OpenAI, the company behind ChatGPT, has sparked considerable backlash with its recent appointment of General Paul Nakasone, former head of the National Security Agency (NSA), as a board member.

The announcement, which comes amid a series of controversies questioning the company’s poor safety practices and after OpenAI CTO Mira Murati dismissed allegations of the company developing "creepy spyware," has drawn substantial pushback from prominent figures—including famed NSA whistleblower, Edward Snowden.

"They've gone full mask-off: Do not ever trust OpenAI or its products (ChatGPT etc). There is only one reason for appointing an NSA director to your board,” he said. “This is a willful, calculated betrayal of the rights of every person on Earth. You have been warned."


Edward Snowden, a former National Security Agency (NSA) contractor, leaked classified documents in 2013 that exposed the massive scope of government surveillance programs. Snowden revealed that the NSA was indiscriminately collecting and storing vast amounts of data on ordinary Americans and foreign citizens, even those not suspected of any wrongdoing.

The leaked documents showed the NSA was secretly gathering and storing phone records, text messages, emails, internet searches, and location data from cell phones and other devices. This data was being harvested directly from major tech companies like Google, Facebook, and Apple through a program called PRISM—all without a warrant.

Snowden's disclosures also uncovered that the NSA was not just spying on Americans, but had teamed up with other nations to conduct widespread surveillance on citizens in those countries as well.

Nakasone served as the director of the NSA from 2018 to 2022, and was also the commander of the U.S. Cyber Command before that. Alongside Nakasone, OpenAI announced it would hire Sarah Friar as Chief Financial Officer and Kevin Weil as Chief Product Officer.


Friar was previously CFO of payments firm Square and then Nextdoor before joining OpenAI, and is also a board member at ConsenSys (disclosure: Consensys is one of 22 strategic investors in Decrypt). Weil held various roles at companies such as Planet Labs, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter before joining OpenAI.

Considering Nakasone’s NSA background, his appointment has been met with widespread criticism from the tech community. Besides Snowden, other experts and big names in the industry have raised their voices against the decision.

"From the makers of 'step closer so we can scan your eyeballs for free money' comes 'Don't mind this NSA director peering into your every thought,'" tweeted author Preston Pysh, referencing OpenAI CEO Sam Altman’s parallel project Worldcoin, which commoditizes its users’ biometrics in exchange for cryptocurrency.

John Hopkins professor Matthew Green said the decision to appoint a former NSA head was worthy of a Neal Stephenson novel, whereas the popular investing account Wall Street Silver labeled the announcement as a big “huge red flag

“OpenAI just hired the guy who was in charge of mass surveillance at the NSA,” tweeted tech founder and internet personality Kim Dotcom. “He outsourced the illegal mass spying against Americans to British spy agencies to circumvent U.S. law. He gave them unlimited spying access to U.S. networks. Tells you all you need to know about OpenAI.”

Despite these controversies, OpenAI has defended Nakasone's appointment. According to the firm, Nakasone's first priority will be to join the Board’s Safety and Security Committee, which is responsible for making recommendations to the full board on critical safety and security decisions for all OpenAI projects and operations.

OpenAI also stated that Nakasone's insights would contribute to the company's efforts to better understand how AI can be used to strengthen cybersecurity by quickly detecting and responding to cybersecurity threats.


This is not the first time OpenAI's actions have raised concerns. The entire “superalignment” team in charge of developing safe AI policies was previously dismantled, and CEO Sam Altman created a team under his direction to send recommendations to the OpenAI board. He’s also a member of that team.

Just a few days ago, OpenAI announced a partnership with Apple to help power its Apple Intelligence service, which will be available on most of its devices: smartphones, tablets, and laptops.

OpenAI’s move could push some AI users towards other models, such as Anthropic’s Claude and Reka AI. Meanwhile, Venice, a startup created by the co-founder of the crypto exchange ShapeShift, took the opportunity to promote its decentralized, private solution for users of AI chatbots in response to the news.

Edited by Andrew Hayward

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