The Foreign Service Journal, December 2023

26 DECEMBER 2023 | THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL Department amid post–Cold War funding cuts, so a relatively high percentage of dissents discussed issues related to department administration or reorganization. But messages on two mainstays of department business, bilateral relations and consular affairs, still composed a plurality of dissent messages during the 1990s. Recent dissents have instigated the development of new policies and the adaption of components of existing policy. They have also served as an impetus for bureau and office conversations on both leadership and dissent and how to dissent effectively (these are still classified and captioned). Overall, Dissent Channel messages have generally fallen into three categories: • Dissent or disagreement with policy, strategy, or goal, with a recommendation the department shift or change the overall policy. • Disagreement with a particular action or policy implementation, often including an analysis that the department response or action is not strong enough (and the dissent is a call to action) or is too strong (and the dissent is a request to temper a policy). • Appealing decisions that the dissenter either knows or believes have been made by senior leadership, and the dissent is a request for reconsideration before final action is taken. The Value of the Dissent Channel Policy professionals have often asked: Do Dissent Channel messages have an impact? In short, yes. Channel messages and their perspectives are often incorporated into ongoing policy discussions or serve as the impetus for a policy assessment or review, adding additional perspectives or a more complete assessment of potential consequences. Policies might be adapted, or timelines for implementation shifted. Dissent messages have served to open the doors for other stakeholders to join policy conversations and have moved bureau leadership to solicit alternative views within their teams and offices. Dissenters have been asked to meet with the Secretary or other senior officials to discuss their views, and in the early years, they were sometimes invited to discuss the issues at other internal venues. Noteworthy also is that while strong dissents may not have “changed policy” in the moment, they have “influenced” how leaders thought about that same policy problem in later years. Outside commentators have even recommended that other agencies need dissent channels, too. were an average of almost nine messages per year sent to Washington, although a record 33 messages were sent in 1977. The retired Dissent Channel files remain classified and captioned, and they will be transferred to the National Archives. In response to an FOIA request, many of the older declassified Dissent Channel messages and responses from that set of files were properly declassified in 2018. These records, all of which are at least 35 years old, are available at under Case # F-2016-07743. The subjects of dissent messages reflect their times. During the first 20 years of the Dissent Channel, with authoritarians in power in much of the Americas and the U.S. deeply involved in Central America, Grenada, and Panama, messages from or about the Western Hemisphere made up a quarter of all dissents. In the 1990s, with NATO expansion and wars in the Balkans, messages about Europe made up more than a third of the dissents. At the same time, there were many proposals to reorganize the State The Dissent Channel is an outgrowth of both the tumultuous politics of the Vietnam War and a period of institutional modernization.