Perry Fellwock was a 25-year old US Air Force SIGINT sergeant who in 1972 gave an interview to the radical journal, Ramparts under a pseudonym. In the Zeitgeist following the PRISM revelations last week, Cryptome website has quite correctly reminded all of us that spectacular revelations of NSA intercept activity is not something new. Fellwock’s interview has a number of interesting observations on ferreting, and specific types of Soviet traffic that was being intercepted and studied from a variety of sites in Turkey and Western Europe in the 1960s. He also noted Soviet attempts in conducting similar activity: “They’re on the defensive.” His observations on the Soviet space programme are also intriguing, as are the revelations that Israel’s nuclear arsenal was under scrutiny…before the 1973 war. Note also Fellwock refers to the CANUKUSA intelligence sharing agreements and served in Vietnam with the NSA as well as in Europe. Note also that NSE EC-47’s, Codenamed COMBAT COUGAR, were involved in tracking down Che Guevera in Bolivia. Fellwock also noted that pot use was apparently rampant on EC-47 crews as they flew over southeast Asia. I wonder if that enhanced or detracted from their analysis?
Fellwock was apparently never prosecuted.
Here is the full version right out of the Columbia University Archives via Crytome:
|Q. So far we’ve been talking about various kinds of sophisticated electronic intelligence gathering. What about tapping of ground communications?A. I’m not sure on the extent of this, but I know that the NSA mission in the Moscow embassy has done some tapping there. Of course 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. Most of them no one ever listens to, and after being held available for a few weeks, are erased. They’ll run a random sort through all the tapes, listening to a certain number to determine if there is anything in them of interest to our government worth holding on to and transcribing. Also, certain telephone conversations are routinely listened to as soon as possible. These will be the ones that are made by people doing an inordinate amount of calling overseas, or are otherwise tapped for special interest.Q. What about Africa? Does the NSA have installations there?A. Yes, one in Ethiopia on the East Coast and in Morocco on the West Coast. These cover northern Africa, parts of the Mediterranean, and parts of the Mideast.Q. Do they ever gather intelligence on African insurgents?A. I went to Africa once for a vacation. I understood that there were DSUs, that’s direct support units, working against Mozambique, Tanzania, Angola, those countries. These DSUs are in naval units off the coast. They are tasked with two problems: first, they copy the indigenous Portuguese forces; and second, they copy the liberation forces.Q. Is the information used in any way against the guerillas?
A. I don’t know for sure. But I’d be surprised if it wasn’t. There is information being gathered. This intelligence is fed back to NSA-Europe, of course. It has no strategic value to us, so it’s passed on to NATO — one of our consumers. Portugal is part of NATO, so it gets the information. I know that U.S. naval units were DF-ing the liberation forces. That’s direction finding. The way it worked was that the ship would get a signal, people on board would analyze it so see if it came from the guerillas, say, in Angola. then they’d correlate with our installation in Ethiopia, which had also intercepted it, and pinpoint the source.
Q. Did you ever have any doubts about what you were doing?
A. Not really, not at this time. It was a good job. I was just 21 years old; I had a lot of operators working under me; I got to travel a lot — to Frankfurt, for instance, at least twice a month for briefings. I was considered to be a sort of whiz kid, and had been since i’d been in school back in San Angelo. I guess you could say that I had internalized all the stuff about being a member of the elite that they had given us. I was advancing very rapidly, partly because of a runover in personnel that happened to hit at the time I came to Turkey, and partly because I like what I was doing and worked like crazy and always took more than other analysts. But, like I said earlier, I had developed a different attitude toward the Soviet Union. I didn’t see them as an enemy or anything like that. Everyone I worked with felt pretty much the same. We were both protagonists in a big game — that’s the view we had. We felt very superior to CIA people we’d occasionally come in contact with. We had a lot of friction with them, and we guarded our information form them very carefully.
Q. Was there a lot of what you’d call esprit de corps among the NSA people there.
A. In some ways, yes; in other ways, no. Yes, in the sense that there were a lot who were like me — eating, drinking, sleeping NSA. The very fact that you have the highest security clearance there makes you think a certain way. You’re set off from the rest of humanity. Like one of the rules was — and this was first set out when we were back at San Angelo — that we couldn’t have drugs like sodium pentothol used on us in medical emergencies, at least not in the way they’re used on most people. You know, truth-type drugs. I remember once one of our analysts cracked up his car in Turkey and banged himself up pretty good. He was semi-conscious and in the hospital. They had one doctor and one nurse, both with security clearances, who tended to him. And one of us was always in the room with him to make sure that while he was delirious he didn’t talk too loud. Let me say again that all the material you deal with, the codes words and all, becomes part of you. I’d find myself dreaming in code. And to this day when I hear certain TOP SECRET code words something in me snaps.
