The Other Plumbers Unit

Posted on: August 7, 2016 by in Uncategorized
No Comments

The Other Plumbers Unit:

The Dissent Channel of the U.S. State Department “If I have done a good job of anything since I’ve been President, it’s to ensure that there are plenty of dissenters.”1 Lyndon Johnson called attention to this bitter irony at a press conference in November 1967. Though Johnson had worked hard to maintain public support for the war in Vietnam, by the end of 1967, an increasing number of Americans vocally disapproved of the administration’s handling of the war. For many, opposition to the war stemmed not just from disagreement with U.S. intervention in Vietnam, but also from the fact that Johnson had kept the extent of such intervention secret. In 1968, the American public did not yet know the details of the administration’s covert operations in Indochina, including the bombing campaign in Laos, which had started four years earlier. Nonetheless a strong and pervasive sense that Johnson was never really telling the truth about the war had already begun to take hold. Images and reports from the war front, which documented the civilian casualties and low morale of American troops, conflicted with Johnson’s insistence that the war could and was being won. The president’s ensuing “credibility gap” played a key role in the public’s disapproval of Johnson and his war in Vietnam.2 Richard Milhous Nixon offered himself to the American people as the candidate who would put an end to the chaos and horrors of the war and the policy of secrecy in the White House. In his campaign for the presidency, he promised to conclude the war not only with “peace and honor” for America, but also with candor and honesty toward the American people. Upon accepting the Republican party’s nomination, Nixon declared, “Let us begin by committing ourselves to the truth, to see it like it is and tell it like it is, to speak the truth and to live the truth.” In contrast to Johnson, who had gained a reputation for trying to suppress dissent, Nixon vowed to “bring dissenters into policy discussions.”3 1. Lyndon B. Johnson, White House Press Conference, November 17, 1967, in Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: Lyndon Johnson, 1967 (Washington, DC, 1968), 2:495. 2. Stanley Kutler, The Wars of Watergate: The Last Crisis of Richard Nixon (New York, 1990), 24, 18, 21. 3. Nixon, quoted in Kutler, 618–19; Joan Hoff, Nixon Reconsidered (New York, 1994), 208; Nixon, quoted in Kutler, 131. Diplomatic History, Vol. 35, No. 2 (April 2011). © 2011 The Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations (SHAFR). Published by Wiley Periodicals, Inc., 350 Main Street, Malden, MA 02148, USA and 9600 Garsington Road, Oxford OX4 2DQ, UK. 321 Once in office, however, Nixon adopted an approach toward Vietnam that differed little from that of his predecessor, directing a massive military campaign, which included the bombing and invasion of Cambodia, reconnaissance bombings of North Vietnam, and a ground offensive in Laos. Like Johnson, Nixon conceived of his military offensive as part of a broader diplomatic strategy, intended to further negotiations with the North Vietnamese. When Nixon spoke to the American public about his strategy in Vietnam, he underscored the importance of transferring responsibility to the South Vietnamese—a strategy that he referred to as “Vietnamization.” As many historians have pointed out, one can hardly see how these activities made Vietnam any more or the United States any less responsible for the war. Between 1969 and 1972, as Nixon moved ahead with his plan to end the hostilities, 22,000 Americans and hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese died in the war. Like Johnson, Nixon conducted many of these operations covertly, initiating the expanded bombing and land campaign without consulting Congress, the State Department, or the rest of the foreign policy establishment. So much for candor and honesty.4 In May 1969, the New York Times broke the story on the bombs being dropped over Cambodia. The news put an end to the broad popular support of Nixon’s strategy in the war. Of the nearly 1,800 antiwar demonstrations in 1969–1970, most took place after the revelation of the Cambodia invasion. In October 1969, the Vietnam Moratorium Committee hosted the largest protest in American history, only to be surpassed by another one the following month. The shooting of student protesters at Kent and Jackson State colleges in May of 1970, which killed six and injured twenty-one, further fueled the antiwar effort. For many young Americans who opposed the war in Vietnam, dissent from U.S. foreign policy was not only legitimate, but necessary. To be silent was to condone the status quo.5 The same sense of frustration with Johnson’s policies in Vietnam that led young Americans to demonstrate their dissent outside the halls of government led young civil servants to do the same within those halls. Nowhere was the proliferation of internal dissenters more striking than in the State Department—the agency that was in principle responsible for the nation’s diplomacy and that in theory advocated diplomatic (as opposed to military) solutions to international crises. During the Johnson administration, George 4. Jeremi Suri, “Henry Kissinger and American Grand Strategy,” in Nixon and the World: American Foreign Relations, 1969–1977, ed. Fredrik Logevall and Andrew Preston (New York, 2008), 75; Hoff, 175, 219; Lien-Hang T. Nguyen, “Waging War on All Fronts: Nixon, Kissinger, and the Vietnam War, 1969–1972,” in ed. Logevall and Preston, 196; Suri in ed. Logevall and Preston, 74; Dominic Sandbrook, “Salesmanship and Substance: The Influence of Domestic Policy and Watergate,” in ed. Logevall and Preston, 91; Hoff, 166, 215, 221; Nguyen, in ed. Logevall and Preston, 188. 5. Kutler, 119, 157; J. Anthony Lukas, Nightmare: The Underside of the Nixon Years (New York, 1976), 9; Nguyen, in ed. Logevall and Preston, 194; David Greenberg, “Nixon as Statesman: The Failed Campaign,” in ed. Logevall and Preston, 52; Lukas, 9. 322 : diplomatic history Ball had been the highest-level dissenter in the department, but he was certainly not the only one. The Foreign Service officers working under him were generally less willing than their boss to remain loyal to the institution. Like their counterparts outside the bureaucracy, many spoke with their feet. In 1968, the climax of antiestablishment activity in the Johnson administration, 266 Foreign Service officers resigned, and only 103 new officers entered, as compared to 219 the previous year.6 By the time Nixon assumed office in 1969, those who had chosen to remain in government service began to speak with words. When the president announced his decision to invade Cambodia in April 1970, twenty Foreign Service officers sent a letter to Secretary of State William Rogers condemning the invasion. It was the largest collective protest in the State Department to date. The outspokenness of the signatories contrasted sharply with the passivity of previous generations in the State Department, who had effectively gone into hibernation in response to the attacks of McCarthy and his allies. John Marks, one of those who resigned in opposition to the war, gave a name to the emergence of a new type of “skeptical diplomat” who distrusted the State Department “as an institution.” In a play on Nixon’s failed policy in the war, he called it the “Vietnamization of the Foreign Service.”7 In was now, in the worst crisis of legitimacy in the history of American foreign relations, in which diplomats as well as the public had come to distrust the foreign policy establishment, that the State Department created its official “Dissent Channel.” Implemented in 1971, the Dissent Channel allowed Foreign Service officers to send their disagreements with the policy status quo directly to the secretary of state, who would then have the responsibility of reading it, considering its merits, and responding with a substantive message of his own.8 Many organizations have some kind of mechanism for internal dissenters to voice their positions. The Dissent Channel stands out not only in the elaborate formality of this mechanism, but also as a form of public relations, through which the Nixon and successive administrations have tried to enhance their image as embracers of dissent. In institutionalizing dissent and marketing the institutional mechanism to the public, the State Department became, as one commentator has noted, “unique as a historical entity and government bureaucracy.”9 Needless to say, in the thirty-eight years of its existence, the Dissent Channel has done little to impact U.S. foreign policy.10 Case closed. Or maybe 6. David T. Jones, “Advise and Dissent: The Diplomat as Protester,” Foreign Service Journal (April 2000): 37, 7. John Marks, “From Diplomat to Dissident: A State Department Odyssey,” Foreign Service Journal (April 2000): 34, 8. In 1971, there had yet to be a woman secretary of state. 9. David T. Jones, “Is There Life after Dissent?” Foreign Service Journal ( June 2002): 26, 10. Perhaps this is partly why there is so little historical scholarship on the channel. Writing what is to my knowledge the only historical article on the Dissent Channel, Kai Bird concluded that “none” of the dissent cables submitted through the channel “actually changed policy.” Kai The Other Plumbers Unit : 323 not. The very failure of the Dissent Channel to impact policy reflects the channel’s success at quelling internal dissent in a way that the public could actually support. The Dissent Channel thus deserves attention as a neglected, but illuminating element of the politics of secrecy and the public’s fight for transparency in the Nixon administration, a fight that continues to the present day. the emergence of the dissent channel Given Nixon’s post-Watergate reputation as an antidemocratic reactionary, it is easy to overlook his administration’s desire to be seen as progressive reformers, especially in the arena of foreign policy. While the president and his national security adviser, Henry Kissinger, made foreign policy largely in secret, they made a substantial effort to promote the larger geopolitical philosophy undergirding their strategy and underscoring the extent to which that policy constituted a creative departure from the orthodoxy of the past two decades. In a series of National Security Council (NSC) reports, written by NSC staff and Kissinger himself, published between 1970 and 1973, the administration underscored the newness and freshness of its approach to foreign policy. No longer relying on the “isms” of the postwar period, Nixon and Kissinger continually furthered the impression that they were advancing a wiser and more flexible foreign policy that appreciated differences within the Communist bloc and moved beyond the stale ideological divisions of the past.11 Although Nixon and Kissinger emphasized the new and progressive nature of their geopolitical strategy, their concept of how policy should be formulated in Washington was anything but that. In Nixon’s framework, however new and revised, foreign policy was made only by the president and his national security adviser. While Nixon and Kissinger strategized about how to singlehandedly move America to a new kind of foreign policy, a different kind of reform was being discussed in the State Department, where a new generation Bird, “Dissent in the Foreign Service,” APF Reporter 8, no. 1: 4, http://www.aliciapatterson. org/. Most of the little else that has been written about the channel has appeared in the Foreign Service Journal. While illuminating, these pieces tend toward personal narrative and offer only glimpses into the larger history of the Dissent Channel. Since the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, individual users of the Dissent Channel have been interviewed on radio and television programs. These programs mention the Dissent Channel, but mainly as a platform for revealing the extent of dissent in the diplomatic establishment, which then becomes a pretext for generic discussions of U.S. foreign policy in Iraq. See, for example, “The Man Who Knew,” 60 Minutes, February 4, 2004, CBS,; “Channeling Dissent from the Foreign Service,” NPR Morning Edition, October 14, 2004, Neither the diplomats who tell their stories nor the news shows that popularize them has made an effort to analyze the Dissent Channel itself. 