Former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden might be a U.S. fugitive for the rest of his life, but that small detail isn't stopping him from joining the board of a nonprofit group cofounded by Daniel Ellsberg, the onetime leaker of the Vietnam War-era Pentagon Papers.
The Freedom of the Press Foundation announced Snowden's appointment Tuesday to a board of directors that already includes Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras, two of the journalists to whom Snowden entrusted his secret documents. The group's board also includes actor John Cusack.
"He is the quintessential American whistle-blower, and a personal hero of mine," Ellsberg said. "Leaks are the lifeblood of the republic and, for the first time, the American public has been given the chance to debate democratically the NSA's mass surveillance programs."
In a statement, Snowden called the volunteer opportunity to serve on the board and work with Ellsberg "tremendously humbling."
"The unconstitutional gathering of the communications records of everyone in America threatens our most basic rights, and the public should have a say in whether or not that continues," Snowden said. "Thanks to the work of our free press, today we do, and if the NSA won't answer to Congress, they'll have to answer to the newspapers, and ultimately, the people."
Snowden's placement signals a possible future for the 30-year-old fugitive, who is believed to still be residing in Russia after being granted temporary asylum. Like Ellsberg before him, he is positioning himself to become a life-long open-government activist. Snowden's fans have repeatedly attempted to compare him to Ellsberg, whose disclosure of the Pentagon Papers in 1971 detailed a secret and controversial history of the government's foreign policy decisions during the Vietnam War.
Beginning in June of last year, Snowden's leaks detailing the NSA's vast data-collection programs prompted a seemingly endless torrent of exposés in major publications around the world. The disclosures not only reveal the size of the NSA's phone and Internet metadata dragnet, but the at-times cavalier arrogance with which agency analysts boast about their surveillance muscle.
Snowden's new gig is sure to further annoy his critics. Many lawmakers have attempted to vilify Snowden as a traitor whose leaks have threatened national security.
The NSA has endured endless scrutiny since publications began reporting on a deluge of secret documents provided by Snowden, but President Obama and lawmakers haven't yet initiated any substantive changes to the agency's surveillance programs. Obama will address NSA reform this Friday and is widely expected to announce at least some measures of reform, although it remains unclear just how much he intends to change.
In December, Snowden declared in an interview with The Washington Post that his mission was "already accomplished."
"I already won," Snowden said then. "As soon as the journalists were able to work, everything that I had been trying to do was validated."
Snowden will officially join the foundation's board next month.