The Snowden of the '70s

Whatever happened to Winslow Peck?


More than a decade before Edward Snowden was born, a whistleblower calling himself Winslow Peck gave the New Left magazine Ramparts an insider's account of the National Security Agency, an institution that at that time was shrouded in even more secrecy than today. Peck, whose given name was Perry Fellwock, went on to help launch Counterspy, a magazine devoted to exposing the activities of America's intelligence agencies. And then he left activism behind. Today he is an antiques dealer on Long Island.

Adrian Chen of Gawker tracked Fellwock down, and after a rather distrustful start ("I believe that you're honest, but who knows about the people in your office? Who knows about your boss, what kind of deals he's doing?") the man once known as Winslow Peck granted Chen an interview. Their conversation covers everything from Fellwock's disappointment with the way that original Ramparts article came out to his guilt over the treatment of a Counterspy colleague who got accused of being a police plant. Here's an excerpt from Chen's story:

It turns out that constant brooding over the machinations of the surveillance state is not conducive to a sound state of mind. Counter-Spy staff worked in a haze of mistrust. "You'd be sitting with people and you knew that somebody was wondering about somebody else at that table," said [magazine staffer] Harvey Kahn, "were they being controlled by somebody else? Or unconsciously being manipulated?"

It was not a fantasy: The COINTELPRO papers had revealed security agencies kept close tabs on radical publications. In the late '60s, the CIA dedicated a 12-man team to undermining Ramparts, according to Angus Mackenzie's book Secrets: The CIA's War at Home.

"It was intense," said Fellwock. "Clearly it really upset the security agencies, what we were doing. They were all over us. I just generally accepted that the next person in the next booth would be some security person following me."

"It seems like that is still kind of implanted in your thinking," I said.

"Yeah, that's why I got paranoid when you called me, you really evoked a lot of old memories and feelings that I haven't had in 30 years." He sighed. "But if I could live with it back then, I guess I could live with it now."

I could pick a few nits with Chen's account—he has Counterspy dissolving in 1976, for example, though it actually continued publishing into the '80s—but overall it's a strong piece. You should read it.

Bonus 1970s anti-intelligence-agency activism links: "What It Would Take To Stop the Spying" and "Agee's Revenge."