SECRETARY OF DEFENSE
3000 DEFENSE PENTAGON
WASHINGTON, DC 20301 41060
December 20, 2018
Dear Mr. President:
I have been privileged to serve as our country’s 26th Secretary of Defense which has allowed me to serve alongside our men and women of the Department in defense of our citizens and our ideals.
I am proud of the progress that has been made over the past two years on some of the key goals articulated in our National Defense Strategy: putting the Department on a more sound budgetary footing, improving readiness and lethality in our forces, and reforming the Department’s business practices for greater performance. Our troops continue to provide the capabilities needed to prevail in conflict and sustain strong U.S. global influence.
One core belief I have always held is that our strength as a nation is inextricably linked to the strength of our unique and comprehensive system of alliances and partnerships. While the US remains the indispensable nation in the free world, we cannot protect our interests or serve that role effectively without maintaining strong alliances and showing respect to those allies. Like you, I have said from the beginning that the armed forces of the United States should not be the policeman of the world. Instead, we must use all tools of American power to provide for the common defense, including providing effective leadership to our alliances. NATO’s 29 democracies demonstrated that strength in their commitment to fighting alongside us following the 9-11 attack on America. The Defeat-ISIS coalition of 74 nations is further proof.
Similarly, I believe we must be resolute and unambiguous in our approach to those countries whose strategic interests are increasingly in tension with ours. It is clear that China and Russia, for example, want to shape a world consistent with their authoritarian model – gaining veto authority over other nations’ economic, diplomatic, and security decisions – to promote their own interests at the expense of their neighbors, America and our allies. That is why we must use all the tools of American power to provide for the common defense.
My views on treating allies with respect and also being clear-eyed about both malign actors and strategic competitors are strongly held and informed by over four decades of immersion in these issues. We must do everything possible to advance an international order that is most conducive to our security, prosperity and values, and we are strengthened in this effort by the solidarity of our alliances.
Because you have the right to have a Secretary of Defense whose views are better aligned with yours on these and other subjects, I believe it is right for me to step down from my position. The end date for my tenure is February 28, 2019, a date that should allow sufficient time for a successor to be nominated and confirmed as well as to make sure the Department’s interests are properly articulated and protected at upcoming events to include Congressional posture hearings and the NATO Defense Ministerial meeting in February. Further, that a full transition to a new Secretary of Defense occurs well in advance of the transition of Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in September in order to ensure stability Within the Department.
I pledge my full effort to a smooth transition that ensures the needs and interests of the 2.15 million Service Members and 732,079 civilians receive undistracted attention of the Department at all times so that they can fulfill their critical, round-the-clock mission to protect the American people.
I very much appreciate this opportunity to serve the nation and our men and women in uniform.
Happy 4th of July! Embassy staff and families joined Canadian friends on Parliament Hill this morning for a special Changing of the Guard ceremony in honor of Independence Day. #July4Canada pic.twitter.com/VLVhbdy5ha
— U.S. Embassy Ottawa (@usembassyottawa) July 4, 2018
— CBC Ottawa (@CBCOttawa) June 27, 2018
— U.S. Embassy Dublin (@USEmbassyDublin) July 3, 2018
.@labour @AodhanORiordain calls on all members of the #dail and #Seanad to boycott the 4th of July celebrations at the US embassy over US immigration policy on separation of children #USBorder @rtenews @rtepolitics pic.twitter.com/DQdpwsyVkr
— Martina Fitzgerald (@MartinaFitzg) June 20, 2018
— Immigrant Council.ie (@immigrationIRL) July 3, 2018
Meanwhile — we understand that it was a spectacular show on teevee. Apparently, one story changed more than a dozen times, and ratings were like nothing ever seen before.
NEW VIDEO – The Trump administration changed its story on migrant family separation no fewer than FOURTEEN TIMES in one week.https://t.co/mxTV3WkMHX
— JM Rieger (@RiegerReport) June 20, 2018
The Attorney General outlined a "zero-tolerance" policy last month and other members of the administration have described family separations as a "deterrent." Period. https://t.co/tbQlbmkquq
— Robert Reich (@RBReich) June 17, 2018
— The Center for Public Integrity (@Publici) June 20, 2018
This is what family separation at the U.S., Mexico border sounds like.
ProPublica has obtained audio from inside a U.S. Customs and Border Protection facility, in which children can be heard wailing. https://t.co/YEdnD4o6sh
— ProPublica (@ProPublica) June 19, 2018
JUST IN: Video from inside our tour of the Border Patrol's processing station in McAllen — the epicenter of family separations.
