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 The document was provided to The Times by a State Department official on condition that the names of the signers not be published.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:
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.
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.
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.
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.