Dream to Learn is shutting down...

We are very sorry to say that Dream to Learn will be shutting down as of December 28th, 2019. If you have content that you wish to keep, you should make a copy of it before that date.


Origins of the Dissent Channel

POSTED IN: Cognitive Wingman

Have been thinking lately about the power of (a) how AI and technology based systems might present alternate points of view and (b) dissenting views in large and complex decision making organizations (e.g. devil's advocate, DeBono's Black Hat, alternate Point of View) - and reading up on the busy time between 1968 and 1971 - with the State Department and US Governmetn during the Vietnam War.


Origins of the Dissent Channel - 1968-1971

The Dissent channel appears to be formed by Dean Rusk, and then transitioned to William P. Rogers - i.e.  Dean Rusk as creator (Open Forum Panel);  Other sources point to his successor William P. Rogers.


Dean Rusk & Open Forum Panel

Establishing the Open Forum
In May 1967 Secretary Rusk asked the Director of the Policy Planning Council, Henry Owen, to recommend new procedures outside existing channels through which Department and Foreign Service Officers could submit new policy ideas... in December 1968 the Department announced that Secretary Rusk had approved Director Owen's proposal to make the Open Forum Panel permanent and to expand the Open Forum responsibilities not only to screen ideas but to generate ideas on its own and become a link in the policy planning process and to present the views of youth and other inadequately represented public groups.


From other sources: "The Dissent Channel was created as a result of the US war in Vietnam. By 1968, each unmarried junior Foreign Service officer who had not performed active duty military service was required to go to Vietnam for his first Foreign Service tour. High FSO casualty rates, and the fact that, according to a Foreign Service Journal article by David T. Jones, “a critical mass of officers had genuinely come to believe that the US policy in Vietnam was wrong, ineffective or both” led to the gradual creation of State Department mechanisms for its employees to voice dissent.

The initial iteration under Secretary of State Dean Rusk was the Open Forum Panel, which served as a “general conduit” for the previously underrepresented views of junior officers on issues including foreign policy. But the Forum was a “steam valve, not a steam turbine” and in April 1970, 50 FSOs sent a letter to Secretary of State William Rodgers protesting the pending US invasion of Cambodia."


Transition from Rusk to Rogers (January 1969)

Secretaries Rusk and Rogers and the Search for Alternate Policy Ideas
Secretary of State Dean Rusk had a strong interest in stimulating new policy ideas in the Department. On his first day in office on January 22, 1969, Secretary of State Rogers assured the Department officers of his commitment to a receptive and open establishment where divergent ideas were fully and promptly passed on for decision

source: https://2001-2009.state.gov/s/p/of/abt/18990.htm


US Secretary of State Warren Christopher's Message on the Dissent Channel, August 8, 1995

"As we approach the 25th Anniversary of the State Department's Dissent Channel, I want to restate my commitment to this vital forum.

Secretary of State William Rogers created the Dissent Channel in 1971 as controversy rose over the Vietnam War and he determined that existing channels for transmitting new or dissenting ideas were inadequate. Since that time, well over 200 Dissent messages have been received, providing eight successive Secretaries of State and their principal advisors with responsible alternative views on policy. Having benefited from the Dissent Channel as Deputy Secretary and Secretary, I want to reiterate to you my commitment to seeing it continue to serve the goals Secretary Rogers set for it.


The Value of the Dissent Channel

The State Department has a strong interest in facilitating open, creative, and uncensored dialogue on substantive policy and programmatic issues within the professional foreign affairs community. All of us in the Department have a responsibility to foster an atmosphere supportive of such dialogue, including the opportunity to offer alternative or dissenting opinions without fear of penalty. I want to emphasize that, as a general matter, post managers are expected to encourage and support the free exchange of ideas and criticism throughout the mission, and to communicate the full range of responsible policy options and concerns to Washington through regular channels in a timely manner. This will stimulate new thinking, force all of us to examine our assumptions and conclusions on a regular basis, and result in a better policy process.

At the same time, there may be occasions when the normal process appears inadequate, whether due to the seriousness of the issue or a perceived inattention to alternatives.

The Dissent Channel provides an established, proven, and effective instrument for ensuring that those alternative views are heard by senior policymakers."

  -- US Secretary of State Warren Christopher, August 1995

Interested in more content by this author?

About the Author

Ryan Anderson

Ryan Anderson

Hi! I like to play with data, analytics and hack around with robots and gadgets in my garage. Lately I've been learning about machine learning.

About this blog

Cognitive Wingman - Never Walk Alone

Created: December 20, 2016


This Blog Appears in

Up Next