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Department of State’s Dissent Channel Revealed

Dozens of newly declassified documents show foreign service staff raising serious concerns about a range of U.S. policies abroad.
A US Foreign Service officer warned that “blatantly illegal” Congressional requests, including the use of a diplomatic pouch to smuggle gemstones and utilizing embassy employees for the “soliciting of female companionship,” were harming “the personal integrity of employees of the Department of State,” according to a Dissent Channel cable newly released to the National Security Archive after a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit.

This 1974 cable from the US Embassy in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, one of the earliest sent via the Dissent Channel, is one of dozens of messages, together with responses by the State Department’s Policy Planning Staff, posted today by the National Security Archive. Cables sent via the Dissent Channel are formal critiques of US policy by employees of the State Department. State responded to the Tegucigalpla dissent by stating that “current guidance...regarding Congressional travel is adequate.”

The topics covered in these formal cables vary widely, from moral concerns over embassies soliciting female companionship for US Congressmen, to calls for the US to act to stop “genocide,” to warnings of errors in intelligence reporting from the Vietnam War, to recommended changes in grand strategy towards the Soviet Union and China. Among the dissents and responses posted today by the Archive are:
  • A dissent over the 1972 “attacks against fuel and other storage facilities in Haiphong [Harbor]” arguing that the renewed bombing was “a breach of the spirit if not the letter of our stated policy to disengage from the Indo-China conflict.” According to the authors, “military triumph, at this juncture, is well beyond the grasp of the United States.”
  • A dissent over the US “policy of non-intervention in Burundi during massive murdering of Hutu tribesmen” which the author characterized as “waiting until reported ‘selective genocide’ has resulted in the elimination of any dissident Hutu leaders.”
  • A dissent over the executive branch’s decision to “initiate[] no steps to discipline a military unit that took action at My Lai” and the “systematic use of electrical torture, beatings, and in some cases, murder, of men, women, and children by [U.S.] military units in Vietnam.” These actions by US soldiers, according to the dissenter, Alexander Peaslee, were “atrocities too similar to those of Nazis.”
  • A dissent over the “hypocritical” US support of the Somoza regime in Nicaragua, bemoaning that the US missed a “unique opportunity … to intervene for once on the right repeat right side” of history.
  • A dissent over US recognition of Guatemalan dictator General Efrain Rios Montt, “a man who may not be in full possession of his mental facilities… who more and more is taking on the image of a despot who believes he rules by divine will” which “stretch[ed] our concept of democracy to its limits.”
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