Professionalism/Perry Fellwock and the NSA

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National Security Agency

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 alias Winslow Peck. The National Security Agency was formally established in 1952 by President Truman in a memorandum[1] which revised the National Security Council Intelligence Directive (NSCID) 9.[2] Since the memorandum was a classified document, prior to Fellwock's interview there was little public knowledge of the existence much less the capabilities of the NSA. The secrecy that has clouded the NSA since its inception is the root of the moniker 'No Such Agency'.[3]

During his time working for the NSA, Fellwock was stationed at 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 locate and monitor Vietcong military positions. [4] He transferred to the Air Force Reserves in 1969 and attempted to return to college. In the wake of the Kent State shootings, he dropped out of school after one semester and joined the Anti-Vietnam War movement. Today, Fellwock lives in Long Island where he makes a living as an antiques dealer.[5]

Perry Fellwock the Whistleblower

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Fellwock Learns the Truth

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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 (including himself) were guilty of corruption.

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. Practically everybody is into some kind of smuggling. People inside NSA got involved with the white slave trade...There's no customs or anything like that for NSA people. Myself, I was involved in the transportation of money. A lot of us would pool our cash, buy up various restricted currencies on our travels, and then exchange it at a favorable rate...It's hard for me to relate to the whole thing now. Looking back, it's like that was another person doing those things and feeling those feelings." [4]

Despite these shocking realizations and his feelings of guilt, Fellwock kept silent and removed himself from the situation by volunteering in Vietnam. Due to his exposure to unfiltered military reports, Fellwock gained insight into the war 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 to disclose any of the classified information. Eventually, Fellwock was overcome by guilt and contacted Ramparts with his desire for an interview.

Fellwock Blows the Whistle

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A CIA map of dissident activities in Indochina published as part of the Pentagon Papers

When Fellwock decided to blow the whistle on the NSA, he claimed he was inspired by Daniel Ellsberg (a whistle-blower who had 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 protect his relatives, but was well aware that the NSA would quickly discover that he was the interviewee. Fellwock's main goal in exposing the NSA was to expose their extensive abuses of power and government appointed secrecy. As a part of the anti-war movement, Fellwock felt that his interview would spur enough public outrage to force the U.S. to end the war effort. These are some of the most severe accusations Fellwock made during his Ramparts interview:

All trans-Atlantic and trans-Pacific telephone calls to or from the U.S. are tapped. Every conversation, personal, commercial, whatever, is automatically intercepted and recorded on tapes...The treaty [UKUSA Agreement] is a one-way street. We violate it even with our Second party allies by monitoring their communications constantly.[4]

Fellwock accused the NSA of illegally monitoring the phone calls of U.S. citizens and violating the Geneva Code by intercepting communist radio transmissions. Even more seriously, he accused them of violating a treaty which the United States had established (the UKUSA Agreements of 1947) by spying on their own allies.

After giving detailed explanations of the vast surveillance and military advantages the United States held over the Soviet Union during the Cold War, the interviewer asked:

The implications of what you're saying are very serious. In effect, it means that based on your knowledge there is no real "balance of terror" in the world. Theoretically, if we know where every Soviet missile installation, military aircraft and missile submarine is at every moment, we are much closer than anyone realized to a first-strike capacity that would cripple their ability to respond.

Fellwock responded with a simple affirmative, "Check".[4] He had similar experiences when working for the Air Force Security Service during the Vietnam War. Fellwock determined that President Nixon's justifications for his war-time policies, primarily the narrative of North Vietnam invading South Vietnam, were inconsistent with surveillance reports. Fellwock's message to the public: "There's no invasion".[4]

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."[5]

Surveyed Consequences of Whistle-blowing [6]

Fellwock Takes Responsibility

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Fellwock's decision to speak out against the NSA gave him a reason to be concerned, as the consequences for whistle-blowing can be extreme. Before deciding to release the interview, Fellwock and the editors of Ramparts contacted a lawyer from Daniel Ellsberg's 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. Luckily for Fellwock, the NSA could not bring charges against him without further incriminating themselves in the public eye. When asked for his thoughts on the actions of recent NSA whistle-blower 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".[5] By hiding from the repercussions, Snowden compromised the value of his actions.

