Reprinted, with permission, from Reader Supported News
Let's think again about America's global surveillance state. Is the National Security Agency spying on the world primarily as a response -- misguided or malevolent -- to the attacks of September 11, 2014? Or have they been pursuing a policy of imperial espionage as far back as the late 1940s?
The answer could -- and should -- shape how we understand the surveillance and the very real legal and technological changes that came after 9/11. On the other side of the ledger, knowing the extent of what we are up against might help us reconsider the self-defeating restraints and self-censorship we now impose on ourselves and the way we campaign against the increasing destruction of our liberty, not only in the United States, but across the entire world.
The evidence is dramatic. Years before the incredibly heroic Ed Snowden was even a gleam in his father's eye, an earlier -- and almost forgotten -- whistleblower named Perry Fellwock approached Ramparts magazine and told his story in the August 1972 issue under the pseudonym Winslow Peck. The New York Times then picked up the story and put it on page one under a headline that now seems both overstated and over-hedged: "Ability to Break Soviet Codes Reported; U.S. Reportedly Able to Break All of the Soviet Codes."
This was all after I left Ramparts, but I later met Fellwock -- or Winslow Peck, as I knew him -- in London when he was running CounterSpy magazine and we were both working with the CIA whistleblower Philip Agee. Duncan Campbell, another hero of the anti-surveillance wars, has posted a lovely Gawker article about what Fellwock is now doing.
Only 25 years old when approached by Ramparts, Fellwock had been an Air Force staff sergeant attached to the NSA in Istanbul, where he worked as an analyst of intercepted Soviet communications, and then in Vietnam, where he used airborne radio direction finding to locate enemy ground forces and target them for B-52 bombing raids.
Becoming radically disillusioned with the war, Fellwock became an impassioned anti-war activist. His claims -- some of which he now admits he picked up from NSA co-workers -- also followed in the wake of Daniel Ellsberg's release of the Pentagon Papers and the break-in at the FBI office in Media, Pennsylvania, which "liberated" over 1,000 documents showing that the Bureau had systematically spied on anti-war activists and other dissenters, spread lies about us, and used provocateurs to disrupt our activities. (See "Crazy Tom the FBI Provocateur.")
"The United States is reported to have refined its electronics intelligence techniques to the point where it can break Soviet codes, listen to and understand Soviet communications and coding systems and keep track of virtually every Soviet jet plane or missile-carrying submarine around the world," wrote the Times. Claiming to have corroborated many of Fellwock's revelations with knowledgeable sources in and out of government, the paper noted that the experts denied that the United States had broken the sophisticated codes of the Soviet Union or of other foreign powers.
According to the Times, "independent Government intelligence experts" challenged Fellwock's claim that Washington was continuing to authorize overflights of Soviet and Chinese airspace, especially around their borders. The Times also tended to discount other of Fellwock's claims, often without any evidence but the say-so of pro-government experts. Nonetheless, publishing the story at length provided the first public discussion ever of the NSA's activities.
The Times cited Fellwock's claim that the United States had encircled the Communist world with at least 2,000 electronic listening posts on land or on naval vessels or aircraft. It discussed his description of CIA covert action in Thailand, the NSA's role in finding Che Guevara in the jungles of Bolivia, and the stationing of the electronic intelligence ship USS Liberty near the Israeli coast, where our the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) attacked it, killing 34 Americans. Throughout, the article treated Fellwock as a whistleblower, not a traitor.
"I know the F.B.I. knows who I am," the Times quoted Fellwock. "I'd like to avoid publicity but I'm willing to go through trial and, if I have to, I'll go to jail. I don't like the idea of going to jail. But I no longer feel the oath that I made when I was released from duty to never say anything about what I did is binding on me."
Apparently afraid they might lose another Pentagon Papers trial and bring more publicity to the NSA, federal prosecutors chose to ignore Fellwock.
What the Times chose to ignore reveals even more. In his long interview with Ramparts, Fellwock explained that the signals intelligence community was defined by a TOP SECRET treaty signed in 1947. This created the so-called five-eyes agreement between the NSA, Great Britain's GCHQ, and the electronic intelligence agencies of Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. He also explained that West Germany, Japan, and others had signed on as "Third Parties," and that several supposedly neutral countries also sold NSA everything they could collect over radar on the Russia border.
"As it works out, the treaty is a one-way street," he said. Even with the five-eyes allies, we violate the treaty by not supplying them with all the intelligence we promised and "by monitoring their communications constantly."
"We also monitor their diplomatic stuff constantly," he went on. "In England, for instance, our Chicksands installation monitors all their communications, and the NSA unit in our embassy in London monitors the lower-level stuff from Whitehall. Again, technology is the key. These allies can't maintain security even if they want to. They're all working with machines we gave them. There's no chance for them to be on par with us technologically."
This is the monster Edward Snowden revealed in overwhelming detail, but we should never forget Perry Fellwock's role in exposing the NSA's imperial thrust from the start.
*A veteran of the Berkeley Free Speech Movement and the New Left monthly Ramparts, Steve Weissman lived for many years in London, working as a magazine writer and television producer. He now lives and works in France, where he is researching a new book, "Big Money and the Corporate State: How Global Banks, Corporations, and Speculators Rule and How to Nonviolently Break Their Hold."