NYT Publishes Draft Version of @StateDept Dissent Memo on Syria Without the Names of Signers

Posted: 7:49 pm ET
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On June 17, the NYT published the draft version of a dissent memo filed with the State Department’s senior leadership.  The NYT cites “dozens of diplomats and other mid-level officials”  calling for military strikes against President Bashar al-Assad of Syria. The document was provided to The Times by a State Department official on condition that the names of the signers not be published. Also see “Dissent Channel” Message on Syria Policy Signed by 51 @StateDept Officers Leaks.

See NYT’s original post here or read below:

 

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Below via the DPB:

Confidence on the Dissent Channel

QUESTION: John, you make a good case for the respect you have for this as an alternative source of opinions. If the authors of the dissent, though, were confident that the dissent channel was the right place to put this, why did they also leak it to The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times?

MR KIRBY: I have no idea how this message made a way – made its way into the public domain. I have no idea how that happened.

Said.

QUESTION: Could I just ask you on the diplomatic part of it – I mean, they say 50 diplomats. Are they diplomats the way we would understand diplomats to be, or are they just mid-level employees? I mean, what is the difference here in your definition? I want to understand.

MR KIRBY: Look, I’m not going to speak to the identities, obviously, of the authors or describe or characterize their employment here at the State Department. I think if you were to ask Secretary Kerry, he would tell you that all of us here at the State Department are diplomats in our own right, but I’m not going to get into characterizing each individual, what their job is, and characterizing that in terms of diplomacy.

QUESTION: And they are all sort of responsible for the Syria desk, or do they —

MR KIRBY: I’m not going to talk —

QUESTION: — do they cover —

MR KIRBY: I’m not going to provide any additional information about the authors of this message.

QUESTION: And let me just ask you to pontificate, if you would, I mean, on the issue of striking Syria or striking Assad. To what end, in your view? I mean, what would be – what is the desired outcome for such a —

MR KIRBY: I’m not going to talk to the content of the message that was sent forward. And as I said, separate and distinct from that, we continue to be focused on the core elements of our policy in Syria, which is to try to get the political discussions back on track, try to get a cessation of hostilities nationwide enforced, and get humanitarian assistance to so many desperate people in need. We continue to believe that a political solution is the best solution for the people of Syria.

Spox not speaking to the content

QUESTION: How is the State Department viewing the fact that this document was leaked to the press? Is it – are you guys okay with that or is there some kind of investigation pending into that?

MR KIRBY: I know of no investigation as to how it ended up in the public domain, and we don’t know how it ended up in the public domain. What I can tell you is the authors of this particular dissent channel message sent it forward through the dissent channel, and so we’re treating it accordingly, as we would any other dissent channel message.

Pam.

QUESTION: John, how does the State Department deal with the ramifications of this memo being in the public arena from a foreign policy standpoint, especially in terms of relations with allies that are also engaged in Syria? There’s some initial reaction from the Russian foreign ministry, the deputy foreign minister reacting to the portion that showed support for strikes against the Assad regime, saying in his view this would be absolute madness. Considering these are rank-and-file people who work day to day on implementing the U.S. policy, and this shows some dissatisfaction at that level, how do you go forward and deal with allies with this out there?

MR KIRBY: Again, I’m not speaking to the content. I’m certainly not going to speak to the authors and how many —

QUESTION: Right (inaudible) speak —

MR KIRBY: — there are or who they are – I know where you – I know, just give me a second. That it’s in the public domain is beyond dispute now and people can react to it as they wish. What I can tell you is the Secretary continues to be focused on making sure that we get food, water, and medicine to the people that need it, get a cessation of hostilities that can be enforced nationwide, and that we get the political process back on track. That’s where his head is. That’s where his focus is. That’s where it’s going to remain.

Now, as I said I don’t know how many times earlier this week, we continue to explore other options. It would be irresponsible for us not to. But I’m not going to get ahead of that discussion in any way whatsoever.

No plans to make document public

QUESTION: When will you make this document public?

MR KIRBY: There’s no plans to make it public.

QUESTION: Will there be an official State Department response to the dissenters?

MR KIRBY: There typically is. According to the Foreign Affairs Manual, there is a process by which dissent messages are replied to, and we will be preparing the appropriate reply.

QUESTION: Will that be made public?

MR KIRBY: There’s no intent to make that public.

QUESTION: And —

QUESTION: John, could I —

MR KIRBY: Said?

QUESTION: — follow up very quickly? I mean, you said since 1971 – that was the Vietnam War, a big catalyst for dissent. There are many issues that happened in between. The mechanism to do this, what are – somebody draft a petition, and they go around collecting signatures, is that what happens?