11. Dan Caldwell, “The Legitimation of the Nixon-Kissinger Grand Design and Strategy,” Diplomatic History 33, no. 4 (September 2009): 643–45). 324 : diplomatic history of management professionals had come to power. Since the early 1960s, some in charge of managing the diplomatic establishment had become advocates of “new” management theory. Calling for a more open and egalitarian style of communication between employees at all levels of large bureaucracies, they argued that it was in the department’s best interest to affirm rather than denounce the emerging culture of dissent.12 These State Department officials were responding to the same cultural shift that Nixon had tapped into in his presidential campaign against Johnson. Unlike Nixon, however, administrators in the State Department actually took steps to back their rhetoric with action. Following some false starts and reverses in the sixties, in 1970, Deputy Under Secretary of State for Administration William Macomber formed a tentative alliance with radical young leaders in the rank-and-file known as the Young Turks. Together, they launched a large-scale reform project, in which volunteers from all levels of the bureaucracy joined task forces to gather and analyze State Department employees’ opinions about their work environments. Out of their reports, the State Department published a six-hundred page set of recommendations, entitled Diplomacy for the 70s. 13 On the issue of dissent, nearly everyone agreed. Although every administration since Truman had paid lip service to the value of policy debate in government service, there was no formal mechanism through which rank-and-file bureaucrats could safely and effectively express their “alternative” or “adversarial” views. Implemented less than a year after the release of Diplomacy for the 70s, the Dissent Channel was supposed to give some institutional teeth to the official support for rank-and-file dissent.14 Or at least that was the official line. As critics have pointed out, “new” management practices can do as much to stifle real reform as to advance it.15 Even if we grant that Macomber and other administrative heads in the State Department were relatively progressive in matters of bureaucratic management, 12. U.S. Department of State, A Management Program for the Department of State (Washington, DC, September 1966). For background and assessment of the State Department’s management reform effort in the late 1960s and early 1970s, see Frederick C. Mosher, “Some Observations about Foreign Service Reform: Famous First Words,” Public Administration Review 29, no. 6 (November–December 1969): 600–10; Andrew M. Scott, “Environmental Change and Organizational Adaptation: The Problems of the State Department,” International Studies Quarterly 14, no.1 (March 1970): 85–94); William Bacchus, “Diplomacy for the 70s: An Afterview and Appraisal,” The American Political Science Review 68, no. 2 ( June 1974): 736–48; Tex Harris, “AFSA Becomes a Union: The Reformers’ Victory,” Foreign Service Journal ( June 2003): 18–27, 13. U.S. Department of State, Diplomacy for the 70s (Washington, DC, 1970), 295–97, 391–93. 14. Donald Warwick, A Theory of Public Bureaucracy: Politics, Personality, and Organization in the State Department (Cambridge, MA, 1975), 9–10; American Foreign Service Association, Toward a Modern Diplomacy: A Report to the American Foreign Service Association (Washington, DC, 1968), 55–59. 15. Thomas Frank, The Conquest of Cool: Business Culture, Counterculture, and the Rise of Hip Consumerism (Chicago, 1997). The Other Plumbers Unit : 325 the president decidedly was not. Distrustful of bureaucrats in general, like many a president before him, Nixon believed that State Department officers were especially out to sabotage his policies. “We have no discipline in this bureaucracy,” Nixon complained early on in the White House. “We never fire anybody. . . . We always promote the sons of bitches that kick us in the ass . . . When a bureaucrat deliberately thumbs his nose, we’re going to get him. . . . The little boys over in state particularly, that are against us, we will do it.” In fact, Nixon appointed William Rogers as secretary of state primarily because he believed Rogers would be an effective disciplinarian of his subordinates. Practicing what Stanley Kutler had called “the administrative presidency,” Nixon used Rogers and other administrators to control the bureaucracy. With the State Department and the secretary of state thus controlled and marginalized, Nixon and Kissinger could dominate foreign policy without worrying that their efforts would be undermined from within.16 However progressive the creators of the Dissent Channel may have been, they were surely aware that this mechanism would be implemented in an administration intent on keeping the State Department weak and disciplined. The principle of controlling and containing State Department officers applied especially to those who were partial to the antiwar movement. In 1971, despite the fact that the popular antiwar movement had actually subsided in response to the ending of the draft and initiation of troop withdrawals from Vietnam, the administration’s effort to crack down on antiwar protesters remained in full gear.17 In some cases, the president’s tactics were overtly draconian. When members and supporters of the May Day antiwar coalition tried to occupy the capital and paralyze the federal government, Nixon had thousands arrested without charge and sent to the Robert F. Kennedy stadium, where they waited without food, water, or sanitation until the threat subsided. By the end of the two-day skirmish, more than ten thousand protesters had been arrested, making it the largest mass arrest in American history. Most of Nixon’s crackdown on dissenters and political opponents took less violent, albeit more sinister, forms. Whenever possible, the administration tried to smear and discredit protesters. As would later be revealed, Nixon and his advisers oversaw the wiretapping of designated political enemies, through which they hoped to obtain unseemly information that could be used to tarnish otherwise reputable opponents.18 These and other “dirty trick” tactics of the Nixon administration are now well known to the point of cliché. Less well known is the administration’s 16. Kutler, 94; Lukas, 18; Kutler, 95–96; Fredrik Logevall and Andrew Preston, “The Adventurous Journey of Nixon in the World,” in ed. Logevall and Preston, 5. 17. Hoff, 221, 227, 231). As Sandbrook notes, relative to the Johnson years, antiwar movement decreased between 1969 and 1972. Sandbrook, in ed. Logevall and Preston, 92. 18. Lukas, 9; Greenberg, in ed. Logevall and Preston, 53. 326 : diplomatic history somewhat surprising approval and marketing of the Dissent Channel. Ironically, by promoting internal dissent, Nixon was able to quell and contain dissenters in his midst and, moreover, to do so with the support of some of his otherwise staunchest critics. containing dissent: the dissent channel and the pentagon papers Nixon and his predecessors loathed dissenters not so much because they posed a threat on the inside, but rather because they might make their views public. Especially in the age of mass media, to be a dissenter is to be a potential leaker to the press of one’s conflict with the White House. While Presidents Kennedy and Johnson had both harbored a special distrust of the State Department as a source of such leaks, Nixon took this long-standing hostility to new heights. As early as May 1969, the administration began to wiretap suspected leakers. When the letter protesting the Cambodian invasion actually did leak to the press, Nixon directed senior officials in the department to “make sure all those sons of bitches are fired first thing in the morning.” Though in this instance U. Alexis Johnson, then undersecretary of state for political affairs, managed to prevent their dismissal, he and other senior officials could not continue to vouch for dissenters in their midst without themselves falling under the suspicious eye of the president.19 In June 1971, the insecurity of internal dissenters in the executive branch became a matter of national scandal. Former Defense Department analyst Daniel Ellsberg leaked The Pentagon Papers—the forty-seven-volume, topsecret study of inside decision making on Vietnam since 1940—to the New York Times and the Washington Post. The documents offered concrete proof of what many Americans already suspected—that for two decades, successive administrations had purposively shielded the extent and nature of U.S. actions in Vietnam from the American public. Though the Pentagon Papers did not deal directly with the current administration, Nixon and Kissinger nonetheless worried that they would perpetuate a credibility problem and further fuel the antiwar movement.20 The crisis unleashed the full force of conservatism in the White House. The federal government issued an injunction against the newspapers and pressed charges against Ellsberg. Suspecting the State Department’s involvement, Nixon ordered a loyalty test for every one of its employees. While Nixon’s staff never actually carried out this order, they did respond to the president’s implicit directive to plug the leaks once and for all. “If we can’t get anyone to do 19. Kutler, 173; Lukas, 45; U. Alexis Johnson, The Right Hand of Power (Englewood Cliffs, NJ, 1984), 531. Though Nixon often blamed leaks on State and Rogers, it was actually Kissinger who was responsible for much of the leaking. Hoff, 148, 150. 