Being Edward Snowden’s boss

November 1, 2013

REUTERS/Ewen MacAskill/The Guardian/Handout

Edward Snowden—former National Security Agency contractor, fugitive dweller of airports, thorn in President Obama's side—has a new line to add to his resume.

Snowden, who was granted temporary asylum in Russia after leaking details to the media about U.S. surveillance programs, began a Web site maintenance job Friday for one of Russia's largest sites, according to a report from Russian news agency RIA Novosti that cited one of Snowden's lawyers. The name of his workplace was not identified because of security reasons, the lawyer said.

The news feels both illogically bizarre and commonplace, sort of like hearing that Beyonce plans to become an instructor at a local dance studio. It's hard for the brain to fit this larger-than-life figure into such a mundane setting as the technical support team of a Web site—one complete, presumably, with an H.R. department, colleagues and a boss.

Imagine for a moment the task of being his manager. You've hired someone who faces espionage charges by the United States government. Someone who stole secrets from his last employer and appears to have been, at least at one point in his life, pretty arrogant about his smarts. Someone whose location in Russia is a secret and for whom "teleworking" takes on a whole new meaning.

And yet you're also getting someone who is an independent thinker, technically brilliant and pretty fearless when it comes to sharing bad news. If Snowden was willing to give up the life he knew and hide out in a Moscow airport for more than a month to leak details about U.S. spying operations, he's probably not afraid to tell his boss the site has a few bugs.

To whatever extent the concept of being his employer sounds disorienting, one of the biggest challenges any future boss of Snowden's will have is helping him put together some semblance of a normal life. If indeed his new job is an effort to do that, as his lawyer has reportedly said, finding such normalcy will be as personally necessary as it will be challenging.

Jena McGregor is a columnist for On Leadership.

Read also:

Worse if Obama knew about NSA spying, or didn't know?

Edward Snowden: Hero? Traitor? Leader?

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Jena McGregor writes a daily column analyzing leadership in the news for the Washington Post’s On Leadership section.
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