MR KIRBY: I have – I do not know the specific process by which this message was prepared. As I said, typically, in general they’re drafted by a single individual or sometimes small groups, but there’s no rule that says that there has to be a limit on the number of authors. And how the author or authors of a dissent message go about crafting and then delivering their views is up to them. I have – I wouldn’t have – I would have no idea how – what the physical process of preparing something like that would be.

Dissent Channel and Promotion

QUESTION: As you know, the Foreign Affairs Manual says that there shall not be retaliation or reprisal against people who avail themselves of the dissent channel to register their disagreement with policy. It’s one thing to sort of act against someone soon after this has happened. It’s another thing if use of the dissent channel is used in subsequent administrations or years or decades to prevent people, for example, from rising.

And I want to know what the Secretary thinks about whether the mere use of the dissent channel should ever be used to prevent someone from getting a promotion or getting another sensitive job or moving up in the hierarchy or becoming an ambassador.

MR KIRBY: I think it’s safe to say that Secretary Kerry would absolutely find abhorrent any intent or desire by anyone in this Department from holding against someone, for purposes of promotion or advancement, their right to use the dissent channel. I mean, that’s absolutely abhorrent. It’s not only against the Foreign Affairs Manual, it’s against all standards of ethics, conduct, and integrity, and he would never abide by something like that.

QUESTION: Thank you for that answer. I asked the question because I’ve talked to two people in the building today already who talked about the fear that this could happen because Archer Blood never made ambassador and was, in fact, systematically prevented from moving up, as I understand it, and because Fred Hof, who is well known in this building and well known in the Syria – in the U.S.-Syria policy community, also talks about – in a public statement about how these people have risked their careers by doing this. So to the extent that there are anxieties out there that this is going to hurt these people and their careers, your view is the Secretary would not tolerate that?

MR KIRBY: Not one bit.

QUESTION: Okay.

MR KIRBY: I can assure you that no one has risked anything by submitting a dissent message with respect to Syria or any other policy that the State Department pursues. That is the purpose for the dissent channel.

Leaking draft memo a violation of State Department rules?

QUESTION: Okay, a couple of other very quick ones. Is it your understanding – it’s my understanding that what was leaked was a draft, not the actual memo, and that it was leaked before it had gone through the classification process. Is it your view that leaking something while it’s a draft and before it’s been classified is a violation of the letter of State Department rules even if it isn’t a violation of the – even if it is of the spirit?

MR KIRBY: I couldn’t possibly speak to, again, the process by which this got into the public domain. We keep talking about leaks here. I don’t know that that’s what happened. We do not know and nor are we particularly interested in how the contents of this dissent channel message made its way into the public domain. What we are interested in doing is preserving the sanctity, the integrity of the dissent channel process through which this was submitted. And it was classified by the authors, I might add, and so we’re going to respect that, too. And just as critically – back to Brad’s question – we’re going to respect the process by preparing the appropriate response as we should.

Dissent Memo went to S/P the same time it went to NYT and WSJ?

QUESTION: And then just two quick ones. When did you – when did the Department receive the dissent channel? Was it yesterday as some of the published reports —

MR KIRBY: To the best of my knowledge, we received it yesterday.

 

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“Dissent Channel” Message on Syria Policy Signed by 51 @StateDept Officers Leaks

Posted: 2:52 am ET
Updated: 3:55 pm ET
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The State Department’s Dissent Channel was created “to allow its users the opportunity to bring dissenting or alternative views on substantive foreign policy issues, when such views cannot be communicated in a full and timely manner through regular operating channels or procedures, to the attention of the Secretary of State and other senior State Department officials in a manner which protects the author from any penalty, reprisal, or recrimination.”  Note that management, administrative, or personnel issues that are not significantly related to matters of substantive foreign policy may not be communicated through the Dissent Channel according to the Foreign Affairs Manual.

There is a reason we don’t hear often about the messages sent through the “dissent channel”:

Freedom from reprisal for Dissent Channel users is strictly enforced; officers or employees found to have engaged in retaliation or reprisal against Dissent Channel users, or to have divulged to unauthorized personnel the source or contents of Dissent Channel messages, will be subject to disciplinary action.  Dissent Channel messages, including the identity of the authors, are a most sensitive element in the internal deliberative process and are to be protected accordingly.

Neither the identity of a Dissent Channel user nor the contents of any Dissent Channel message may be shared with anyone outside of the procedures as outlined in 2 FAM 074.1paragraph (b)

We understand that in 1977, the Executive Secretariat logged in some 32 Dissent Channel messages. By contrast, in 2005, you apparently could count by the fingers of one hand the number of Foreign Service professionals who used the Dissent Channel.