20. Kutler, 109; Lukas, 69. The Other Plumbers Unit : 327 something about the problem that may be the most serious one we have,” railed Nixon, “then, by god, we’ll do it ourselves.”21 In addition to dirty tricks carried out by the secret Plumbers Unit, administrators in executive branch agencies transformed themselves into overt and unabashed plumbers units, who would accomplish with legal means what Nixon’s staff was attempting to accomplish secretly. In the court proceedings against Ellsberg, the government’s star witness was none other than William Macomber.22 As they finalized the guidelines of the Dissent Channel over the course of the year, senior State Department officials increasingly prioritized the prevention of leaks. In order to ensure that dissent telegrams and memos would not fall into the wrong hands, agency heads stipulated that the messages be given top-secret classification. “The right of dissent is very important,” Macomber assured the public. “And no one’s been pushing for it harder than I. But we want to keep it in the house.”23 an automatic high-level audience: to quell and contain dissent As president, Nixon frequently claimed that he would do what was best for the country, regardless of how it might affect his reputation. Contrary to what he said, Nixon cared greatly about his public image. In the fall of 1971, while the president continued to keep the details of his unsuccessful diplomatic overtures in Vietnam secret, he made sure the cameras were there to capture his trips to Beijing and Moscow.24 With the same motive of enhancing the administration’s reputation, the Nixon administration similarly distorted the Dissent Channel, presenting it to the public as a tool that would increase the influence of rankand-file diplomats on foreign policy. Touting the importance of internal dissent to a group of reporters, Macomber proclaimed, “We want to get it to those people in positions of authority who can do something about it.”25 The very first telegram submitted through the Dissent Channel in April 1971 illustrates just how distorting this claim actually was. In December 1970 East Pakistan, whose population was majority Bengali, a group that had historically been treated as second-class citizens by the ruling elite of West Pakistan, voted overwhelmingly for representatives of the Awami League, which advocated for an autonomous East Pakistan. Rather than accept the outcome, the leader of the 21. Kutler, 108, Nixon quoted in Kutler, 112; Hoff, 296. 22. David Rudenstine, The Day The Presses Stopped: A History of the Pentagon Papers Case (Berkeley, CA, 1996), 200, 208, 380n5; Tom Wells, Wild Man: The Life and Times of Daniel Ellsberg (New York, 2001); Daniel Ellsberg, Secrets: A Memoir of Vietnam and the Pentagon Papers (New York, 2002). 23. “State Department Tells Envoy to Mute Dissent,” quoted in Esterline and Black, 231–32. 24. Kutler, 167; Sandbrook in ed. Logevall and Preston, 94. 25. “State Department Tells Envoys to Mute Dissent,” 232. 328 : diplomatic history military junta ruling Pakistan, General Yahya Kahn, cracked down, arresting the leaders of the Awami League and prompting mass protests in the streets. In response, Yahya unleashed the military on East Pakistan, initiating what was essentially a genocide against the Bengali people. State Department employees specializing in South Asia had foreseen such a crisis and had cautioned the administration to take steps to prevent it. But when the administration chose not to act, Dacca consulate members were forced to wait in the shadows, as thousands were killed in death squads on the streets— 7,000 in a single night—and millions fled to India, creating one of the worst refugee crises in history.26 Dismayed and frustrated, members of the Dacca consulate sent a Dissent Channel message to Washington on April 6. The dissent memo challenged the administration’s decision not to publicly condemn the genocide being committed against the Bengalis by the Pakistani military. “Our government has failed to denounce the suppression of democracy. Our government has failed to denounce atrocities. . . . We, as professional public servants express our dissent with current policy and fervently hope that our true and lasting interests can be defined and our policies redirected in order to salvage our nation’s position as a moral leader of the free world.”27 Nixon had long harbored hostility toward the leaders of India and a striking warmth toward those of its enemy, Pakistan, a feeling that was only strengthened when Pakistan offered to play a role in aiding a renewal of U.S.-China relations. It would have been impossible to convince the administration to put pressure on Yahya, whom Nixon and Kissinger regarded not only as an ally, but also as their main connection to China.28 When they first learned of the likelihood of violence on a massive scale, Kissinger had decisively directed against action of any sort. One week before the dissent cable was sent, Nixon wrote to Yahya, 26. Roger McMahon, “The Danger of Geopolitical Fantasies: Nixon, Kissinger, and the South Asia Crisis of 1971,” in ed. Logevall and Preston, 257. For primary sources on the U.S. response to the 1971 crisis in Pakistan, see “The Tilt: The U.S. and the South Asian Crisis of 1971,” ed. Sajit Gandhi, Digital National Security Archive, Electronic Briefing Book no. 79, (accessed February 19, 2008) (hereafter “The Tilt”); U.S. Department of State, Papers Relating to the Foreign Relations of the United States, 1969–1976, 1971 (Washington, DC, 2005) (hereafter FRUS followed by appropriate year); FRUS, Documents on South Asia 1969–1972 (Washington, DC, 2005); FRUS, 1969–1976, South Asia Crisis (Washington, DC, 2005). For a discussion of the telegram from the perspective of Archer Blood, Chief Foreign Service officer at the Dacca consulate, see Archer K. Blood, interview by Henry Precht, Foreign Affairs Oral History Project (The Association for Diplomatic Studies and Training, 1989), 15–18. Kissinger discusses the crisis in White House Years (Boston, 1979), 842–919. See also Christopher Van Hollen, “The Tilt Policy Revisited: Nixon-Kissinger Geopolitics and South Asia,” Asian Survey 20, no. 4 (April 1980): 339–61. 27. U.S. Department of State, Telegram, “Dissent From U.S. Policy toward East Pakistan,” April 6, 1971, in “The Tilt.” 28. The State Department had been deliberately kept out of conversations between Yahya and the White House regarding overtures to China. McMahon in ed. Logevall and Preston, 255. The Other Plumbers Unit : 329 expressing his happiness that Yahya had been able to cement his role as leader of all Pakistan.29 Not surprisingly, the Dissent Channel did not change the president’s position. But it did contribute to a growing concern about leaks. This much is clear from the response of Secretary of State William Rogers to the cable. Upon receiving the message, Rogers called Kissinger. The telegram was, he said, “miserable,” “terrible,” and “inexcusable.” It was bad enough that they “had bitched about our policies,” but the real problem was that they had given it lots of distribution so it will probably leak,” railed Rogers to Kissinger.30 Kissinger agreed and was particularly concerned that the memo would leak to Ted Kennedy, a vocal opponent of the administration’s South Asia policy. The head of the Dacca consulate, Archer Blood, was transferred to another post, as were many of his colleagues. Thereafter, Nixon and Kissinger cut themselves off completely from the South Asia experts in the State Department, whose voices were ignored when the situation escalated from humanitarian crisis within Pakistan to a full-blown war between Pakistan and India.31 As its inaugural message demonstrates, the Dissent Channel did more to isolate, discipline, and contain dissent than to advance the policy positions of dissenters. The administration’s preoccupation with leaks is evident in its response to the journalist who publicized the story that the users of the Dissent Channel could not. In December 1971, using materials from the White House Special Action Group, Jack Anderson of the New York Times announced that Nixon had directed a “tilt” toward Pakistan, despite the administration’s public posture of neutrality. One White House official contemplated having Anderson assassinated. As it turned out, Anderson’s source was Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) staffer Charles Radford, who had seized the Special Action Group’s documents merely to help his superiors in the JCS find out more about policy. The White House put wiretaps on Radford and others, including an officer in the State Department.32 the dissent channel as exception to the politics of watergate There was a self-replicating and escalating logic to the Nixon administration’s secret efforts to contain and vilify its opponents. Each effort left loose ends that needed to be tied and revealed bigger and more powerful enemies, whose containment would require more extreme tactics. The closer Nixon and his 29. Nixon to Yahya, August 7, 1971, in ed. Gandhi; McMahon, in ed. Logevall and Preston, 250, 252, 258. 30. “Transcript of Telephone Conversation Between Secretary of State Rogers and the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger),” April 6, 1971. FRUS, 1969– 1976, South Asia Crisis, 11: 47; Kissinger, White House Years, 853; MacMahon, ed. Logevall and Preston, 244. 31. McMahon, ed. Logevall and Preston, 259, 264; Archer Blood Oral History, 24–39. 32. Lukas, 104–05. 330 : diplomatic history advisers came to the edge of the law, the greater the need to keep their tactics secret. It was only a matter of time before the president and his henchmen would become dependent upon secrecy to shroud their elaborate and widespread attempts at quelling the opposition. This is precisely what happened in the months following the botched robbery of the Democratic National Committee’s headquarters at the Watergate hotel on June 17, 1972, by five men associated with the Committee to Re-elect the President. Over the next two years, as the scandal came to dominate the American political scene, Nixon would go to great lengths to cover up what he himself would later call a “second-rate burglary.” More than the burglary itself, Nixon’s response to it had become the emblem of his administration’s abuse of power. The Watergate scandal dominated the political scene from 1973 to Nixon’s resignation in August 1974. Its shadow loomed over the Ford administration, putting the issue of accountability at the forefront of American foreign policy and presidential power, and revealing the absurdity of Nixon’s claims to be a candid and honest president who wished to create an open White House in which dissenting views would be welcome. Watergate became the exemplum of the “imperial presidency” and abuse of executive privilege that former government officials, journalists, and academics identified and denounced, thus shaping the historical legacy of the Nixon administration for decades to come.33 In the midst of this backlash against the imperial presidency, a public debate over a Dissent Channel message became the exception to the new earnestness in challenging the abuse of executive power. For what it reveals about the limits of post-Watergate reform, particularly in terms of transparency in foreign policy, the case is worth illuminating in some detail. In 1975, the House Select Committee on Intelligence, also known as the Pike Committee (for its chair New York’s Democratic Congressperson Otis Pike), began to investigate the process of gathering intelligence and making decisions in recent foreign affairs crises. As part of its enquiry, it subpoenaed an official dissent memo on U.S. foreign policy in Cyprus. The memo had been written in August 1974 by Thomas Boyatt, who had served as chief of the Cyprus Desk during the coup in which the Greek military junta had overthrown the Cypriot president. Before the coup, Boyatt had sent a series of messages through the regular cable channels, predicting that continued 33. Hoff, 304. For the contemporary condemnation of Nixon’s imperial presidency and abuse of presidential power, see Arthur Schlesinger, The Imperial Presidency (Boston, 1973); Raoul Berger, Executive