THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL
he first message in the Dissent Channel came from
the consulate general in Dacca, East Pakistan, now
In March 1971, the central government’s armed
forces began a wave of killings of Bengalis in East Paki-
stan in what proved to be a vain attempt to suppress
separatist sentiment in that distant province. The cam-
paign horrified the American consul general, Archer K.
Blood, who sent a series of cables urging Washington
to take a public stance condemning the atrocities.
Unknown to Blood, or to Secretary of State William
P. Rogers, National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger
was using Pakistan as the go-between in the still-secret
U.S. opening to China. For that reason, among others,
Blood’s appeals were ignored.
On April 6, 1971, Blood’s staff sent a message via the
Dissent Channel saying that America had to act “to sal-
vage our nation’s position as a moral leader of the free
world.” Consul General Blood did not sign the dissent,
but appended a note endorsing it.
Kissinger believed the message was written to
be leaked, and said that Secretary Rogers thought it
“outrageous” that his diplomats were writing petitions
instead of reports. Blood was recalled and his career
thereafter stunted. Like his earlier messages, the dis-
sent had no effect on U.S. policy.
AFSA gave Archer Blood its Christian Herter Award
for Constructive Dissent in 1971. To his credit, Secretary
Rogers presided at the ceremony (“I think he was a little
embarrassed,” Blood said later.) Howard Schaffer, one
of the signers of the dissent message, became ambas-
sador to Bangladesh in 1984 and served until 1987. In
2015, U.S. Ambassador Marcia S. Bernicat presented an
official copy of the Blood telegram to the government
of Bangladesh, where Archer Blood is remembered and
revered as a friend of the country.
was intended for individual employees engaged with an issue,
whose views could not be transmitted through regular channels
because of what the Foreign Affairs Manual calls an “inability to
resolve concrete differences of opinion.”
Hundreds of messages, on average about 10 a year, have
passed through the channel since its inception, but only a
handful have had an effect
on policy. “The Dissent
Channel,” says Hannah
Gurman, “made it possible
for the State Department
to formally encourage dis-
sent, while … deflating the
most serious threat posed
by internal dissenters,” namely, public repudiation of adminis-
Had it been in place at the time, the Dissent Channel would
not have contained the Cambodia statement. That statement
had no precedent in the Department of State, but it had plenty
of precedent in the country at large. Fury over Vietnam swept
across the country in that spring of 1970: protest marches and
The Foreign Service and the
Department of State do not exist
in a social vacuum.
demonstrations in more than 200 cities and towns; violence at
Columbia and Syracuse universities; a march on Washington;
construction workers taking clubs to demonstrators on Wall
Street; and the fatal shooting by National Guardsmen of four
student protesters at Ohio’s Kent State University.
The Foreign Service and the Department of State do not exist
in a social vacuum. The
dissent on Cambodia would
not have taken the form that
it did, and would probably
not have been offered at
all, in the absence of this
national wave of protest.
The statement was less
a reasoned argument for the losing side of an in-house debate
(which the Dissent Channel was structured to protect) than a
political statement that was a product of its time.
The Sequence of Honesty
In the run-up to the 2003 Iraq War, too, the sequence of
honesty was thwarted from the beginning. On the central
The Blood Telegram