Edward Snowden Wins ‘Truth-Teller’ Award

Documentary filmmaker Laura Poitras, a Snowden confidant, will also be jointly recognized by the Ridenhour Prizes.

National Journal
Dustin Volz
April 7, 2014, 4:41 a.m.

Hero or trait­or, Ed­ward Snowden can now add one thing to his re­sume: award-win­ner.

The former Na­tion­al Se­cur­ity Agency con­tract­or-turned-fu­git­ive will be awar­ded the 2014 Riden­hour Truth-Telling Prize for his role in ex­pos­ing in­tim­ate de­tails of the gov­ern­ment’s sweep­ing sur­veil­lance pro­grams, the awards com­mit­tee an­nounced Monday. Doc­u­ment­ary film­maker Laura Poitras, a Snowden con­fid­ant who has helped dis­sem­in­ate the top-secret gov­ern­ment doc­u­ments the fu­git­ive ab­sconded with last year, was jointly re­cog­nized.

“We have se­lec­ted Ed­ward Snowden and Laura Poitras for their work in ex­pos­ing the NSA’s il­leg­al and un­con­sti­tu­tion­al bulk col­lec­tion of the com­mu­nic­a­tions of mil­lions of people liv­ing in the United States,” the Riden­hour se­lec­tion com­mit­tee said in a state­ment. “Their act of cour­age was un­der­taken at great per­son­al risk and has sparked a crit­ic­al and trans­form­at­ive de­bate about mass sur­veil­lance in a coun­try where pri­vacy is con­sidered a con­sti­tu­tion­al right.”

Snowden, who has also been nom­in­ated this year for the No­bel Peace Prize, is a nat­ur­al choice for the left-lean­ing group, which has honored in re­cent years journ­al­ist and un­doc­u­mented im­mig­rant Jose Ant­o­nio Var­gas and Thomas Drake, a former NSA of­fi­cial who also ex­posed secrets kept by the spy agency. The awards are named for Ron Riden­hour, a Vi­et­nam vet­er­an who helped ex­pose the mas­sacre of hun­dreds of un­armed ci­vil­ians by U.S. sol­diers at My Lai in 1968.

The 30-year-old com­puter tech­ni­cian achieved overnight no­tori­ety in June of last year, when ma­jor pub­lic­a­tions around the world began pub­lish­ing top-secret NSA doc­u­ments he down­loaded while work­ing for gov­ern­ment con­tract­or Booz Al­len Hamilton in Hawaii. Shortly be­fore the leaks began, Snowden fled the coun­try for Hong Kong and, even­tu­ally, Rus­sia, where he cur­rently re­mains un­der tem­por­ary asylum.

While in Hong Kong, Snowden met with Poitras and journ­al­ist Glenn Gre­en­wald to hand over thou­sands of his secret files, the open­ing move in what snow­balled in­to a year­long in­ter­na­tion­al de­bate over the prop­er role of gov­ern­ment sur­veil­lance. Snowden’s leaks have been widely cred­ited with for­cing Pres­id­ent Obama and Con­gress to con­sider and im­ple­ment pending re­forms to the NSA’s spy pro­grams.

As much fan­fare as Snowden has at­trac­ted since his NSA leaks first sur­faced, he has also earned heavy con­dem­na­tion from pro­ponents of a force­ful, agile in­tel­li­gence com­munity. House In­tel­li­gence Com­mit­tee Chair­man Mike Ro­gers has per­haps been Snowden’s most vo­cal crit­ic, hav­ing fre­quently de­rided him as a “trait­or” who has jeop­ard­ized na­tion­al se­cur­ity by dis­clos­ing clas­si­fied gov­ern­ment secrets. The Michigan Re­pub­lic­an has also sug­ges­ted that Snowden’s cur­rent res­id­ency in­dic­ates he could be op­er­at­ing as a spy for Rus­si­an Pres­id­ent Vladi­mir Putin.

Snowden’s win­ning of the Riden­hour award co­in­cides with his in­creased will­ing­ness to main­tain a vis­ible, pub­lic pro­file, even as his where­abouts in Rus­sia re­main a mys­tery. After sev­er­al months of stay­ing be­low the radar — even as a breath­less de­luge of stor­ies made pos­sible by his leaks con­tin­ued — Snowden has re­mained rel­ev­ant in 2014 by par­ti­cip­at­ing in on­line dis­cus­sions and ap­pear­ances via video stream at ma­jor con­fer­ences, such as SX­SW.

On Sat­urday, Snowden again ap­peared via video to a crowd at­tend­ing Am­nesty In­ter­na­tion­al’s an­nu­al hu­man-rights meet­ing in Chica­go to again warn of the po­ten­tial dangers of gov­ern­ment col­lec­tion of tele­phone and In­ter­net “metadata,” a con­ver­sa­tion that Gre­en­wald joined — also by web­cast — from Brazil.

Poitras, a Ma­cAr­thur “Geni­us Grant” re­cip­i­ent, is be­lieved to be one of only two people, along with Gre­en­wald, with ac­cess to the com­plete trove of Snowden files. She has been vo­cally crit­ic­al of post-9/11 gov­ern­ment sur­veil­lance.

While not­ing its ap­pre­ci­ation for Gre­en­wald and oth­er journ­al­ists who have helped lift the veil on the NSA’s spy­ing prac­tices, the Riden­hour com­mit­tee said it “wanted to sa­lute the role that Poitras has played in this story, as we feel that her con­tri­bu­tion has not been ad­equately re­cog­nized by the Amer­ic­an me­dia.”

Snowden and Poitras will be awar­ded the Riden­hour Prize for Truth-Telling on April 30 at the Na­tion­al Press Club in Wash­ing­ton, though it is un­likely either will at­tend. Snowden faces im­me­di­ate ar­rest if he steps foot on Amer­ic­an soil, and Poitras cur­rently resides in Ber­lin.

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