Privilege: A Constitutional Myth (Cambridge, MA, 1974); Charles Hardin, Presidential Power and Accountability (Chicago, 1974); Izhak Galnoor, “Government Secrecy: Exchanges, Intermediaries, and Middlemen,” Public Administration Review 35, no. 1 ( January–February 1975): 32–42; Leon Sigal, “Official Secrecy and Informal Communication in Congressional-Bureaucratic Relations,” Political Science Quarterly 90, no. 1 (Spring 1975): 71–92; Harold Relyea, “Opening Government to Public Secrecy: A Decade of Federal Efforts,” Public Administration Review 35, no. 1 ( January–February 1975): 3–10. The Other Plumbers Unit : 331 passive support for the rebels would result in an overthrow of the Cypriot government, giving Turkey an excuse to invade the island on behalf of the Turkish minority there. Events played out according to Boyatt’s dire predictions. Months of war in the region resulted in the eventual partition of Cyprus between Turkish and Greek enclaves still in existence today. In his Dissent Channel message, Boyatt argued that the United States could and should have done more to prevent the coup, specifically by informing Ioannides, the head of the Greek military junta and mastermind of the coup, that it did not support his plan and warning him that it would lead to serious hostilities between Greece and Turkey. Yet, in line with the administration’s passive attitude toward the Greek junta, the American ambassador, Henry Tasca, had resisted his subordinates’ calls to this end. After the coup, Boyatt argued, the United States could have done more to prevent the Turkish invasion, by putting pressure on Greece to remove Nikos Sampson, who had taken over in Cyprus. But again, following the policy of passivity endorsed in Washington, the American ambassador did no such thing, thus making Turkey’s intervention inevitable. Boyatt critiqued the current policy of partition, arguing that it did not solve the fundamental problem and warning that it was only a matter of time before the current instability erupted into renewed violence.34 Experts on Cyprus generally agree that Kissinger was willfully ignorant of the area’s complex political dynamic. “He knew nothing about Cyprus and did not bother to inform himself,” wrote George Ball who had been critical in preventing such a disaster in the Johnson administration.35 Almost immediately afterreading Boyatt’s dissent memo, Kissinger had Boyatt removed from the Cyprus desk.36 In so doing, he sent Boyatt and other would-be dissenters a clear message about the consequences of voicing opposition to the administration’s policies. Yet, just as Macomber and others had originally presented the Dissent Channel to the public in a rather rosy light, so did Kissinger now present his relationship to internal dissenters in a way that masked his actual hostility toward them. In a letter to the Pike Committee, he explained that he could not possibly comply with the request, as doing so would breach the loyalty he owed his subordinates in the State Department. “The ‘Dissent Channel,’ through which this memorandum was submitted,” he wrote, “provides those officers with the Department of State who disagree with established policy, or who have new policies to recommend, a means of communicating their views to the highest 34. U.S. Department of State, “Critique of the Substantive Handling of the Cyprus Crisis from Boyatt to Kissinger,” Dissent Channel Message, August 9, 1974, Department of State Records, Records of Assistant Secretary of State Joeseph Sisco, Record Group 59, National Archives, College Park, Maryland. Thanks to Bill Burr for persevering with the National Archives to get them to release this document. 35. George Ball, The Past Has Another Pattern (New York, 1982), 359. 36. Thomas Boyatt, Presentation at the Foreign Service Institute, September 30, 1992, Foreign Affairs Oral History Project (The Association for Diplomatic Studies and Training, 1998), 2. 332 : diplomatic history levels of the Department.” If these officers are to “give their best,” he explained, they “must enjoy a guarantee that their advice or criticism candidly given, will remain privileged.” “There have been other times and other committees—and there may be again—where positions taken by Foreign Service Officers were exposed to ex post facto public examination and recrimination. The results are too well known to need elaboration here.” But he elaborated them nonetheless: “gross injustice to loyal public servants, a sapping of the morale and the abilities of the Foreign Service; and serious damage to the ability of the Department and the President to formulate and conduct the foreign affairs of the nation.”37 Kissinger was, of course, invoking the specter of McCarthyism, which had taken such a great toll on the State Department in the 1950s, the scars of which had not yet fully healed. In accusing the diplomatic establishment of tilting U.S. foreign policy in the interest of world communism, McCarthy and others made a point of obtaining the policy papers of the rank and file, which they used as evidence of communist conspiracy.38 In the months, years, and decades following these attacks, the State Department vowed to protect the rank and file from future political assaults. Never again, department heads promised, would outsiders be able to hold a Foreign Service officer responsible for his positions. In place of individual responsibility, in its dealings with Congress and the press, the department would stress a sort of collective or organizational responsibility. This meant that individual Foreign Service officers were not to be held publicly accountable for the words they wrote as government servants. In effect, the department permanently removed the notion of individual authorship and in its place substituted a version of corporate authorship. The secretary of state used the ghost of McCarthyism to advance his own and the administration’s own interests. Mobilizing the image of himself as benevolent protector of the Foreign Service against the threat of a McCarthyist renewal, Kissinger argued that he and other senior policymakers in the State Department, and not the rank-and-file, should be “held accountable” for the agency’s foreign policy decisions. To this end, the secretary volunteered to testify before the committee. In lieu of handing over the memos submitted to him, he offered to prepare a “summary” of all the dissenting documents he had received (and rejected) in relation to the Cyprus crisis on the grounds that the names of the individual authors would remain confidential. Thus framed, no decent liberal, or any American for that matter, could take issue with the department’s stance. 37. Henry Kissinger, “Letter of Secretary of State Kissinger to Chairman Pike,” October 14, 1975, reprinted in House Select Committee on Intelligence, 94th Cong., 2d sess., 1975, H. Rep. 94–833 (Washington, DC, 1976), 913–19, hereafter cited as Pike Committee Hearings. 38. See, for example, Joseph McCarthy, speeches on the floor of the U.S. Senate, February 20 and March 30, 1950, reprinted in Senate Subcommittee of the Committee on Foreign Relations, State Department Employee Loyalty Investigation: Hearings pursuant to S. Res. 231, 81st Cong., 2d sess. (Washington, DC, 1950), 140, 2031–32. The Other Plumbers Unit : 333 Or could they? Congress had certainly witnessed these tactics before. It had only been two years since the scandal of Watergate had begun to rock the nation. In his grand effort to cover up the scandal, Nixon had instructed his subordinates to do everything they could to prevent the investigation from airing the administration’s dirty laundry. The precise directive was to “stonewall” it. When Congress began to request tapes from the White House in the spring of 1973, stonewalling took the form of executive privilege.39 During Watergate, Sam Ervin, who chaired the Senate Select Committee on Presidential Campaign Activities, became one of the strongest critics of Nixon’s attempt to undermine the investigation through executive privilege. A Southern Democrat from North Carolina, who had opposed desegregation, Ervin was no liberal, but instead a conservative defender of civil liberties and a fundamentalist in his readings of the Bible and the Constitution. Ervin regarded Nixon’s leadership as a tyrannical threat to the separation of powers enshrined in the constitution. Questioning the attorney general in April 1973, he demonstrated the extremity of the administration’s stance, insofar as it completely cut Congress off from information coming out of the lower rungs of the executive branch. If the White House were to have its way, it would in effect “deny to the Congress the testimony of any person working for the executive branch of the Government or any document in the possession of anybody working for the Government.”40 This is precisely what Nixon attempted to do in July 1973, when he refused to answer the subpoena on grounds of national security. The same month, the Justice Department’s special prosecutor, Archibald Cox, delivered subpoenas of his own to the White House, with which Nixon also refused to comply.41 Up to this point, Nixon had weathered the storm of Watergate fairly well, coasting on his landslide victory in the reelection race, due in part to relatively broad support for his Vietnam policies as well as his emphasis on fighting crime and achieving stability on the domestic front. Despite severe criticism of the Christmas bombing campaign in North Vietnam and the beginning of the Watergate investigation, Nixon’s popularity peaked in early 1973, after the signing of the Paris Peace Accords. It was the legal battle between Nixon and Congress, on the one hand, and Nixon and Cox, on the other, that sparked the first dramatic decline of confidence in the president. After a series of decisions and appeals on behalf of the Justice Department, the case went to the Supreme Court, which in 1974 delivered a unanimous verdict against the White House. Executive privilege, while not without its merits, was not absolute.42 39. Kutler, 264. Kutler notes the irony that Nixon was on the other side of executive privilege in the Alger Hiss case. Ibid., 515. 40. Lukas, 386; Hoff, 291; Ervin, quoted in Kutler, 348. 41. Kutler, 371, 384; Lukas, 383, 385. 42. Sandbrook, in ed. Logevall and Preston, 92, 96–97; Nguyen, in ed. Logevall and Preston, 200; Kutler, 323, 388, 400. In his 1974 book Executive Privilege, legal scholar Raoul Berger argued that, in fact, there was no legal foundation for executive privilege. 334 : diplomatic history Yet, in 1975, only one congressman on the Pike Committee voiced concern over Kissinger’s invocation of executive privilege. Not so fast, said Chairman Pike, who, along with several members of the committee, distrusted Kissinger’s unprecedented power in U.S. foreign policy.43 More than any other member of the committee, Pike saw a relationship between Kissinger’s foreign policy power and his power to control and contain the writing of his subordinates in the State Department. When the secretary testified before the committee on October 31, the senator questioned whether a summary could ever substitute for the original. “This Congress,” Pike told Kissinger, “has been subject to alleged ‘summaries’ before. There is no such thing as a ‘full summary.’ ” Even if the secretary did not deliberately intend to distort the policy recommendations contained in Boyatt’s memo, by summarizing it and the other documents, Kissinger would, by definition, alter them. Congress must follow the “best evidence rule,” argued Pike. And “the best evidence of what Mr. Boyatt said is not your summary of it, or anybody else’s summary of it. It is what Mr. Boyatt said.”44 In a compromise gesture, Kissinger offered to provide the committee with an “amalgamation” of the dissenting views on Cyprus. Unlike a summary, the amalgamated document would, he promised, contain “the full contents of Mr. Boyatt’s memorandum to me.” These words would be “interspersed among the other paragraphs and without any identification of authorship.”45 For Pike, it would not suffice to say that all the words of Boyatt’s memo would be in the amalgamated document. By that measure, he pointed out, “The submission of a dictionary to the committee would be in compliance with the subpoena.” “What I am trying to find out,” Pike explained to his peers, “is the form in which the words are going to be presented to us.” The most fundamental problem with both a summary and an amalgamation, argued Pike, was the fact that it blurred perspective. “If we are not familiar with say, 4 or 6 documents, and all the paragraphs of 4 or 6 documents were interspersed and mixed up like some sort of magnificent jigsaw puzzle and there was no picture, [how could] we could elicit from those mixed-up paragraphs what we are trying to get?”46 In lumping together the telegrams and memos of several dissenters, Kissinger would erase the particular perspective of each one. In order to understand the process of shaping policy from a conglomeration of admittedly partial perspectives, doesn’t one need to have some sense of who wrote what? As Pike pointed out, in an amalgamation, it would be impossible to know whether the dissenting position 43. In addition to being one of the most dominant secretaries of state in the nation’s history, Kissinger was still national security adviser at the time. Brent Scowcroft had been appointed NSC adviser but had not yet been sworn in. 44. Pike Committee Hearings, 843. 45. Pike Committee Hearings; Leslie Gelb and Anthony Lake, “Washington Dateline: A Tale of Two Compromises,” Foreign Policy 22 (Spring 1976): 227. 46. Pike Committee Hearings, 1312. The Other Plumbers Unit : 335 “comes from the doorman or the Ambassador, and that,” he said, is a “ridiculous proposition.”47 By offering to submit a summary of Boyatt’s and others’ written dissent, the State Department implied that the words of rank-and-file Foreign Service officers were not to be interpreted from the perspective of the individuals who wrote them, but rather from that of the senior policymaker who read them. The principle of corporate responsibility thus made it possible for Kissinger to justify presenting the public with a flattened-out version of the rank-and-file’s policy analyses. The absence of authority and authorship thus became mutually reinforcing. By emphasizing the corporate status of career diplomats’ writing, the department underscored the rank-and-file’s impotence in the formulation of foreign policy. Conversely, by emphasizing the need to protect Foreign Service officers from being held accountable for foreign policy decisions, it strengthened its position about the corporate ownership of the rank-and-file’s written words. The pendulum had swung full circle. Whereas McCarthy had branded State Department officers authors of the U.S. policy that made America vulnerable to world communism, the State Department now implied that career diplomats were not authors of policy, in either the symbolic or literal sense of the term. As Pike noted, Congress had been subjected to alleged summaries before. In voicing his concern over Kissinger’s offer, Pike was also invoking a specter— namely, the specter of Watergate. In 1973, after it became clear that neither Congress nor the White House would allow the president to shield the White House tapes from the public, Nixon had proposed a similar compromise to the one Kissinger was now proposing. He offered to hand over an edited or what he called “authenticated” version of the tapes, which would paraphrase relevant portions and excise conversations that were not relevant to the committee’s inquiry. An intermediary, Democratic Senator John Stennis of Mississipi, would oversee and verify the process. After giving the offer some consideration, Cox rejected that proposal, explaining that third-party transcriptions, editing, or paraphrasing of the tapes could not be admissible as evidence in a trial.48 In usual fashion, Nixon responded to the challenge by trying to disempower his opponent. He ultimately succeeded in firing Cox but only after prompting the resignations of Attorney General Eliot Richardson and his deputy, William Ruckelshaus, who did not approve of the decision and refused to carry it out. This episode, known as the Saturday night massacre, stirred the ire of Nixon’s opponents in Congress and the press. The media 47. Ibid., 843. 48. Sandbrook, in ed. Logevall and Preston, 92, 96–97; Nguyen, in ed. Logevall and Preston, 200; Kutler, 323, 388, 400. Ironically, in his 1977 interview with journalist David Frost, when Nixon complained that Frost was reading the transcript of the White House tapes out of context, the former president articulated a view similar to the one he opposed during the investigations into Watergate. Frost/Nixon: The Original Watergate Interviews (1977) (Liberation Entertainment, 2008). 336 : diplomatic history referred to Nixon’s “Gestapo tactics,” and Senator Mike Mansfield openly worried that Nixon wanted to establish a “one-branch government.” Nixon’s public approval rating plummeted even further, and calls for his impeachment began to mount.49 Nixon did finally hand over seven tapes in November 1973, after an adverse ruling from the court of appeals. One of these tapes contained the famous eighteen-and-a-half minute gap that Nixon claimed his secretary had mistakenly erased. In April 1974, after refusing to hand over any more tapes, Nixon made what he framed as a concession. He handed over edited transcripts of the remaining tapes. While the seamy, hostile, and underhanded character of Nixon and his advisers contained in these transcripts was enough to turn the public and Congress further against the administration, it was not enough to impeach the president on the grounds of criminal wrongdoing.50 During Watergate, several congressmen directly challenged Nixon’s offer to provide an authorized transcript rather than the tape itself. Peter Rodino, Democrat of New Jersey, argued, “We did not subpoena a presidential interpretation of what is necessary or relevant to our inquiry.” Congressman Mezvinsky, Democrat of Iowa, similarly declared, “To give us sanitized, cleansed transcripts of conversations just won’t wash.” In May 1974, by a vote of twenty to eighteen, the House committee voted to reject the transcripts as compliance of its subpoena. More subpoenas followed. Nixon’s continued refusal to hand over the remaining tapes became part of the articles of impeachment against him. The Supreme Court ruling of July 1974 stipulated that Nixon must hand over the tapes. This ruling produced the “smoking gun” tape of June 23, 1972, which definitively revealed that Nixon had lied when he said he did know about or participate in an effort to impede the FBI’s investigation of Watergate. Rather than suffer the embarrassment of impeachment, Nixon tendered his resignation on August 8, 1974. 51 It could be said that Nixon’s resignation marked the end of a chapter in American history. That is certainly how Nixon’s successor, Gerald Ford, wanted the American people to see it when he took office and reassured America that “Our long national nightmare is over.”52 But Watergate was not over. Its memory would profoundly shape the limits of the presidency and the regulatory 49. Lukas, 432–34, Mansfield, quoted in Kutler, 444, Sandbrook, in ed. Logevall and Preston, 97; Kutler, 406, 410, 411, 413; Lukas, 391. 50. Lukas, 423, 462; Kutler, 449, 452. 51. Mezvinsky, quoted in Lukas, 493; Kutler, 485, 455, 456, 518, 513, 534; Lukas, 493, 516, 520; The Smoking Gun Tape ( June 23, 1972), 52. Gerald R. Ford’s Remarks on Taking the Oath of Office of Office as President, August 9, 1974, Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library and Musuem, http://www.fordlibrarymuseum. gov/library/speeches/740001.htm. Ford had critiqued Kennedy for invoking executive privilege after the Bay of Pigs. During Watergate, although he publicly supported Nixon, he privately supported the House committee’s right to the full transcript of the White House tapes. Kutler, 420, 486. The Other Plumbers Unit : 337 power of Congress in the Ford administration, which was severely criticized for pardoning Nixon. Ford inherited a presidency weakened by public distrust and was forced to face a Congress that had revitalized its mission to check the power of the executive branch. The change had started even before Nixon’s resignation. In 1973, Congress passed the War Powers Act, intended to curtail the president’s abuse of power in declaring and waging war. In the summer of 1973, it voted to cut off funds for the bombing of Cambodia. After Nixon’s resignation, Congress passed the Presidential Recordings and Materials Preservation Act, which gave the National Archives control over Watergate materials. In November 1974, Congress overrode Ford’s veto of a bill to amend and strengthen the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). Through these and other actions, Congress heeded Arthur Schlesinger’s call for the legislature and other government institutions to check the imperial presidency, “reclaim their own dignity and meet their own responsibilities.”53 Nowhere was this reclamation more evident than in foreign policy. Watergate had distracted Nixon from his foreign policy agenda, making Kissinger the dominant player in foreign affairs, a status that he maintained in the Ford administration. Inspired by Watergate to reassert its power over foreign policy, Congress created a series of committees to check the power of the executive branch, in general, and the power of Henry Kissinger, in particular. Along with the Church Committee and the Rockefeller Commission, the Pike Committee was a product of this broader effort.54 In 1971, when the scandal over the Pentagon Papers erupted, the White House had attempted to silence the press, issuing injunctions to the New York Times and Washington Post, among others. Ever since then, the press had become an increasingly staunch advocate of government transparency, particularly on issues of foreign policy. During Watergate, when Kissinger accused the media of tainting foreign policy with domestic politics, the editors of the Washington Post reminded the secretary of state that “our crisis at home was created by the president.” The press’s commitment to checking the power of the executive branch and of Kissinger in particular continued into the Ford presidency. On virtually all other issues, columnists in the Washington Post and the New York Times continued to rail against the excesses of the secretary’s power. Just before the Boyatt affair began, court testimony revealed that Kissinger had directed the FBI’s wiretaps of federal employees. And the liberal press denounced him. In the midst of the Pike Committee’s proceedings, President Ford fired Defense Secretary James Schlesinger. And the liberal press denounced him, citing Kissinger’s inability to tolerate Schlesinger’s dissenting views as the main cause. “The firing virtually completes the purge from 53. Kutler, 570–572, 438, 381, 563, 591, 126, 155; Hoff, 330; Arthur Schlesinger, The Imperial Presidency (Boston, 1973), 418. 