In 2009, USA TODAY (October 12, 2009) publicly reported the use of the dissent channel on a USAID program in Pakistan (see Dissent Channel: USAID/Pakistan Program.

Probably, one of the more famous use of the dissent channel was one signed by 20 diplomats on the U.S. policy toward East Pakistan, also known as the Blood Telegram, the subject of the book by Gary Bass.  Archer Blood was our top diplomat in Bangladesh.  He was the Consul General to Dhaka, East Pakistan and was famous for sending the strongly-worded dissent telegram protesting against the atrocities committed in the Bangladesh Liberation War. [See cable: Dissent From U.S. Policy Toward East Pakistan Cable (PDF); Also see Wanted: Patron Saint for Dissenting Diplomats).

On June 16,  NYT’s Mark Lander reports that dozens of diplomats have signed a dissent memo over the administration’s Syria policy, and that a State Department official provided a draft of the dissent memo to the newspaper:

More than 50 State Department diplomats have signed an internal memo sharply critical of the Obama administration’s policy in Syria, urging the United States to carry out military strikes against the government of President Bashar al-Assad to stop its persistent violations of a cease-fire in the country’s five-year-old civil war.

The memo, a draft of which was provided to The New York Times by a State Department official, says American policy has been “overwhelmed” by the unrelenting violence in Syria. It calls for “a judicious use of stand-off and air weapons, which would undergird and drive a more focused and hard-nosed U.S.-led diplomatic process.”

So, what happens next?

According to the regs, the Secretary’s Policy Planning Staff (S/P) is responsible for management of the Dissent Channel, including receipt, storage, distribution, and acknowledgment of all Dissent Channel messages received, and drafting, clearance, and timely transmission of all Dissent Channel responses.  Note that Jon Finer, is Secretary Kerry’s Chief of Staff and also the Director of Policy Planning

Immediately upon receipt of all incoming Dissent Channel messages, S/P distributes copies to the Secretary, the Deputy Secretary (Blinken), the Deputy Secretary for Management and Resources (Higginbottom), the Under Secretary for Political Affairs (Shannon), the Executive Secretary, and the Chair of the Secretary’s Open Forum (who is not identified on the state.gov website). The director of S/P may distribute the dissent message to other senior officials in the Department, both for information purposes and for help in drafting a response.  No additional distribution may be made without the authorization of the S/P director.

The Director of Policy Planning is also responsible for acknowledging receipt of a Dissent message within 2 working days and for providing a substantive reply, normally within 30-60 working days.  At the discretion of the Director of the Policy Planning, S/P may also clear replies with other senior Department of State officials.

Will this change the policy on Syria? Don’t count on it.

According to Kal Bird in Dissent in the Foreign Service, the first dissent cable was filed by Jack Perry, protesting the Christmas bombing of North Vietnam in 1972, on the eve of the Nixon-Brezhnev summit. Perry’s arguments had no impact on the Nixon-Kissinger Vietnam policy. Also this:

The first major test of the dissent channel as a means of not only venting views, but changing policy, came in Cyprus in 1974. In that year of the CIA-sponsored coup d’etat in Nicosia, Thomas Boyatt filed a dissent cable protesting Kissinger’s interventionist policy. Within days Boyatt was fired from his position as director of the Office of Cypriot Affairs. His dissent cable was not answered for five months, and even then, the response was merely an acknowledgment of receipt.

(Note: The Blood telegram is dated April 6, 1971, so while we do not have a date for the Perry cable protesting the 1972 bombing of North Vietnam, the Blood dissent appears to predates the Perry dissent).

Mr. Bird’s article notes that “precisely because few dissent cables have ever changed policy, use of the dissent channel is considered a desperate last resort.”

A “desperate last resort” and might just be the reason why this dissent channel memo was leaked to the New York Times.

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What a dissent cable looks like — read Dissent From U.S. Policy Toward East Pakistan Cable via National Security Archive/GWU:

 

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New Directive: Social Media Info Collection For Security Clearance Background Investigations

Posted: 1:37 am ET
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On May 12, 2016, the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) authorized the use of social media by official investigators who are conducting background investigations for security clearances.

The directive addresses the collection and use of publicly available social media information during the conduct of personnel security background investigations and adjudications for determining initial or continued eligibility for access to classified national security information or eligibility to hold a sensitive position and the retention of such information. This affects prospective hires and all employees who are subjects of periodic investigations.