You'll see single adult males, but at about 53 seconds in it gets to mothers and girls.
— Jacob Soboroff (@jacobsoboroff) June 18, 2018
— The Onion (@TheOnion) June 20, 2018
NEW: Who are the banks and corporations profiting off of the incarceration of immigrant families – and how can they be stopped? https://t.co/CdhcsXqwhc
— LittleSis.org (@twittlesis) June 21, 2018
— Gordon Gray (@AmbGordonGray) June 20, 2018
Here is the economist on the abomination that is the Trump/Pompeo refugee cuts, the most atrocious policy this administration has executed before the child separation on the border. Hopefully a backlash will yield similar changes https://t.co/fHoPZSkYUl #WorldRefugeeDay2018
— Tim Miller (@Timodc) June 20, 2018
And then a cartoonist was fired for his catalog of brutal realities. If you’ve lived in developing countries ruled by dictators (who typically, take over media outlets in the name of protecting their people), you will quickly realize that media outlets run by pals and cronies is a perilous cliff. Before long, the only cartoons and news fit to print are friendly litanies of the life of the country. There are no dissenters in fairytales, of course. We don’t want to be that country. I don’t think we will … but it doesn’t help my troubled soul tonight.
— Rob Rogers (@Rob_Rogers) July 3, 2018
Posted: 4:25 am ET
I never meant for my decision to resign to be a public political statement. Sadly, it became one.
The details of how that happened are less important than the demoralizing take-away: When career public servants take an oath to communicate dissent only in protected channels, Trump administration officials do not protect that promise of privacy.
Leaking is not new in Washington. But leaking a sitting ambassador’s personal resignation letter to the president, as mine was, is something else. This was a painful indication that the current administration has little respect for those who have served the nation apolitically for decades. […] A part of my resignation letter that has not been quoted publicly reads: “I now return home, with no rank or title other than citizen, to continue my American journey.” What this means for me is still evolving.
As the grandson of migrant stock from New York City, an Eagle Scout, a Marine Corps veteran and someone who has spent his diplomatic career in Latin America, I am convinced that the president’s policies regarding migration are not only foolish and delusional but also anti-American.
Read in full below:
Former U.S.Ambassador to Panama John D. Feeley who retired last week as a U.S. diplomat | Why I could no longer serve this president https://t.co/zP7SmvwuGY
— Diplopundit (@Diplopundit) March 12, 2018
Here are a couple of goodbye videos from Panama:
- U.S. Ambassador to Panama John Feeley Resigns From the Foreign Service Over Trump Policies
- Confirmations: Goldstein, Lawler, Johnson, Gonzales, and Four New Career Ministers
- Senate Confirmations: Ebert-Gray, Hill, Feeley, Rubin, Scott, Chapman, Manes, Taglialatela
- With about 20 days left in session, time is running short for nominees in Senate logjam
Posted: 3:52 am ET
In January 2017, Congress passed the Department of State Authorities Act: Fiscal Year 2017, which introduced new legislative requirements with regard to the Accountability Review Board (ARB) statute. On July 17, the State Department updated three FAM sub-chapters related to standards of appointment and continued employment, and the list of offenses subject to disciplinary action for both the Foreign Service and the Civil Service.
3 FAM 4130 STANDARDS FOR APPOINTMENT AND CONTINUED EMPLOYMENT
- (12) Conduct by a senior official that demonstrates unsatisfactory leadership in relation to a security incident under review by an Accountability Review Board convened pursuant to 22 U.S.C. 4831; or
- (13) Misconduct or unsatisfactory performance that significantly contributes to the serious injury, loss of life, or significant destruction of property, or the serious breach of security in relation to a security incident, as found by an Accountability Review Board convened pursuant to 22 U.S.C. 4831.
Note that 3 FAM 4139.3 Freedom of Expression (CT:PER-860; 07-17-2017) (Uniform State/USAID)
(Applies to Foreign Service Employees) appears to be a new addition. Further note the language here that says “An employee may be held accountable for unintentional as well as deliberate and unauthorized public expressions whether written or spoken, which, by violating the confidentiality of privileged information, impede the efficiency of the Service.”
