Professionalism/Perry Fellwock and the NSA

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In 1972, Perry Fellwock, a former NSA analyst and Air Force Security Service veteran, exposed the National Security Agency and its worldwide surveillance network in an interview with Ramparts magazine under the nom de plume Winslow Peck. Before Fellwock's interview, there was very little public knowledge of the NSA, a branch of the Department of Defense whose mission was clouded in secrecy since its inception in 1952. During his time working for the NSA, Fellwock was stationed in an Istanbul listening post for two years monitoring Soviet air and ground forces and penetrating communications defenses. In 1968, Fellwock left the NSA and volunteered for service in Vietnam. Assigned to the Air Force Security Service, Fellwock flew on Airborne Radio Direction Finding missions to help locate and monitor Vietcong military positions. [1] After transferring to the Air Force Reserves in 1969, Fellwock attempted to return to college only to drop out and join the Anti-Vietnam War movement in the wake of the Kent State shootings. Today, Fellwock lives in Long Island making a living as an antiques dealer.

Perry Fellwock the Whistleblower[edit]

Fellwock Learns the Truth[edit]

When Perry Fellwock started as a communications interceptor and analyst for the NSA, he was under the impression that he was working to preserve world peace and prevent World War 3. Instead, Fellwock discovered some disturbing truths that had been kept secret from the American public. During his time at the NSA, Fellwock witnessed the shady back-channel dealings of NSA personnel and the U.S. Government. Fellwock learned that the reason the NSA had to preserve its level of secrecy had less to do with its role in the intelligence community and more with the limitless scope of its mission. He claimed that Soviet aggression had been purposefully exaggerated to justify increased military spending, that the government's account of the Vietnam War was a lie, and that most NSA employees were guilty of corruption. In his Ramparts interview Fellwock stated, "Quite a few people in NSA are into illegal activities of one kind or another. It's taken to be one of the fringe benefits of the job. You know, enhancing your pocketbook. Smuggling. People inside NSA got involved with the white slave trade." [2] Despite these shocking realizations and his feelings of guilt, Fellwock decided to keep to himself and simply abandon the situation by volunteering in Vietnam. Due to his exposure to the unfiltered military reports, Fellwock gained an insight into the war that was being kept secret from the rest of the world. Disgusted by what he learned, Fellwock left the military and intelligence community to return to civilian life. Upon returning to the U.S., Fellwock joined the anti-war movement but chose not disclose any of the classified information. Eventually his sense of guilt overcame him and Fellwock contacted Ramparts with his desire for an interview.

Fellwock Blows the Whistle[edit]

When Fellwock decided to blow the whistle on the NSA he claimed he was inspired by Daniel Ellsberg who leaked the Pentagon Papers a year earlier and was currently facing charges of espionage. Fellwock wanted to come forward for quite some time but was fearful of government retaliation. Fellwock used the alias Winslow Peck to keep his relatives out of the medias attention, but was well aware that the NSA would quickly discover that he was the interviewee. Fellwocks main goal in exposing the NSA was to shine a light on their extensive abuse of power and government appointed secrecy. As a part of the anti-war movement, Fellwock felt that if everyone knew of the governments Vietnam-related lies and cover-ups then public outrage would force the U.S. to end the war and withdraw. In his most recent interview with Gawker journalist Adrian Chen in 2013, Fellwock stated his intended message, "Most people in those days thought that the NSA and CIA worked for the U.S. government. But they don't. They're an entity unto themselves. This community operates outside of the Constitution."[3]

Surveyed Consequences of Whistleblowing [4]

Fellwock Takes Responsibility[edit]

Fellwock's decision to speak out against the NSA gave him a reason to be concerned, as the consequences for whistleblowing can be extreme. Before deciding to release the interview, Fellwock and the editors of Ramparts contacted a lawyer from Daniel Ellsbergs defense team for advice. His primary fears were that he and his interviewers would be tried for espionage by the NSA. Despite the risks, they released the article and Fellwock decided to deal with any repercussions. Luckily for Fellwock, the NSA could not bring charges against him without further exposing and incriminating themselves in the public eye. When asked for his thoughts on the actions of recent NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, Fellwock explained that he believes Snowden is a patriot who did the right thing. However, Fellwock disagrees with Snowden's decision to flee the country saying, “I think he [Snowden] should have stayed here and faced the consequences,". By hiding from the repercussions, Snowden compromised the value of his actions instead of standing behind them with conviction.


The power Perry Fellwock had with the NSA begged for huge personal responsibility; he ultimately, although indirectly, chose the fate of the people he kept under surveillance. The technological capability at his disposal took an emotional and psychological toll on his life. His professionalism is identified by three key characteristics:

  1. Having self-knowledge
  2. The ability to take action on your self-knowledge
  3. Taking responsibility for your actions

Fellwock felt guilty from the classified knowledge he had of the U.S. government's unethical back-channeling and his first hand experience in Vietnam. From that guilt Fellwock gained his self knowledge, knowing he could not in good conscience sit by and allow such atrocities to continue. Fellwock then acted on his new found self-knowledge by exposing the NSA in hopes that public knowledge of their misdoings would spur the public into opposition. After his interview, Fellwock proceeded to take responsibility for his actions by remaining in the American public prepared for any consequences. The possible repercussions for his actions were intimidating, but he remained visible knowing that to hide would only serve to discredit him and hinder his efforts.

Prior to Fellwock, Daniel Ellsberg released top-secret papers from the Pentagon in order to bring about a stop to the Vietnam War. The professionalism characteristics Fellwock displayed were also apparent in Ellsberg's actions. Ellsberg had a lot power and thus an immense amount of responsibility given his professional career. He decided to act on his self-knowledge, and took responsibility for his actions. He endured prosecution and ridicule from the American public, but successfully defended his position as a professional.

After Fellwock, Edward Snowden disclosed thousands of classified documents that exposed several global surveillance programs run by the NSA, Five Eyes, and other European constituents. Snowden claims to have done this because he believes what these organizations are doing are unconstitutional and solicit consent from the public. He acted on his self-knowledge, but did not remain in the United States to endure any possible repercussions. Snowden does not fit the model that has been laid out for professionalism by Fellwock although his actions were similar.

Fellwock, Ellsberg, and Snowden were subjected to severe consequences for whistleblowing. Fellwock and Ellsberg are worthy to be defined as professionals in this case study; these gentlemen displayed all three key characteristics. Snowden, however, is not worthy of the professional definition as set forth by the actions Perry Fellwock and Daniel Ellsberg pioneered. The inability of Snowden to remain vulnerable to consequences disqualifies him from this definition of a professional. A general lesson that can be learned from these similar cases is that when an employer challenges an employee's personal ethics by forcing their own upon them, they damage that employees loyalty to them, and the probability of that employee rebelling increases.


  1. Columbia University, Butler Library, Microfilm, No. 3044, Ramparts v. 11. 1-12. July 1972 - June 1973. Call No. Fa612 (2nd of 2 rolls).
  2. Columbia University, Butler Library, Microfilm, No. 3044, Ramparts v. 11. 1-12. July 1972 - June 1973. Call No. Fa612 (2nd of 2 rolls).
  3. Chen, A. (2013). After 30 years of silence, the original NSA whistleblower looks back. Gawker,
  4. Soft Skull Press. (2011). The Whistleblower Confessions of A Healthcare Hitman. Retrieved March 28, 2011.