The Foreign Service Journal, July-August 2011

22 F O R E I G N S E R V I C E J O U R N A L / J U LY- A U G U S T 2 0 1 1 in the early 20th century. It stands out not only as an elabo- rate and formal bureaucratic mechanism, but also as a form of public relations, through which the Nixon and successive admin- istrations have tried to enhance their image as embracers of dis- sent. In institutionalizing dissent and marketing the institutional mechanism to the public, the State Department became, as one commentator has noted, “unique as a historical entity and government bureau- cracy.” In the 40 years of its existence, the Dissent Channel has done little to affect U.S. foreign policy. Case closed. Or maybe not. That very failure reflects the channel’s success at quelling internal dissent in a way that the pub- lic could actually support. The Dissent Channel thus de- serves attention as a neglected, but illuminating element of the politics of secrecy and the pub- lic’s fight for transparency in the Nixon administration — a fight that continues today. The First Dissent Channel Telegram As president, Richard Nixon frequently claimed that he would do what was best for the country, regardless of how it might affect his reputation. Contrary to what he said, however, Nixon cared greatly about his public image. Intent on enhanc- ing its reputation, the Nixon administration distorted the Dissent Channel, presenting it to the public as a tool that would increase the influence of rank-and-file diplomats on foreign policy. Touting the importance of internal dis- sent to a group of reporters, Under Secretary of State for F O C U S When President Nixon announced his decision to invade Cambodia in April 1970, 20 FSOs sent a letter to Secretary of State William Rogers condemning the invasion. The Dissent Channel T he State Department’s official mechanism for policy dissent, the Dissent Channel was created in 1971 when, under the direction of Secretary of State William Rogers and Under Secretary of State for Management William Macomber, the de- partment revised the Foreign Affairs Manual to give FSOs the explicit freedom to dissent (2 FAM 070). The director of the Policy Planning Staff manages the Dissent Channel. Consistent with its mandate to stimulate innovation and creativity in the department, this unique process allows the policy planning director to bring constructive, dissenting or alterna- tive views on substantive foreign policy is- sues to the Secretary of State and senior department officials. In the first three decades of its existence, the Dissent Channel received more than 250 messages, ranging from a high of 30 in 1977 to a low of two in 2000. Of the first 200 mes- sages from 1971 to 1991, about 50 ad- dressed general topics such as housing allowance policy. Some of the policy-related messages may have received senior-level consideration. At its peak, during the Carter administration, the channel logged al- most as many dissent messages (75) in four years as the Reagan and Bush administrations did in 12 (84). During the 1990s, annual totals of contri- butions averaged in the single digits. In April 1998 the department revised the FAM to spec- ify that the channel is to address only “sub- stantive foreign policy matters.” It also tight- ened the security for Dissent Channel mes- sages, noting proscriptions against, and penalties for, interference with use of the channel. Although there was a blip of increased use in the channel in 2001 to 11, an official mon- itoring the channel noted that a number of the 2001 messages did not accord with the FAM regulations. During the last decade, dissent messages dwindled to one in 2008 before rising again in the last two years. — Susan Maitra, Senior Editor Recent Dissent Channel Usage 1994 9 1995 6 1996 6 1997 9 1998 8 1999 5 2000 2 2001 11 2002 1 2003 7 2004 6 2005 6 2006 4 2007 4 2008 1 2009 7 2010 14