The agencies do not presume to impinge upon any of their employee’s right of expression, but the individual as an employee is obliged to protect or to refrain from unauthorized dissemination of certain types of information which the employee acquires through official duties, such as classified information, privileged financial, commercial, and other business information, and information about individuals protected by 5 U.S.C. 552a (the Privacy Act of 1974). An employee may be held accountable for unintentional as well as deliberate and unauthorized public expressions whether written or spoken, which, by violating the confidentiality of privileged information, impede the efficiency of the Service. Such efficiency may be impeded because information appearing insignificant from a security point of view is highly sensitive by virtue of the source or manner in which it was acquired; or because creation of a poor reputation for discretion and security consciousness seriously impairs the trust and confidence the Service normally enjoys with foreign governments and individuals with whom it must deal in candor and mutual confidence. The Department’s procedures for the expression of dissenting views on official matters are contained in 5 FAM, and for the agencies the prerequisites for public speeches or writing for publication are found in uniform State/USAID regulations in 3 FAM 4170.
Other additions/update to this subchapter includes Habitual Use of Intoxicating Beverages to Excess, Abuse of Narcotics, Drugs, or Other Controlled Substances, Loyalty and Security, and Financial Responsibility.
3 FAM 4370 says: The purpose of this subchapter is to advise employees, supervisors, and managers of some of the types of employee conduct which can result in disciplinary action. It is intended that this material be required reading for new employees and that it be referred to during briefings on the behavior expected of employees, ethics, the Department’s leadership tenets, etc. The Department believes that the more employees know and understand their responsibilities and the professional standards by which they are expected to abide, the less likely it is that they will engage in improper behavior that requires disciplinary action. Disciplinary action is taken only after it has been determined that discipline, rather than less formal action, such as an admonishment, is necessary.
On duty 24 hours a day: As explained in 3 FAM 4130, the attainment of foreign policy objectives requires the maintenance of the highest standards of conduct by employees of the Foreign Service. Because of the uniqueness of the Foreign Service, employees serving overseas are considered to be on duty 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and must observe especially high standards of conduct during and after working hours, and when on leave or in travel status. Accordingly, the commission after work hours of many of the offenses listed here under “Conduct on the Job” would still be punishable if it affects the ability of the individual or the agency to carry out its responsibilities or mission. No action against a Foreign Service employee should be considered without a careful review of 3 FAM 4130.
The list is not exhaustive, but these are a few marked additions:
- 40. Dereliction of managerial and supervisory duty by neglecting to carry out personnel management responsibilities, including failure to address conduct or performance problems, failure to complete required performance ratings or reviews, or failure to address a toxic workplace.
- 50. Violation of laws, regulations, or policies relative to trafficking in persons and the procurement of commercial sex, any attempt to procure commercial sex, or the appearance of procuring commercial sex.
- 51. Sexual Assault (3 FAM 1700)
- 52. Violation of regulations or policies (including post policies) regarding the payment or treatment of domestic staff (3 FAM 4128)
- 53. Failure to maintain records as required in 5 FAM 414.8 paragraph (2)
- 54. Misconduct or unsatisfactory performance that significantly contributes to the serious injury, loss of life, or significant destruction of property, or the serious breach of security in relation to a security incident, as found by an Accountability Review Board convened pursuant to 22 U.S.C. 4831.
See more 3 FAM 4370 LIST OF OFFENSES SUBJECT TO DISCIPLINARY ACTION – FOREIGN SERVICE
The subchapter for the Civil Service appears to be entirely new:
It is impossible to list every possible punishable offense, and no attempt has been made to do this. Employees are on notice that any violation of Department regulations could be deemed misconduct regardless of whether listed in 3 FAM 4540. This table of penalties lists the most common types of employee misconduct. Some offenses have been included mainly as a reminder that particular behavior is to be avoided, and in the case of certain type of offenses, like sexual assault, workplace violence, and discriminatory and sexual harassment, to understand the Department’s no-tolerance policy.
The non-exhaustive list includes 51 offenses with penalties meriting a Letter of Reprimand except for the following:
12. Improper political activity (5 U.S.C. 7321, et seq.) – suspension or removal
35. Violation of the “no strike” affidavit – removal (same penalty for Foreign Service)
39. Gifts to official supervisors¾soliciting contributions for gifts or presents to those in superior official positions, accepting gifts or presents from U.S. Government employees receiving lower salaries, or making donations as a gift or present to official supervisors (exception: this does not prohibit a voluntary gift of nominal value or donation in a nominal amount made on a special occasion such as marriage, illness, retirement, or transfer (22 CFR 1203.735-202(e)) – Removal (required by 5 U.S.C. 7351) (same penalty for the Foreign Service)
Read more here: 3 FAM 4540 LIST OF OFFENSES SUBJECT TO DISCIPLINARY ACTION – CIVIL SERVICE
Posted: 2:43 am ET
Updated: 10:17 am PT
William R. Rivkin Award for Constructive Dissent by a Mid-Career Officer – Jefferson Smith, U.S. Embassy Kuwait
Jefferson Smith receives this year’s William R. Rivkin Award for Constructive Dissent by a Mid-Career Officer for his commitment to combatting unfair labor practices and his push for compensation reform for locally employed (LE) staff at posts in the Persian Gulf.