54. Sandbrook, 99; Logevall and Preston, in ed. Logevall and Preston, 14; Kutler, 579, 587. 338 : diplomatic history the executive branch of those who dissent from Kissinger’s policies,” wrote George Will in the Washington Post. 55 The very papers that regularly lambasted Kissinger did not, however, see the Boyatt affair in the same terms. Instead, following Kissinger’s lead, they underscored the need to protect the State Department against a resurgence of McCarthyism. Joseph Kraft, well known for his criticisms of the Nixon and Ford administrations, did not denounce Kissinger for refusing to comply with the subpoena, but rather Congress for having issued it in the first place: “To demonstrate its zeal to the public,” wrote Kraft, Congress “is resorting to practices reminiscent of Joe McCarthy’s infamous tactics… harassing junior officials in ways that subvert decent administration.”56 None other than George Kennan joined the chorus of support for Kissinger’s fight against a new McCarthyism. The secretary of state is “entirely justified” in his refusal to hand over the Boyatt memorandum, wrote Kennan in a letter to the editors of the Washington Post. To hand it over, he argued, would not only “deprive both President and Secretary of State of the sort of information and advice they require” in order to formulate foreign policy, but would also “demoralize the Department and Foreign Service.” Secretary Kissinger, Kennan concluded, “stands on the firmest ground in his uncompromising resistance to such demands—he has, indeed, no choice. He deserves vigorous public support in the position he has taken.”57 The irony of Kennan’s stance cannot be overstated. Kennan had served as an inspiration for the kind of “creative dissent” those who designed the channel had hoped to revive. Moreover, Kennan had been one of the most outspoken defenders of the China Hands.58 Despite the importance of getting the complete and exact words of the White House tapes in the Watergate investigation, commentators did not emphasize the importance of getting the Boyatt memo in its original form. Focusing on McCarthyist attacks from the “outside” as the main threat to the morale of Foreign Service officers and their potential influence on policy, commentators effectively neglected the threat on the “inside.” In so doing, they overlooked the secretary of state’s intolerance of internal opposition and, more specifically, the way in which Kissinger had interfered with and distorted the words of the rank and file in order to squelch that opposition. It was strange that, in their commentaries on the Boyatt affair, newspaper columnists, who swear by their words, were not sensitive to this factor. The support of journalists and 55. Kutler, 111; Washington Post editors, quoted in Kutler, 411; “Dampening Dissent,” Washington Post, November 5, 1975. 56. Joseph Kraft, “A Nation in Unfamiliar Territory,” Washington Post, November 2, 1975. 57. George Kennan, “Support for Kissinger,” Letter to the editor, Washington Post, October14, 1975. 58. See U.S. Department of State, Diplomacy for the 70s, 291, 299. See also Robert Ellsworth Elder, The Policy Machine: The Department of State and American Foreign Policy (Syracuse, NY, 1960), 159. The Other Plumbers Unit : 339 ex-diplomats for Kissinger reveals just how far the State Department’s prerogative to protect rank-and-file authors of dissent had gone. So far, nobody, except for a few outspoken congressmen, recognized the potential parallels between Watergate and the Boyatt affair. Perhaps even more important than the specter of McCarthyism was the desire on the part of many Americans to put Watergate behind them and end the mood of bitterness and mistrust between the legislative and executive branches, which threatened to paralyze the federal government. It would be a long time before Congress would compromise on major issues of foreign policy such as war powers. In this sense, the Boyatt case played an important role, precisely because, in most people’s eyes, it did not constitute a major issue and could thus serve as a symbol of congressional compromise without actually giving very much up. Under pressure from the press as well as the American public, the Pike Committee acquiesced to this logic. In an eight to five vote, it accepted Kissinger’s amalgamation.59 In the Boyatt case, Congress agreed to accept precisely the kind of distorted evidence it had refused to accept in Watergate. Boyatt signed an affidavit saying that the entirety of his memo was in the amalgamated document. Years later, he would reveal the extent to which the original document had been distorted: “The Boyatt memorandum was cut into pieces, and those pieces were interspersed with other drivel made up by S/P [Policy Planning] designed to disguise what was the Boyatt memorandum.”60 **** In the months, years, and decades to come, there would be hundreds of other Dissent Channel messages, including a critique of militarization in the Persian Gulf in the late seventies and condemnation of U.S. policy toward Argentina in 1977, in light of the atrocities committed by the American-supported military junta in power there between 1976 and 1983. Although the number of Dissent Channel messages decreased significantly in the Reagan and Bush years, a few Foreign Service officers nonetheless used the channel to challenge the administration’s strategy in the Cold War. From his post in Afghanistan, Foreign Service officer Ed McWilliams wrote several messages through the Dissent Channel in 1988 and 1989. In these messages, he criticized the United States’ tacit support of the Islamist forces taking power in the wake of the Soviet withdrawal as well as their over-reliance on Pakistani intelligence.61 59. Gelb and Lake, 227. 60. Thomas Boyatt, Presentation at the Foreign Service Institute, March 8, 1990, Foreign Affairs Oral History Project (The Association for Diplomatic Studies and Training, 1998), 7. 61. Bird, 3–6; Steve Coll, Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan, and Bin Laden, from the Soviet Invasion to September 10, 2001 (New York, 2004), 180–97. 340 : diplomatic history The fact that none of these messages had an effect on the policies they protested reflects both the failure of the Dissent Channel to live up to its original promise and the success of the Dissent Channel in quelling and containing dissent. The Dissent Channel made it possible for the State Department to formally encourage dissent, while at the same time deflating the most serious threat posed by internal dissenters. The channel proved that dissent could be tolerated so long as it remained inside the bureaucracy. To be sure, several users of the Dissent Channel were fired. And many more received negative evaluations.62 But on the whole, the department was relatively lenient on authors of Dissent Channel messages. Most were simply transferred to other posts, where they no longer posed a threat to the policies they protested. Having effectively stifled their dissent, the department, in the long run, actually promoted many of these individuals. There are even awards given out by the American Foreign Service Association for “constructive dissent.”63 Thomas Boyatt was the recipient of one such award. After receiving the William Rivkin Award for constructive dissent, Boyatt went on to a successful career in the State Department. He was sent to Santiago, Chile, where he served as deputy chief of mission at the U.S. embassy. He then served as ambassador to Upper Volta (present-day Burkina Faso) in 1978 and ambassador to Colombia between 1980 and 1983. 64 Looking back, Boyatt voiced some cynicism about the Dissent Channel, but no regrets: “I used the Dissent Channel in the proper way,” he has since said, “and the old boy network did what they could to take care of me.”65 Like Boyatt, several State Department officers have thus seen the channel’s containment of dissent in a positive light, as it has more or less allowed them to articulate their views without cost to their careers. The channel, they say, has “helped defuse the inevitable tensions policy disagreements generate.”66 As long as State Department officers accept the inherent limits of the writing they submit through the Dissent Channel, the mechanism does more to pacify than empower dissenters. Along these lines, a few diplomats who are even more skeptical than those who helped create the Dissent Channel have described the channel as “merely a management tool for letting the system vent bottled-up 62. Bird, 6. Amongst Foreign Service officers, the most famous case of retribution involved H. Allen “Tex” Harris, who was denied promotion after reporting human rights abuses in Argentina in 1977. Notably, however, Harris himself has written approvingly of the reforms that led to the creation of the Dissent Channel. “AFSA Becomes a Union: The Reformers’ Victory,” Foreign Service Journal ( June 2003): 18–27. 63. Bird, 3–4. The higher one’s status at the time of using the Dissent Channel, the less the adverse impact is on his or her career. A statistical assessment of Foreign Service officers who have received one of the awards for dissent given out annually by the American Foreign Service Association bears this out. See Jones, 2002, 27–30. 64. Boyatt, Presentation at the Foreign Service Institute, September 30, 1992, 8. For a list of the recipients of the Rivkin Award, see rivkin.cfm. 65. Boyatt, Presentation at the Foreign Service Institute, March 8, 1990, 8. 66. Jones, 2000, 40; Bird, 7. The Other Plumbers Unit : 341 pressures… without affording these dissenting voices a real impact on policy.”67 The metaphor of a steam valve is apt. The system will allow internal dissenters to let off steam, provided that it doesn’t seep out of Foggy Bottom. ***** a new form and function: the dissent channel and the iraq war The Boyatt affair was the first and last time that Congress and the press engaged in public debate about access to Dissent Channel messages. Although Watergate put questions of transparency and accountability at the forefront of American presidential politics, in the presidencies of Carter, Reagan, George H. W. Bush, and Clinton, neither Congress nor the public made an issue of making Dissent Channel messages public. In the 1970s, the great political reporter and dismissed China Hand Jack Service had argued with his colleague Philip Sprouse that, at the very least, the public should have ex post facto access to the debates about foreign policy taking place within the executive branch. Sprouse disagreed, on the basis that because the president has complete power over foreign policy decisions, all that matters is the final decision and not the debate leading up to it. In actuality, Sprouse’s position stemmed as much from fear of political retribution as from respect for presidential power. For the next several decades, the Dissent Channel served to reinforce the mutually reinforcing arguments of careerist Foreign Service officers and senior policymakers against public access to internal dissent. Such access was prevented not only directly, as in the Boyatt affair, but also indirectly, through administrative barriers. Although Dissent Channel messages should become declassified after twenty years, successive administrations have stalled in responding to FOIA requests. In many cases, key parts of declassified documents remain blacked out. And despite the fact that all Dissent Channel messages go to the secretary of state’s office, there is no separate file for such messages. Instead, they are lumped together in the separate country and area files, making it difficult to find them and almost impossible to consider the connections between them.68 It would appear that Nixon’s other Plumbers Unit implemented a mechanism that effectively managed and curtailed, if not entirely solved, the problem of dissent in the State Department. However, as recent events have demonstrated, the ability of senior policymakers to contain diplomatic dissent is far from absolute. There will always be some diplomats who will not experience sufficient relief from the bureaucratic exhaust mechanism that is the Dissent 67. This quote comes from a group of would-be reformers in the 1980s who called themselves the Sages. Bird, 7. 