Great article from a couple weeks back by Adrian Chen about Perry Fellwock, the original NSA whistleblower:
He was tasked with analyzing Soviet air force activities. Though the American public at home was terrified by the Soviet threat, Fellwock said his access to raw intelligence made him feel safer—even if he had once anxiously tracked a flight of nuclear-armed Russian bombers heading straight toward Istanbul, pulling a U-turn just short of the line that would have set off a nuclear war.
“I thought we were keeping World War III from happening, I really thought that was what our job was,” Fellwock said. “Because we knew everything that was going on, and as long as we knew everything that was going on, there was a possibility of preventing everything.”
Fellwock’s faith in his mission was shaken within a year. In 1967, the Six-Day War between Israel and a number of neighboring Arab countries erupted. Israeli forces attacked an NSA spy ship, the U.S.S. Liberty, while it was on an eavesdropping mission off the coast of Egypt. Thirty-five crew members were killed, and 171 wounded.
Israel claimed that in the fog of war it had misidentified the ship as Egyptian. But James Bamford, in his book Body of Secrets, has made a strong case that the IDF knowingly attacked the spy ship in order to cover up their massacring of hundreds of Egyptian POWs in a nearby town. Whatever the case, the incident sparked outrage within the NSA, especially after Lyndon Johnson’s administration covered it up so as not to embarrass the U.S.’s strongest ally in the Middle East.
For Fellwock, the intrigue surrounding the Liberty incident opened up new, dark possibilities. “It made begin to wonder what the heck is going on in the world,” he said. “This is not the way things are supposed to be.“
Having glimpsed the chaos of a war the U.S. wasn’t even a party to, Fellwock began to wonder about the ongoing American war in Vietnam. In 1968, his curiosity overcame his aversion to combat and he volunteered for Vietnam. “I had to find out why things were going this way,” he said.