The Revolving Door

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Logo de Enron.svg

The revolving door is a political term that refers to “the movement of personnel between roles as legislators and regulators and the industries affected by the legislation and regulation”. This can lead to regulatory capture which is “the process by which regulatory agencies eventually come to be dominated by the very industries they were charged with regulating. Regulatory capture happens when a regulatory agency, formed to act in the public's interest, eventually acts in ways that benefit the industry it is supposed to be regulating, rather than the public.”[7] This environment can lead to the internal corruption that can eventually prompt whistle-blowing.

Arthur Andersen Witnesses

To illustrate the revolving door concept, I’ll draw upon the Enron scandal. To summarize, as a result of deregulation for Enron, they were able to falsify their financial earnings. So even when their profits were plummeting, they were able to hide it. By misrepresenting earnings, they were able to maintain the revenue provided my investors who were not privy to the real financial situation of Enron. There was a revolving door between Enron (industry) and Arthur Anderson (regulator) that enabled this to happen. Enron hired more than 80 accountants from Arthur Anderson with large pay raises. This meant that sometimes auditors were reviewing accounting work of a former boss or colleague. Richard Causey was initially the head of the Enron Audit team for Arthur Anderson eventually left the auditing firm to join Enron. He soon became Enron’s Chief Accounting Officer. Causey was close friends with David Duncan, the new head of Anderson’s Enron audit team who was now going to be reviewing him.[8]

This type of interchanging of personnel between regulatory agencies and industry creates an environment of corruption. To bring this back to Booze Allen and the Fellwock case “It is no longer possible to determine the difference between employees of the NSA and employees of companies such as Booz Allen”. [9] The revolving door is a consistent theme in upper level corruption that can prompt whistle-blowers to act.

Recurrent Whistle-blower Themes

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The themes which led Perry Fellwock to whistle-blowing were not a unique phenomenon. They are recurrent circumstances which have led others to blow the whistle on powerful organizations at their own peril. Four themes in particular lead to the creation of a whistle-blower:

  1. The whistle-blower is a subordinate employee or official rather than a manager, supervisor, or ranking officer. The whistle-blower is almost never an authority in the organization.
  2. The organization’s activities were secretive, either classified or privately confidential, and carefully kept from the public eye. Security agencies, the army and financial interests err of the side of secrecy.
  3. People in the organization repeatedly behaved unethically or illegally without intervention or punishment and in some cases due to direct orders from superiors. Sometimes colleagues of the whistle-blower are the problem and sometimes it is the bosses.
  4. Superiors are aware of unethical or illegal behavior and either condone it, ignore it or cover it up. When it is the colleagues the bosses do little or nothing to abate their activities and when it is the bosses they act as though there was simply nothing wrong done.

When an employee, representative, soldier, or official feels strongly their organization and its superiors aware of systematic wrong doing and do nothing to abate it, the formula to create a whistle-blower is set. Taking action is usually the hardest part for these people so it is likely that there are many people who have experienced these themes and remained silent

Other Whistle-blowers

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Daniel Ellsberg

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.