68. I would like to thank the staff of the National Security Archive and especially Bill Burr for his efforts in obtaining the Boyatt memo in particular. 342 : diplomatic history Channel. Like all civil servants, these individuals actually do have a choice. They can either play by the rules or they can go public with their opposition. Since the Iraq war, many U.S. diplomats have chosen to resign in protest. Using the Dissent Channel in this process, they have contributed to what might be considered a new genre of diplomatic writing, one that blurs the boundaries between internal and public dissent writing. In July 2003, four months after the U.S. invasion of Iraq, career Foreign Service officer Joseph Wilson wrote an op-ed in the New York Times claiming that the Bush administration had distorted his intelligence report on uranium ore in Niger in order to justify going to war with Iraq. The events that followed, including the administration’s exposure of the identity of Wilson’s wife as a CIA agent, are well known. Wilson, who has since retired from the Foreign Service, holds a place in history as the most visible and controversial dissenting diplomat of the period. Even those who question his aggressive publicity credit him with initiating a necessary dialogue about “the way in which the administration deals with dissent” as well as “the selling of the war” and “official mendacity.” Wilson played a key role in reinvigorating a dialogue about presidential transparency and accountability in White House.69 Wilson was not however the first career diplomat to publicly challenge the basis of the war in Iraq. He was preceded by John Brady Kiesling, the political counselor at the U.S. embassy in Athens, who resigned in opposition to the war in February 2003, before the actual invasion.70 Notably, it was through the Dissent Channel that Kiesling resigned. Written from the perspective of a diplomat with one foot in the government and one outside it, his letter provocatively bent the strictures of the Dissent Channel and, in so doing, challenged its ability to contain dissent. Per the long-standing departmental guidelines still in effect for both the Dissent Channel and resignation letters, Kiesling addressed his words to then Secretary of State Colin Powell, who was serving as the administration’s primary public advocate for the war. Even as he ostensibly followed the template of the Dissent Channel, Kiesling augmented it. Instead of opening the letter with the requisite line announcing his dissent, Kiesling began with a personal story: “The baggage of my upbringing,” he wrote, “included a felt obligation to give something back to my country. Service as a U.S. diplomat was a dream job.” Here and throughout, Kiesling represented himself as a 69. Joseph Wilson, “What I Didn’t Find in Africa,” New York Times, July 6, 2003; Michael Currie Schaffer, “Joseph Wilson’s Selfless Self-Promotion: Hot Air,” New Republic, July 19, 2007. 70. As early as 2001, Gregory Thielmann, a Foreign Service officer in charge of State Department’s Office of Strategic Proliferation and Military Affairs, had written reports questioning intelligence on the supposed relationship between uranium ore and metal tubes in Africa and Iraq’s nuclear weapons program. As scheduled, he retired in late 2002 and went public with his dissent in October 2003. “The Man Who Knew,” 60 Minutes, February 4, 2004, CBS. The Other Plumbers Unit : 343 model public servant and bureaucrat, one who had believed that, by representing the president’s policies, he was also “upholding the interests of the American people and the world.” But the administration’s Iraq policy had dissolved that belief. Kiesling’s rationale against the Bush administration’s posture has since become common sense for many. By “arbitrarily linking the unrelated problems of terrorism and Iraq,” he argued, “we spread disproportionate terror and confusion in the public mind. The result and perhaps the motive,” he wrote, “is to justify the vast misallocation of public wealth to the military and to weaken the safeguards that protect American citizens from the heavy hand of government.” Underscoring the negative impact the road to war had already had on the ability of the United States to persuade its allies, he asked, “Who will tell them convincingly that the United States is as it was, a beacon of liberty, security, and justice for the planet?” Kiesling closed by returning to his personal narrative, now speaking as a citizen rather than a government servant. “I hope that in a small way I can contribute from outside to shaping policies that better serve the security and prosperity of the American people and the world we share.”71 It was not Powell, but Richard Haas, then director of policy planning, who issued the reply. Like the responses to Dissent Channel messages that came before it, Haas’s “follow-up” was bland and bureaucratic. Haas thanked Kiesling for his “depth of conviction” and expressed “regret” over his decision to resign. He then reiterated the talking points that the State Department had been delivering somewhat successfully to the American people and much less convincingly to foreign governments.72 Kiesling’s message had little direct effect on the higher-ups in the bureaucracy. However, it did have a significant impact on the public, especially the segment already inclined to oppose the war. A few days after submitting his resignation, Kiesling asked a friend to forward his resignation letter to a reporter he had met at a party. The next day, the full text of the letter appeared in the New York Times and soon after in the New York Review of Books. 73 Readers e-mailed it around the world, and political activist groups linked it to their Web sites. Kiesling had become a hero of the emerging antiwar movement. Though somewhat taken aback by the extent of the hoopla and fanfare he received upon his resignation, Kiesling did not, as had many internal dissenters in previous 71. John Brady Kiesling, Dissent Channel Message Resignation Letter, February 24, 2003, reprinted in John Brady Kiesling, Diplomacy Lessons: Realism for an Unloved Superpower (Washington, DC, 2006), Appendix A, 281. 72. U.S. Department of State, Policy Planning Staff, “Your Dissent Channel Message Regarding U.S. Policy Toward Iraq,” March 17, 2003, reprinted in Kiesling, Diplomacy Lessons, Appendix B, 283–285. 73. “U.S. Diplomat Resigns, Protesting ‘Our Fervent Pursuit of War,’ ” New York Times, February 27, 2003; Brady Kiesling, “Iraq: A Letter of Resignation,” New York Review of Books, April 10, 2003. 344 : diplomatic history generations, recoil from the prospect of becoming a public dissident. His decision to resign was, as he has said, a decision to become a “champion” of “the antiwar camp.”74 Notably, Kiesling’s evolution from internal dissenter to public protester of the war was inextricably linked to his evolving thoughts about the most effective audience for his dissent. Before deciding to resign, Kiesling had first attempted to write a Dissent Channel message that might actually convince Powell to change his position on the war. Sitting awake at 4:00 a.m. with his laptop on his knees, Kiesling realized, however, that he had little chance of persuading the secretary of state.75 Powell, he decided, should not be his sole or even his most important reader. A week later, Kiesling rewrote the memo. The first draft, which had been intended only for Powell, had been, as Kiesling says, “a policy analyst’s cold critique of policy.” The redrafted letter, however, was written with a sensitivity toward the perspective of the American public, who Kiesling saw as “struggling from the outside to understand whether our slide into war with Iraq would make them safer or not.” Kiesling believed “the grimy logic of national self-interest” would not appeal to most Americans but that they might respond to “the language of American character and values.”76 This rationale helps explain why, in addition to the national interest, Kiesling’s Dissent Channel resignation letter also underscored the moral, ideological, and even theological notion of America as a light unto nations. Employing the language of American values and character, Kiesling appealed to his unofficial, yet sympathetic audience—Americans who opposed the war and Bush’s foreign policies in general. Emphasizing his identity as a loyal diplomat, Kiesling nonetheless grounded his authority in his experience of foreign policy issues from the inside. We need not celebrate or critique Kiesling’s “speech act”77 in order to appreciate its effect on the Dissent Channel.78 In resigning, Kiesling transformed the channel in a way that entertains few illusions about the current limits of internal dissent. At the same time, in tweaking the form, content, and audience of his Dissent Channel message, he initiated a distinct genre of policy writing that is neither wholly inside nor outside, a hybrid that aptly reflects the particular role played by Kiesling and other former government servants in the antiwar movement. 74. Kiesling, Diplomacy Lessons, 28, 32. 75. Ibid., 27. 76. Ibid., 30. 77. What linguist John Austin described as utterances that not only “say something,” but also “do something.” J. L. Austin, How to Do Things With Words, 2nd ed. (Cambridge, MA, 1975 [1955]), 5. 