud and funny and goofy most of the time but also had a very serious side to her.”
Her classmates’ portrait of Hanson, who was killed along with six of her Central Intelligence Agency colleagues by a suicide bomber in Afghanistan Dec. 30, is of an exuberant, quirky, caring young woman who made friends quickly and moved easily among groups. “She really did know everybody on campus,” said Lindsey Scott McGeehan ’01, a close friend since freshman year. “But Elizabeth was actually very hard to get to know. A very friendly and warm and sweet personality—but also very guarded.”
Those seemingly conflicting traits would suit Hanson’s future career. In December, after her death, it was revealed that she was stationed at a CIA base in the mountains of eastern Afghanistan. She was killed when a man being cultivated as an informant was ushered into a meeting with CIA operatives. Instead of cooperating, he detonated a bomb he had concealed under his clothing.
McGeehan, a recruiter for a Boston consulting firm, said she only knew her longtime friend worked for the government and that she was in Afghanistan. But McGeehan said she wasn’t surprised when Hanson’s status with the intelligence agency was revealed. “The minute I heard it was Afghanistan and it was the CIA, I just knew without a doubt it was her,” she said.
According to Stasko, a management consultant in the United Arab Emirates, Hanson was a social liberal, passionate about politics, and opinionated, and she enjoyed debating issues. “She came at things not from arguing a point, but questioning how anyone could take an opposing view. When you would challenge her, she would come back with points to support [her point of view],” Stasko said.
Hanson was organized and diligent in her studies, but attention deficit disorder, for which she took medication, meant academic success didn’t come easily. “She struggled a lot,” McGeehan said. “She couldn’t sit still in the library. It wasn’t easy for her to sit down with books.” But Hanson’s raw intelligence and drive carried her, she said, and likely propelled her career after Colby. “My guess is that she was just passionate about this, and it brought out the best side of her.”
A scholarship fund has been established at Colby in honor of Elizabeth Hanson’s life and in keeping with her wish to aid underprivileged students. To donate online go to www.colby.edu/campaign/endowment/hanson_fund.cfm, or search for Elizabeth
Hanson on the Colby website. Checks can be sent to Colby College, c/o Chris Marden, 4345 Mayflower Hill, Waterville, ME 04901.