But in spite of all this, there’s a lot of corruption too. 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. I didn’t see any heroin dealings or anything like that, like I later saw among CIA people when I got to Nam, but most of us, me included, did some kind of smuggling on the side. Everything form small-time black marketeering of cigarettes or currency all the way up to transportation of vehicles, refrigerators, that sort of thing. One time in Europe I knew of a couple of people inside NSA who were stationed in Frankfurt and got involved in the white slave trade. Can you believe that? They were transporting women who’d been kidnapped from Europe to Mideast sheikdoms aboard security airplanes. It was perfect for any kind of activity of that kind. 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. I’d make a couple of thousand dollars each time. It was a lark. My base pay was $600 a month, and looking back I figure that I made at least double that by what you’d call manipulating currency. It sounds pretty gross, I know, but the feeling was, “What the hell, nobody’s getting hurt.” 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.
Q. All this sounds like a pretty good deal — the job, what you call the fringe benefits, and all that. Why did you go to Vietnam?
A. Well, I’d been in Istanbul for over two years, that’s one thing. And second, well, Vietnam was the big thing that was happening. I wasn’t for the war, exactly, but I wasn’t against it either. A lot of people in Europe were going there, and I wanted to go see what was happening. It doesn’t sound like much of a reason now, but that was it.
Q. You volunteered?
A. Right. For Vietnam and for flying. They turned me down for both.
A. Because of my classification. What I knew was too delicate to have me wandering around in a war zone. If I got captured, I’d know too much. That sort of thing. But I pulled some strings. I’d made what you’d call high-ranking friends, you know. Finally, I got to go. First I had a long vacation — went to Paris for a while and that sort of thing. Then I was sent back to the U.S. for schooling.
Q. What sort of schooling?
A. It was in texas, near Brownsville. I learned a little Vietnamese and a lot about ARDF — that’s airborne radio direction finding. It was totally different from what I’d been doing. It was totally practical. No more strategic stuff, just practical analysis. I had to shift my whole way of thinking around. I was going to be in these big EC-47s — airborne platforms they were called — locating the enemy’s ground forces.
After this first phase in Texas, I went to a couple of Air Force bases here in California and learned how to jump out of planes, and then up to Washington state to survival school. This was three weeks and no fun at all. It was cold as hell. I guess so we could learn to survive in the jungle. Never did figure that one out. We did things like getting dropped in the mountains in defense teams and learn E&E — that’s the process of escape and evasion. You divide the three-man team up into certain functions — one guy scrounges for food, the other tires to learn the lay of the land, that sort of thing. We were out for two days with half a parachute and a knife between us. Strangely enough, we did manage to build a snare and catch a rabbit. We cooked it over a fire we built with some matches we’d smuggled. it was awful. We’d also smuggled five candy bars, though, and they were pretty good. Then we got captured by some soldiers wearing black pajamas. They put us in cells and tried to break us. It was a game, but they played it serious even though we didn’t. it had its ludicrous moments. They played Joan Baez peacenik songs over the loudspeaker.This was supposed to make us think that the people back home didn’t support us anymore and we’d better defect. We dug the music,of course. After this, I shipped out.
Q. How long were you in Vietnam?
A. Thirteen months, from 1968 to 1969.
Q. Where were you stationed?
A. In Pleiku most of the time.
Q. Is that where the major intelligence work is done?
A. No, there’s a unit in Da Nang that does most of the longer-range work, and the major unit is at Phu Bai. It’s the most secure base in Vietnam. An old French base, just below Hue and completely surrounded by a mine field. It’s under attack right now. The people based there — a couple of thousand of them — will probably be the last ones out of Vietnam. I don’t know if you know of this or not, but the first American killed in Vietnam was at Phu Bai. He was in NSA, working on short-range direction finding out of an armored personnel carrier — you know, one those vans with an antenna on top. It was in 1954. We were told this to build up our esprit de corps.
Q. So what kinds of things did you do there?
A. Like I said, radio direction finding is the big thing, the primary mission. There are several collection techniques used there. Almost all of them are involved with the airborne platforms I mentioned. They are C-47s, “gooney birds,” with an E in front of the C-47 because they’re involved in electronic warfare. The missions go by different names. Our program was Combat Cougar. We had two or three operators on board and an analyst, which was me. The plane was filled with electronic gear, radios and special DF-ing equipment, about $4 million worth of it, all computerized and very sophisticated. The technology seemed to turn over every five months. As a sideline, I might tell you that an earlier version of this equipment was used in Bolivia, along with infrared detectors, to help track down Che Guevara.