78. Others have tried, in my view rather unpersuasively, to assess such decisions by imposing a rigid philosophy that begins and ends with assumptions that fetishize either bureaucratic fealty or democratic protest. See, for example, John Burke, Bureaucratic Responsibility (Baltimore, 1986) and Edward Weisband and Thomas Franck, Resignation in Protest (New York, 1975). The Other Plumbers Unit : 345 Capitalizing on the positive reception of his dissent message, after leaving the State Department Kiesling went on a national speaking tour. He continued to frame his argument against the war with a mixture of realism—based on a calculus of the national interest—and idealism—based on the power of American values. An “honorable alliance” between “Hamiltonian pragmatism” and “Wilsonian idealism,” he called it at a speech in Princeton.79 Like his strategy of writing simultaneously to Colin Powell and to disenchanted Americans, Kiesling’s combination of realism and idealism proved popular with a wide array of American audiences. Not only at Berkeley, where Kiesling was “met by a throng of adoring fans six feet deep,” was Kiesling received warmly, but also at more conservative institutions, including the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.80 In the 2004 presidential campaign, Kiesling gave speeches on behalf of “Diplomats and Military Commanders for Change,” a group of retired diplomats and military officials who challenged Bush’s Iraq policy. As with Kiesling’s Dissent Channel letter and subsequent speeches, the group’s message drew its collective authority from the fact that its members had been loyal government servants, as one commentator noted, “the kind who have never spoken out before on such matters.” The generals and diplomats who called for Defense Secretary Rumsfeld’s resignation in the spring of 2006 got their wish the following November.81 Building on the momentum of this inside-come-outsider force, Kiesling wrote a book, Diplomacy Lessons: Realism for an Unloved Superpower, published in September 2006. Through stories of his own experiences as a career diplomat, the book elaborates Kiesling’s critique of U.S. foreign policy in Iraq and around the world. Like his Dissent Channel message, through form as well as content, it also provides a commentary about the executive branch’s effort to contain policy debate. Throughout the text, Kiesling includes thick black bars to designate sections of his prose that were deemed classified and thus censored from the public. Some protect factual classified information, such as names and locations. But the most striking one concerns then Undersecretary of State John Bolton: “Judging from press reports of Bolton’s unsavory bureaucratic habits,” writes Kiesling, “I assume.” And the rest is blocked out.82 79. John Brady Kiesling, “Our Withheld Tribute to Virtue: Morality, Hypocrisy, and the Misprojection of U.S. Power,” Address, April 2004, Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, Princeton University, Princeton, NJ, 80. Peter Waldman, “Resigning in Protest, A Career Diplomat Turns Peace Envoy,” Wall Street Journal, April 1, 2003. 81. “Diplomats and Military Commanders for Change,” Official Statement, June 16, 2004,; “Letter to President Bush from U.S. Diplomats,” April 30, 2004, articles/2004/05/06_letter-diplomats.htm; Peter Slevin, “Retired Envoys, Commander Assail Bush Team, Washington Post, June 17, 2004; “More Retired Generals Call for Rumsfeld’s Resignation,” New York Times, April 14, 2006; “Bush Ousts Embattled Rumsfeld; Democrats Near Control of Senate,” Washington Post, November 9, 2006; Katrina Vanden Heuvel, “Former Bush (41) and Reagan Officials Say Bush (43) Must Go,” The Nation, June 28, 2004. 82. Kiesling, Diplomacy Lessons, 17. 346 : diplomatic history As one commentator has noted, Kiesling’s inclusion of these “ugly” black marks is deliberate. Although he could easily have revised the text in order to avoid them, he kept them in order to make a point. It is not only, as Foreign Service officer Ted Wilkinson suggests, a point about the ad hoc basis for classifying information, but also one about the administration’s continued attempts to shield the writing done by dissenting diplomats from the public.83 In this respect, the mocking jab at Bolton is particularly apt. As both undersecretary of state and U.S. representative to the United Nations, Bolton made a point of antagonizing careerists in the executive branch who “fight against the President’s policies.” To the extent that Bolton did sanction debate, he publicly underscored the necessity that it be “confidential.”84 Demonstrating the problems of this stance, key aspects of which are not unique to Bolton but central to the State Department’s regulations over the past five decades, Kiesling’s book gives the public a glimpse into the internal battles not only over policy positions, but also over the words used to influence policy. Given the unpopularity of the war in Iraq in 2006, it is not surprising that Kiesling’s book was a hit with the public.85 More noteworthy perhaps is the fact that rank-and-file diplomats inside the State Department were equally influenced by Kiesling’s words. In the months and years following Kiesling’s Dissent Channel message, several other Foreign Service officers used the channel to register their dissenting views on Iraq. Some followed the preordained route set by the department.86 But several others instead followed Kiesling’s lead. Less than a month after his Dissent Channel message was published, two more State Department officers publicly resigned in protest of the war. Both John Brown, a Foreign Service officer and expert on Eastern Europe and Russia, and Ann 83. Wilkinson, 75. 84. John Bolton, The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, March 20, 2007, Comedy Central, true. 85. The book received five stars in every one of its reviews, as well as a scholarly endorsement from Stanley Hoffman, one of the current deans of international relations studies, who has said that it “should be required reading by all students and practitioners of foreign policy.” Stanley Hoffman, “The Foreign Policy the U.S. Needs,” New York Review of Books, August 10, 2006. 86. In May 2003, Keith Mines, a Foreign Service officer coordinating local governance in Iraq, used the channel to argue that the United Nations and not the United States should manage the effort. Though his recommendations were not implemented, Mines received an award for “constructive dissent” and has since used the channel again to argue for a phased-out withdrawal of U.S. troops from the region. In 2004, Arab specialist Ronald Schlicher challenged the administration’s prioritization of military over diplomatic initiatives through the Dissent Channel. He too received a dissent award but has since been transferred out of the region. “Channeling Dissent from the Foreign Service,” NPR Morning Edition, October 14, 2004; “Officers Question Visibility of Army in Iraq,” Washington Post, July 26, 2004; Keith Mines, “Iraq: The Next Stage,” Foreign Policy Research Institute, June 28, 2004, http://; Peter Slevin, “Diplomats Honored for Dissent,” Washington Post, June 28, 2004; Stephen Glain, “Freeze-out of the Arabists,” The Nation, November 1, 2004. The Other Plumbers Unit : 347 Wright, deputy chief of mission at the U.S. embassy in Mongolia, pointed to Kiesling’s letter as their inspiration. Echoing the form as well as content of Kiesling’s departure, Wright resigned through the Dissent Channel.87 Excluded from the high-level policy dialogue, users of the transformed Dissent Channel have actually created an alternative dialogue amongst the rank-and-file, which takes place somewhere in between the realm of officialdom and the public sphere. As Kiesling has suggested, his accomplishment is indirect. Rather than reversing policy immediately and on his own, he has planted seeds in the minds of others who have contributed to a larger and ongoing movement. “A lot of people were looking for some words that they could use to express the anguish that they felt that we were on the wrong course,” he has said.88 As a donor of reproducible words and ideas, Kiesling offers something to insiders and outsiders alike. To those on the inside looking for a way to express their views, he has modeled a new, more flexible form and manner of dissent that belongs simultaneously to the official and public debates over U.S. foreign policy and that addresses both the administration and the populace. To those on the outside, Kiesling has provided a vocabulary and set of arguments against the current policies in the war on terror. ***** From the end of the Nixon administration to the beginning of the Iraq War, diplomatic writing constituted one of the few exceptions in the otherwise vigorous effort to make presidents accountable to Congress and the public in matters of foreign policy. This exception showed just how limited the postWatergate effort to force transparency really was, as it failed to account for the abuses of power taking place within the executive branch and allowed for the effective isolation of dissenting diplomats from both senior policymakers and the public.89 In 2011, eight years after the invasion of Iraq, questions about the transparency and accountability of the Bush administration are all too familiar. As many have argued, responsibility for transparency lies not only with the White House, but also with the press and Congress, both of which severely neglected, if not entirely abandoned, their oversight duties before the invasion. In the lead-up to 87. “Second Foreign Service Officer Resigns in Protest over Iraq,” March 12, 2003,; “Tony Blair in the Doghouse,” Washington Post, March 13, 2003; Ann Wright, “Why Dissent Is Important and Resignation Honorable,” Foreign Service Journal (September, 2003): 15–19. 88. John Brady Kiesling, interview by Bill Moyers, Now with Bill Moyers, Public Broadcasting System, March 14, 2003, PBS, 89. Hoff similarly argues that the politics of Watergate focused too much on the personalities in the Nixon administration and neglected the more fundamental problems of executive power, thus leaving the door open for later scandals, most notably the Iran-Contra affair in the Reagan administration. Hoff, 335–336. 348 : diplomatic history and aftermath of the Iraq invasion, when Congress and the press failed to, rank-and-file members of the State Department stepped in to call attention to the administration’s lack of transparency and accountability. By breaking the rules of the Dissent Channel, dissenting diplomats played a key role in stimulating a debate on these issues as well on the substantive issues of U.S. policy toward Iraq, both within and outside the foreign policy establishment. This accomplishment is especially remarkable in light of the fact that since Watergate, critics of White House secrecy failed to appreciate the problem of shielding diplomatic writing from Congress and the press. And it is even more remarkable when considered in the larger context of the postwar history of the State Department—an institution kept weak not only by Bush, but by virtually every president since Roosevelt, and whose relationship with the public was historically one of distance and mutual distrust. The recent wrinkle in the story of diplomatic dissent does not reflect the original intent of the frustrated young diplomats looking for a way to enhance their influence on American foreign policy. Neither does it suggest the abandonment of more traditional views and practices of the diplomatic establishment, as manifested in the official writings of diplomats since the end of the Second World War. What it does demonstrate is the continued mix of old and new in the tradition and practice of diplomatic writing, as well as the connections between issues of writing and issues of policy. The story of the Dissent Channel is just one of the more recent chapters in the longer story of diplomats who not only use the pen as sword, but also show how and why it is in the nation’s interest to understand the connections between the apparently small battles over the form, style, audience, and authority of diplomatic writing, and the larger battle to make America a more intelligent, realistic, and compassionate force in the world.


For more visit