While posted to Kuwait, Management Counselor Smith observed that the nine embassies and consulates in the Persian Gulf region are staffed almost exclusively by third-country nationals (TCNs) who did not enjoy the rights of citizens and earned wages and benefits so low that they could not support their families. U.S. Embassy Kuwait employs more than 200 TCN men and women from 27 different nationalities—and employs no Kuwaitis because the U.S. government does not pay enough to attract them.
Mr. Smith gathered data, framed his arguments and then brought his views to a regional management officers’ conference, where he found allies and organized a regionwide approach. He then wrote a detailed, thoughtful cable to Washington, signed by the six regional ambassadors, proposing that the department should define a new standard for compensating its LE staff at posts employing a majority of TCNs in unfair labor markets.
In short, Mr. Smith challenged the department to lead—not just follow—local practice in these markets. All of his preparation and action had an effect: The under secretary for management approved a Public Interest Determination (a policy exception) to create housing and education allowances for LE staff, and moved U.S. Embassy Kuwait to the top of the list for the next tranche of wage increases. The result was an average 22-percent salary increase in addition to the new allowances.
Mr. Smith’s success in winning a more just compensation package for the LE staff of U.S. Embassy Kuwait was an important milestone that will serve as a model as he and others continue to fight for a more equitable way to compensate employees under these conditions.
Mr. Smith has served in Kuwait since 2014. As a management-coned Foreign Service officer, Mr. Smith has had opportunities to serve in consular, economic, political and management functions in four regional bureaus and six overseas assignments, including Kingston, Dar es Salaam (twice), Yaoundé, Dublin and Kuwait.
The annual award is named after Ambassador William R. Rivkin (1919–1967) who served as ambassador to Luxembourg, Senegal, and Gambia in the 1960s. He is the father of Charles Rivkin, the current U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Economic and Business Affairs, and the former U.S. Ambassador to France (2009-2013). Read A/S Rivkin’s Honoring Constructive Dissent: The William R. Rivkin Award on DipNote.
We should note that this is one of AFSA’s three dissent awards and is separate from the State Department “Dissent Channel.” The FAM precludes the use of the official Channel to address “non-policy issues (e.g., management or personnel issues that are not significantly related to substantive matters of policy).”
Posted: 4:21 pm ET
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According to Tuesday’s Daily Press Briefing, Secretary Kerry met yesterday with a small number, approximately 10 of the 51 signers of the Syria Dissent Channel memo for about a half an hour. The official spox said that “as you can imagine, the group is sizeable, so it wasn’t possible to meet with everybody. But he did have a collegial discussion with them this morning.”
MR KIRBY: I’m – because the dissent channel memo and the contents of it are meant to be privately conveyed, so too I’m afraid are going to have to be the discussions around it. So I’m not going to be able to characterize the content of the Secretary’s conversation with them, because we want to respect the confidentiality of the process. It was, however – it was – I believe the Secretary came away feeling that it was a good discussion, it was worth having. He appreciated their views and just as critically their firm belief in their – in the opportunity that they have to express those views. And so they had a good 30-minute or more conversation.
MR KIRBY: Look, let me do this. So I can tell you a couple of things. He thanked them for expressing their views and for using the dissent channel. And he reaffirmed his strong belief in the value of the dissent channel, which we’ve talked about quite a bit here. So he thanked them for expressing their views, for using the dissent channel to do that. He made clear that he takes the dissent channel seriously and he took their views seriously, and also made clear that he read their message with sincerity. And, again, without talking about the specific detail of it, the Secretary also walked them through his own thought process with respect to this particular issue and the efforts that he’s been expending on this particular issue.
MR KIRBY: I didn’t say and I won’t speculate as to discussions going forward with respect to what we’re doing in Syria or decisions that may or may not get made, either as a result of this message or as a result of ongoing routine discussions that have been had and continue to be had on alternatives. So I’m not going to speculate about the role that this message might play one way or the other.