Q. So what would be your specific mission?
A. Combat Cougar planes would take off and fly a particular orbit in a particular part of Indochina. We were primarily tasked for low-level information. that is, we’d be looking for enemy ground units fighting or about to be fighting. This was our A-1 priority. As soon as we locate one of these units through our direction finding, we’d fix it. This fix would be triangulated with fixes made by other airborne platforms, a medium-range direction finding outfit on the ground, or even from ships. Then we’d send the fix to the DSUs on the ground — that’s direct support units — at Phu Bai or Pleiku. They’d run it through their computers and call in B-52s or artillery strikes.
Q. How high did you fly?
A. It was supposed to be 8000 feet, but we couldn’t get close enough, so we went down to 3000.
Q. You hear a lot about seismic and acoustic sensors and that sort of thing being used. How did this fit into what you were doing?
A. Not at all. They weren’t that effective. A lot of them get damaged when they land; some of them start sending signals and get stuck; others are picked up by the Vietnamese and tampered with. Those that come through intact can’t tell civilian from military movements. Whatever data is collected from sensors on the trail and at the DMZ is never acted on until correlated with our data.
Q. How did the NVA and NLF troops communicate their battle orders? They seem to take us by surprise, while from what you said earlier the Soviet Union can’t.
A. That’s because there are no grand battle orders except in a few cases. Almost everything is decided at a low level in the field. That’s why most of our intelligence was directed toward those low-level communications I’ve been talking about. NSA operations in Vietnam are entirely tactical, supporting military operations. Even the long-range stuff, on North Vietnamese air defense and diplomacy, on shipping in and out of Haiphong — the data collected at Da Nang, Clark Air Force Base in the Philippines and somewhat in Thailand — is used in a tactical sense only. It’s for our bombers going into North Vietnam. they aren’t engaged in probing or testing the defenses of a targeted entity like in Europe. It’s all geared around the location of enemy forces.
Q. What would be the effect if the U.S. had to vacate ground installations like the ones you’ve mentioned?
A. Well, we wouldn’t have that good intelligence about the capabilities of the North Vietnamese to shoot our planes down. We wouldn’t know what their radar was doing or could do, where their ground-to-air missile sites were, when their MIGs were going to scramble. We’d still be able to DF their troops in the field of course. that won’t change until our air forces, including the airborne platforms I flew on, go out too.
Q. NVA and NLF troops must have some sort of counter-measures to use against operations like the ones you were in. Otherwise they wouldn’t be as effective as they are.
A. Basically, you’re right, although you shouldn’t underestimate the kind of damage done by the strikes we called in as a result of our direction finding. To a certain extent, though, the Vietnamese have developed a way to counteract our techniques. Their headquarters in the North is known as MRTTH — Military Region Tri Tin Hue. It is located on the other side of the Valley, somewhere just into Laos. MRTTH has a vast complex of antennas strung all over the jungle. When they’re transmitting orders, they play with the switchboard, and the signal goes out over a several-mile area from these different antennas. When you’re up in one of these airborne platforms, the effect is like this: you get a signal and fix it. First it will be nine miles in one direction and then, say, twelve miles in another, and fifteen in another. We never found MRTTH. It’s one of the high priorities.
Q. But you’d say that the sort of data you collected through DF-ing had some effect?
A. Right, generally. At least in locating field units. It also leads to some large actions. For instance, the first bombing that ever occurred from ARDF data occurred in 1968. There was an area about 19 kilometers southwest of Hue that we’d been flying over. Some of the communications we collected and pattern analysis that was performed on it indicated that there were quite a few NVA or VC units concentrated in a small area, about a mile in diameter. General Abrams personally ordered the largest B-52 raid that had ever taken place in Vietnam at that time. There was one sorties and hour for thirty-six hours, thirty tons dropped by each sortie on the area. Afterwards it was just devastated. I mean it was wasted. It was along time before they could even send helicopters into that area to evaluate the strike because of the stench of burning flesh. On the perimeter of the area there were Vietnamese that had died just from the concussion. The thing of it was, though, there wasn’t any way to tell which of the dead were military and which were civilian. It was pretty notorious. Afterwards it was called Abrams Acres. It was one of the things that began to turn me off to the war.