The policy says that agencies “may choose to collect publicly available social media information in the personnel security hackground investigation process, which pertains to the covered individual’s associations, behavior and conduct, as long as the information pertains to the adjudicative guidelines for making determinations of initial or continued eligibility for access to classified information or eligibility to hold a sensitive position.”

  • Authorized investigative agencies may collect, usc, and retain publicly available social media information as part of a covered individual’s background investigation and, if collected, shall incorporate the relevant results in the investigative record. The period of coverage for publicly available electronic information will be consistent with the scope of the investigation.
  • Authorized adjudicative agencies may use and retain publicly available social media information when determining initial or continued eligibility of a covered individual for access to classified information or eligibility to hold a sensitive position.
  • Collection of publicly available social media information shall only be conducted after obtaining the signed Authorization for Release of information form of the Standard Form 86, Questionnaire for National Security Positions, which includes notice of the collection of such information.
  • Only publicly available social media information pertaining to the covered individual under investigation shall intentionally be collected. Absent a national security concern, or criminal reporting requirement, information pertaining to individuals other than the covered individual will not be investigated or pursued. Information inadvertently collected relating to other individuals will not be retained unless that information is relevant to a security determination or the covered individual.

The directive says that covered individuals “shall not be requested or required” to provide passwords, log into a private account; or take any action that would disclose non-publicly available social media information. Agencies are also precluded from creating accounts or using existing accounts on social media for the purpose of connecting (e.g., “friend”, “follow”) to a covered individual or enlist the assistance of a third party in order to bypass privacy controls and/or access otherwise non-publicly available social media information.

Read more below or see Collection, Use, and Retention of Publicly Available Social Media Information in Personnel Security Background Investigations and AdjudicationsSecurity Executive Agent Directive 5, May 12, 2016.

Via FAS/Secrecy News:

 

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Secretary Kerry Visits Ny-Alesund, Norway — Northernmost Civilian Settlement in the World

Posted: 1:34 am ET
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Secretary Kerry is traveling to the Dominican Republic, Norway, Denmark & Greenland from June 13-17, 2016. On July 16, he was on the research vessel “Teisten,” with Norwegian Foreign Minister Borge Brende, on the Kongsfjorden in Ny-Alesund, Norway, the northernmost civilian settlement in the world.

[O]ne of the greatest challenges of our times besides the fight against extremism is to deal with the enormous battle of climate change. That’s why I’m going to Greenland tomorrow, because if we were to lose the ice sheet of Greenland, we would see a sea level rise of some 22 feet over the course of this century. Everybody knows that what is happening now is a – is a huge transformation in weather patterns, in the melt of glaciers – which I saw in Svalbard today, and I will see again tomorrow – and we have to make smarter decisions about the kind of energy that we’re going to provide ourselves with. (Via)

 

The research vessel "Teisten," carrying U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Norwegian Foreign Minister Borge Brende, floats on the Kongsfjorden in Ny-Alesund, Norway, the northernmost civilian settlement in the world, as the two leaders inspect the Blomstrand Glacier to see the effects of global warming on the Arctic environment on June 16, 2016. [State Department photo/ Public Domain]

The research vessel “Teisten,” carrying U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Norwegian Foreign Minister Borge Brende, floats on the Kongsfjorden in Ny-Alesund, Norway, the northernmost civilian settlement in the world, as the two leaders inspect the Blomstrand Glacier to see the effects of global warming on the Arctic environment on June 16, 2016. [State Department photo/ Public Domain]

A glacier appears outside the window of a transport plane on June 16, 2016, as U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry flies from the Svalbard Airport in Svalbard, Norway, to an Arctic research station in Ny-Alesund, Norway, and tour the nearby Blomstrand Glacier. [State Department photo/ Public Domain]

A glacier appears outside the window of a transport plane on June 16, 2016, as U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry flies from the Svalbard Airport in Svalbard, Norway, to an Arctic research station in Ny-Alesund, Norway, and tour the nearby Blomstrand Glacier. [State Department photo/ Public Domain]

Two reindeer graze against a glacial backdrop on June 16, 2016, as U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Norwegian Foreign Minister Borge Brende visit an Arctic research station in Ny-Alesund, Norway, the northernmost civilian settlement in the world, and before tour the nearby Blomstrand Glacier. [State Department photo/ Public Domain]

Two reindeer graze against a glacial backdrop on June 16, 2016, as U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Norwegian Foreign Minister Borge Brende visit an Arctic research station in Ny-Alesund, Norway, the northernmost civilian settlement in the world, and before tour the nearby Blomstrand Glacier. [State Department photo/ Public Domain]

 

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