But if you’re asking me, was this just a show for the Secretary, the answer is absolutely not. I mean, it – certainly he wanted to thank them and pay respect to the process because this is an important issue. But he also didn’t waste time in terms of hearing them out and asking questions and listening to their views and asking them to expound on them further. I mean, that’s the way this Secretary likes to conduct meetings and discussions and to inform himself. And again, I think he found the meeting useful in that regard. But I wouldn’t begin to speculate one way or another what this conversation today or that message did last week in terms of altering, changing any of the thinking going forward. As I said last week, nobody is content with the status quo on the ground and the Administration has been looking at other options with respect to Syria for quite some time. This is not new. And yes, some of those options have included the potential for military initiatives. Again, that’s nothing new. So all these things —
The full DPB transcript is here.
Meanwhile, we had to chase down a couple of concerning rumors related to the dissent memo. We heard an allegation about Congressional pressure for a) the memo and b) the names of the signers. Apparently, “word on the street” is that the Front Office of a certain geographical bureau is “providing names to the Hill in exchange for unblocking some nominations.” We must note that this bureau’s two chief of mission nominees had their confirmation hearing on Tuesday, June 21. There were no indications previously or at this time that these two nominations are subject to a Senate hold.
A State Department spokesperson, on background responded to our inquiry with the following:
“The dissent channel message has been provided to the Hill, but we did not include — nor will we — the names of the authors.”
We do not even want to imagine what a Congressional committee can do with the names or hearings in a partisan fight, in an election year. So that’s one rumor debunked.
We also heard that the subject of this uproar, which appears to have SBU marking (“sensitive but unclassified”) has now been “retroactively classified.”
A State Department spokesperson, on background also told us that “the cable was transmitted on the highside, and was classified confidential by the authors.”
Thanks X for debunking this other rumor.
The draft version published by the New York Times contains the SBU marking. It appears that the final version went out as “confidential” and was transmitted via the classified system. What we still don’t know and may never know is how wide was the distribution of this “Dissent Channel” message and who purposely let this piglet out of the pen. We are still at a loss as to the leaker or leakers’ motive/s and perplexed at the calculation of sending a public message to a President with less than six months left in office.
Here are more links to read:
Here’s an early summer bonus for the “security diplomats”!
Via Burn Bag:
“Am I the only one who was appalled to see 51 FSOs, aka diplomats, aka the folks paid to figure out how to solve problems via negotiation and within the confines of international law, advocating a solution to the Syria crisis that does neither? It seems the militarization of U.S. foreign policy is now complete. Run, don’t walk to the nearest exit.”
- Dissent Channel Leak: Who Gains the Most From Flogging the Laundry Like This? June 21, 2016
- When Policy Battles Break Out in Public — Holy Dissent, What a Mess! June 20, 2016
- NYT Publishes Draft Version of @StateDept Dissent Memo on Syria Without the Names of Signers June 17, 2016
- “Dissent Channel” Message on Syria Policy Signed by 51 @StateDept Officers Leaks June 17, 2016
Posted: 8:26 pm ET
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Also see “Dissent Channel” Message on Syria Policy Signed by 51 @StateDept Officers Leaks and NYT Publishes Draft Version of @StateDept Dissent Memo on Syria Without the Names of Signers from June 17, 2016.
Here is the DPB for today, June 20 with the State Department spox answering questions about the “it’s good” response from Secretary Kerry — apparently, he wasn’t referring to the punctuation:
QUESTION: All right, let’s start with Syria. Earlier today, in one of the events that you just mentioned, the Secretary told our colleague Abigail that he had read the dissent channel memo —
MR KIRBY: Yeah.
QUESTION: — and that he – that it looked good to him, or he said something like, “It’s good,” and that he would —
MR KIRBY: Yeah.
QUESTION: — he was going to meet them. Can you elaborate at all?
MR KIRBY: Well, I don’t know how much more I can —
QUESTION: Well, what does he mean when he said it’s good?
MR KIRBY: I think – I think —
QUESTION: I mean, does that mean he agrees?
MR KIRBY: Well, I’m – again, I’m limited in what I can talk about in terms of the content of a dissent channel message. I think what the Secretary was referring to was the – that he did read it and that I – that he found it to be a well-written argument. But I’m not going to talk about the content. And as for meeting with the authors, he has expressed an interest in meeting with at least some of them. I mean, there’s a lot of them, so I don’t know that we’ll be able to pull off a single meeting with each and every one of them there, but he has expressed an interest in talking to them, and we’ll do that in due course.