Q. You said that your A-1 priority was locating enemy units on the ground. What were the other targets?
A. Mainly supplies. We tried, not too successfully, to pinpoint their supply capabilities. All along the Trail the Vietnamese have these gigantic underground warehouses known as “bantrams,” where either men or supplies are housed. The idea is that in case of an offensive like the one that’s going on now, they don’t have to go north for supplies. They’ve got them right there in these bantrams, enough to last for a long time at a fairly high level of military activity. They had about 11 bantrams when I was there. We knew where they were within twenty-five or thirty miles, but no closer. I remember the first Dewey Canyon invasion of Laos. I flew support for it. It happened because the 9th Marines went in there to locate a couple of bantrams. Their general was convinced he was going to end the war. It was a real macho trip. He got called back by the White House pretty quick, though, when his command got slaughtered.
Q. What about the idea of an invasion from the north. How does this equate with what you collected?
A. It doesn’t. There’s no invasion. The entire Vietnamese operation against Saigon and the U.S. is one unified military command throughout Indochina. Really, it’s almost one country. They, don’t recognize borders: that’s seen in their whole way of looking at things, their whole way of fighting.
Q. But you made a distinction between VC and NVA forces didn’t you?
A. There are forces we’d classify as VC and others as NVA, yes. But it was for identification, like the call signs on Soviet planes. The VC forces tended to merge, break apart, then regroup, often composed differently from what they were before. As far as the NVA is concerned, we’d use the same names they were called back home, like the 20th regiment. Hanoi controls infiltration, some troops and supplies coming down the Trail. But once they get to a certain area, MRTTH takes over. And practically speaking. MRTTH is controlled by the NLF-PRG.
Q. How did you know that?
A. We broke their messages all the time. We knew the political infrastructure.
Q. You mean that your intelligence would have in its official report that this MRTTH base which was on the other side of the Ashau Valley, was controlled by the NLF?
A. Of course. Hanoi didn’t control that area operationally. MRTTH controls the whole DMZ area. Everything above Da Nang to Vinh. The people in control are in the NLF. MRTTH makes the decisions for its area. Put it this way: it is an autonomous political and military entity.
Q. What you’re saying is that in order to gather intelligence and operate militarily, you go on the assumption that there is one enemy? That the NLF is not subordinate to the North Vietnamese Command?
A. Right. That’s the way it is. This is one thing I wish we could bring out. Intelligence operates in a totally different way, from politics. The intelligence community generally states things like they are. The political community interprets this information. changes it, deletes some facts and adds others. Take the CIA report that bombing in Vietnam never really worked, That was common knowledge over there. Our reports indicated it. Infiltration always continued at a steady rate. But of course nobody back at the military command or in Washington ever paid any attention.
Q. What were some of the other high intelligence priorities besides locating ground units, MRTTH and the bantrams?
A. One of the strange ones came from intelligence reports we got from the field and copies from North Vietnam. These reports indicated that the NLF had two Americans fighting for them in the South. We did special tasking on that. We were on the lookout for ground messages containing any reference to these Americans. Never found them, though.
Q. When you were there in Vietnam did you get an idea of the scope of U.S. operations in Southeast Asia or were you just involved with these airborne platforms exclusively?
A. I was pretty busy. But I took leaves, of course, and I saw a lot of things. One thing that never came out, for example, was that there was a small war in Thailand in 1969. Some of the Meo tribesmen were organized and attacked the Royal Thai troops for control of their own area.
Q. What happened to them?
A. Well, as you know, Thailand is pretty important to us. A stable Thailand, I mean. CAS-Vientiane and CAS-Bangkok were assigned to put down the uprisings.
Q. What does CAS mean?
A. That’s the CIA’s designation. Three of our NSA planes were taken to Udorn, where the CIA is based in Thailand, and flew direct support for CIA operations against the Meos. We located where they were through direction finding so the CIA planes could go in and bomb them.
Q. You mean CIA advisors in Thai Air Force planes?
A. No. The CIA’s own planes. Not Air America — those are the commercial-type planes used just for logistics support. I’m talking about CIA military planes. They were unmarked attack bombers.
Q. What other covert CIA operations in the area did you run into?
A. From the reports I saw, I knew there were CIA people in southern China, for instance, operating as advisors and commanders of Nationalist Chinese commando forces. It wasn’t anything real big. They’d go in and burn some villages, and generally raise hell. The Chinese always called these “bandit raids.”
Q. What would be the objectives of these raids besides harassment?
A. There’s some intelligence probing. And quite a bit of it is for control of opium trade over there. Nationalist Chinese regular officers are occasionally called in to lead these maneuvers. For that matter, there are also CIA-run Nationalist Chinese forces that operate in Laos and even in North Vietnam.
Q. Did you ever meet any of these CIA people?
A. Sure. Like I said, I flew support for their little war in Thailand. I remember on the guys there in Vientiane that we were doing communications for, said he’d been into Southern China a couple of times.
Q. You got disillusioned with the whole Vietnam business?
A. Well, practically everybody hated it. Everybody except the lifers who were in the military before Vietnam. Even after that wasting of the area called Abram’s Acres that I told you about before, everybody else was really sick about it, but these lifers kept talking about all the commies we had killed.
For me, part of it was when we crashed our EC-47. We’d just taken off and were at about 300 feet and it just came down. We crash-landed in a river. We walked out of it, but I decided that there was no easy way to get me into an airplane after that. We got drunk that night, and afterwards I spent two weeks on leave in Bangkok. When I got back to Saigon i got another three days vacation in Na Trang. The whole thing was getting under my skin. I told them that I wasn’t going to fly any more. And mainly they left me alone. They figured I’d snap out of it. But finally they asked me what my reasons for refusing to fly were. I told them that it was crazy. I wasn’t going to crash anymore, I wasn’t going to get shot at anymore, I was afraid. I told the flight operations director that I wasn’t going to do it anymore, I didn’t care what was done to me. Strangely enough, they let me alone. They decided after a few days to me Air Force liaison man up at Phu Bai. So I spent the last three months up there correlating data coming in from airborne platforms. Like the one I’d flown in and sending DSU reports to the B-52s. It happened all of a sudden, my feeling that the whole war was rotten. I remember that up at Phu Bai there were a couple of other analysts working with me. We never talked about it, but we all wound up sending the bombers to strange places — mountain tops, you know, where there weren’t any people. We were just biding our time till we got out. We were ignoring priorities on our reports, that sort of thing.
It’s strange. When I first got to Nam, everybody was still high about the war. But by the time I left at the end of 1969, morale had broken down all over the place. Pot had become a very big thing. We were even smoking it on board the EC-47s when we were supposed to be doing direction finding. And we were the cream of the military, remember.
I loved my work at first. It was very exciting — traveling in Europe, the Middle East, Africa; knowing all the secrets. It was my whole life, which probably explains why I was better than others at my job. But then I went to Nam, and it wasn’t a big game we were playing with the Soviets anymore. It was killing people. My last three months in Nam were very traumatic. I couldn’t go on, but I wasn’t able to quit. Not then. So faked it. It was all I could do. Now I wish I had quit. If I had stayed in Europe, I might still be in NSA. I might have re-enlisted. In a way, the war destroyed me.
Q. What happened when you mustered out?
A. Well, having the sort of credentials I had, I had my pick of a lot of jobs. Some ex-NSA people get jobs with private corporations. A lot of them run their own SIGINT operations. For instance, oil companies will have SIGINT against Middle East sheikdoms that have pretty primitive intelligence operations. But I didn’t want to do this sort of thing. NSA offered me a nice civilian job. The CIA said they’d pay me a $10,000 bonus in two installments if I’d come to work with them — $5000 on signing up, and $5000 at the end of two years. They said they’d give me a GS-9 rating — that’s about $10,000 a year — and promote me to GS-11 in a year. But I didn’t want any of it.
Q. Why is it you wanted to tell all this?
A. It’s hard for me to say. I haven’t digested it all; even though I’ve been out almost two years now, I still feel as though I’m two people — the one who did all the things I’ve laid out and another, different person who can’t quite understand why. But even being against the war, it’s taken a long time for me to want to say these things. I couldn’t have done it nine months ago, not even three months ago. Daniel Ellberg’s releasing the Pentagon Papers made me want to talk. It’s a burden; in a way I just want to get rid of it. I don’t want to get sentimental or corny about it, but I’ve made some friends who love the Indochinese people. This is my way of loving them too.
Transcription and HTML by Cryptome
In August 1972 a twenty-five-year-old former staff sergeant in the Air Force Security Service decided to bare his top secret soul to the magainze Ramparts. A latent Vietnam War protestor and former traffic analyst at listening posts in Turkey, West Germany, and Vietnam, Perry Fellwock wove a tale of much fact and some fancy in a question-and-answer session with the magazine, using the pseudonym Winslow Peck. The Joplin, Missouri, native’s claim that NSA was able to break all Soviet code systems (“We’re able to break every code they’ve got”), was most likely an exaggeration, but the majority of the sixteen-page article was, unfortunately for the Agency, quite accurate. Once the magazine hit the stands there was little the red-faced officials of the Puzzle Palace could do except to hold their tongues in embarassed silence. Prosecution, they must have reasoned, would only serve to confirm all that Fellwock had said.