Edward Snowden

In the private sector, Alayne Fleischmann worked as a securities lawyer for JP Morgan Chase during the time right before the subprime mortgage crises. She worked inside the diligence department which was responsible for checking and approving the quality and accuracy of mortgage backed securities. She notices a pattern of fraud as securities were sold to investors with ratings inconsistent with their real value. The head of the diligence department not only condoned misrepresenting the securities, but even ordered subordinates to falsify ratings. Fleischmann informed a JP Morgan Chase superior that the bank is committing fraud, but she was ignored. A short time later she was laid off. When the securities began to fail she offered her testimony to the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and to the Department of Justice (DOJ) before retelling her story to media outlets. Fleischmann was never called to testify in front of a grand jury or in court and JP Morgan Chase negotiated a settlement with the DOJ. The DOJ claimed to have an expert witness which they used as leverage during the negotiations; Fleischmann later learned that she was the expert witness.[10]

Bradley Manning

Bradley Manning was a Private in the U.S. Army who was responsible for the largest leak in U.S. history via Wikileaks. Manning disclosed documents and archives on the conduct of the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars, including information about civilian death totals or ‘collateral damages’. Manning has said: “If you had free reign over classified networks… and you saw incredible things, awful things… things that belonged in the public domain, and not on some server stored in a dark room in Washington DC… what would you do?” He was assigned a data job and granted high-level clearances where he was able to access the secretive safe-guarded information. His leak was similar to Snowden’s in that neither tried to get help from outside organizations before deciding to blow the whistle. It is likely in both cases that the whistle-blowers believed their direct superiors and the leaders of their organizations were aware of the sensitive information and its significance, but were never going to act on it. Manning received a 35 year prison sentence for his actions.[11]


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Perry Fellwock had a lot power with the NSA which meant he also had a huge personal responsibility. Ultimately, although indirectly, he influenced the fate of the people he surveilled. 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 found himself in an undisciplined organization with many rouges and little accountability. He knew classified information about the U.S. government's unethical back-channeling which combined with his first hand experiences in Vietnam led him to develop a strong sense of guilt. 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.

Fellwock’s circumstances are more common than even he probably realized. Many organizations privy to secrecy suffer from a lack of internal accountability. Low-level associates often find it hard to overlook unethical behavior and become discouraged with internal justice systems after witnessing their ineffectiveness. Often these associated find themselves in a professional conundrum; where should their loyalties lie, with the organization or with the public, and what ethical courses of action will actually make a difference? These decisions greatly impact how they are perceived by the public.

Fellwock, Ellsberg, Snowden, and Manning were subjected to severe consequences for whistle-blowing. 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. Manning also falls short of a professional; while she did take responsibility for her actions, she did not use all of the internal systems to alert the proper people of the issues and she stole directly from her organization while still in their service. Fleischmann sets the standard for professionalism as she did not cooperate with the malpractices, alerted her boss’ superiors of the major problem, did not disclose information to the public for eight years, and cooperated fully with the government’s investigations. 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.


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  1. President Truman, Harry S. (1952). Memorandum to National Security Council Intelligence Directive 9. [1]
  2. National Security Council Intelligence Directive 9. (1950). National Security Agency. [2]
  3. Gearan, Anne (2013). 'No Such Agency' spies on the communications of the world. The Washington Post. [3]
  4. a b c d e Columbia University, Butler Library, Microfilm, No. 3044, Ramparts v. 11. 1-12. July 1972 - June 1973. Call No. Fa612 (2nd of 2 rolls). [4]
  5. a b c Chen, A. (2013). After 30 years of silence, the original NSA whistleblower looks back. Gawker. [5]
  6. Soft Skull Press. (2011). The Whistleblower Confessions of A Healthcare Hitman. Retrieved March 28, 2011.
  7. Regulatory Capture. Investopedia. [6]
  8. Colins, Denis. (2009). Essentials of Business Ethics: Creating an Organization of High Integrity and Superior Performance. Wiley Online Library. [7]
  9. Chatterjee, Pratap. (2013). How Booz Allen Made the Revolving Door Redundant. Inter Press Service. [8]
  10. Taibbi, M. (2014, November 6). The $9 Billion Witness: Meet JPMorgan Chase's Worst Nightmare. Rolling Stone. Retrieved May 9, 2016. [9]
  11. About Chelsea Manning. (n.d.). Retrieved May 9, 2016. [10]