QUESTION: So when you say it was a – what did you say, it was a well-presented argument?
MR KIRBY: What I – what I —
QUESTION: Well-written argument?
MR KIRBY: What I think the Secretary was referring to was that he read the paper and thought that it was – thought that it was well written, that it was good in that regard. I won’t talk to the content or his views of the content.
QUESTION: Okay. Well, without talking about what the actual content was, when you say it was well written or the argument is a good one, does that mean that he is prepared to – whatever it says, I’m not asking you about content – that he is prepared to make the case for those – for the positions that are articulated in this cable —
MR KIRBY: Well, two – two thoughts there. First —
QUESTION: — within the Administration?
MR KIRBY: Two thoughts there. First, as you know, the policy planning staff will be preparing a response, as is required. That response is not yet finished, and we don’t publicize – any more than we publicize the contents of dissent channel messages, we don’t publicize the response. But the response is being prepared. As for any espousal of the ideas before, during or after the fact of them being proffered in a dissent channel message, the Secretary very much keeps private his advice and counsel to the President on policy matters, and we’re going to – obviously, we’re going to respect that.
QUESTION: Well, since this became public last week, you will have noticed numerous articles, numerous – or numerous reports saying outright and suggesting strongly that, in fact, the Secretary agrees with many if not all of the points made in this cable. Are you not – are his comments today not indicative of that?
MR KIRBY: His comments today – I would not characterize his comments today as being indicative of a full-throated endorsement of the views in this particular dissent channel message. Again, I can’t speak to content. What I can tell you is a couple of things. One, obviously, whatever views, advice and counsel he presents to the President need to remain private, and they will. And so I won’t get into that. But then also, as I said Friday, he has made no bones about the fact that he is not content with the status quo in Syria. We are not content with the status quo in Syria. Too many people are dying, too many people are being denied basic life-sustaining material – food, water, medicine – and there’s been too little progress on the political track.
QUESTION: Yeah, but —
MR KIRBY: But if you also look – but if you also look at what else he said this morning – I mean, I know that Abigail shouted out a question, but if you look at the transcript of what else he had to say to those college students, he talked about how important it is that we continue to work through a transitional governing process in Syria, and that that is the best way forward – a political solution is still the preferred path forward.
QUESTION: Right, but when you talk about how no one – you’re not, he’s not, no one is satisfied with the status quo – this is a bit of what is actually going on on the ground in Syria – clearly, no one is. But this isn’t a question about the status quo on the situation in Syria. This is a question about the status quo of the policy. So are you not in a position to be able to say that the Secretary is not – that he doesn’t like the status quo, the policy status quo, the U.S. policy status quo?
MR KIRBY: Nobody’s happy with the status quo of events on the ground, and that is why —
QUESTION: Yeah, but what about the policy?
MR KIRBY: — but – I’m getting there.
QUESTION: All right.
MR KIRBY: That is why, as – and I mentioned this Friday – that is why we do consider – we are considering, we are discussing other alternatives, other options that may be applied, mindful that we are, that the current approach is, without question, struggling. But as the President said himself, none of those other options – be they military or not in nature – are better than – in terms of the long-term outcome, are going to be better than the political solution we’re trying to pursue.
QUESTION: Okay. This will be my last one. I – because I’m just a – the – so you – you’re – what you’re saying is that his comment, “It’s good,” refers —
QUESTION: Very good.
QUESTION: Very good.
QUESTION: It’s very good – sorry, it’s very good – that refers to how it was put together, like the grammar and the sentence structure, and not the actual content? Because that strikes me as being a bit —
MR KIRBY: No, I’m not saying he was talking about punctuation. I mean, I —
QUESTION: Oh, okay, so —
MR KIRBY: Obviously – obviously, he read the memo and found it to be a well-crafted argument, well enough that he feels it’s worth meeting with the authors. Now, what exactly did he find in Abigail’s shouted-out – quote, “Very good,” I don’t know. I haven’t spoken to him about every element of it. And again, I’m not going to talk about the content of it from here.
QUESTION: Well, so you can’t – you’re not in a position to say that the “It’s very good” means that he is prepared to make those same arguments within the – as the Administration deliberates?
MR KIRBY: No, I’m not prepared to – I’m not prepared to say that.
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 074.1, paragraph (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.
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.
What a dissent cable looks like — read Dissent From U.S. Policy Toward East Pakistan Cable via National Security Archive/GWU: