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2021 Documents in Review: State Department Employees Sign Dissent Channel Calling on Agency to Denounce January 6 Riot

November 12, 2021

The National Security Archive is wrapping up 2021 by looking back at some of our most impactful postings of the year and highlighting the biggest documents behind them. This week we’re highlighting the Department of State Dissent Channel message published in the Archive’s January 13, 2021 posting, The Capitol Riot: Documents You Should Read (Part 1).

The posting details the federal government’s immediate reaction following the violent attack on Congress and reveals multiple discrepancies between the public record and the Pentagon’s official timeline. The posting also began the Archive’s systematic campaign to use the FOIA to open the documentary record of what the government knew and when, and what the government did and didn’t do and when, about the mob attack on the Capitol.

Today’s document, the January 8 dissent channel message, was signed two days after the attack on Congress by over 100 Department of State employees. The text of the message, first published by Josh Rogin of the Washington Post on his Twitter feed, underscores the authors’ emphatic opposition to President Trump’s ongoing, baseless accusations of voter fraud during the 2020 election, and his incitement of the fatal mob attack on the U.S. Capitol Building. The authors call on the Department to “explicitly denounce President Trump’s role in this violent attack on the U.S. government.” The cable also states that the “Department’s public statements about this episode should also mention President Trump by name. It is critical that we communicate to the world that in our system, no one — not even the president — is above the law or immune from public criticism.”

The document is of particular interest for researchers interested in the history of the State Department. The Dissent Channel was created for State Department diplomats as a result of the US war in Vietnam to formally critique US policy and, according to Ambassador Thomas Boyatt, is the only place “In the US federal government (and probably the world)” where the institutionalization of dissent exists. Of additional historical value are the responses to the cables from the Director of Policy Planning for State, who is charged with “providing a substitutive reply, normally within 30-60 working days.” 

The unique records were withheld from public release for decades under FOIA’s “predecisional” Exemption 5 – that is until a National Security Archive lawsuit in 2018. The lawsuit leveraged the 2016 FOIA Improvement Act amendments that made it illegal for agencies to use this discretionary exemption after 25 years. Following passage of the FOIA Improvement Act, the National Security Archive requested key historical Dissent records and eventually litigated for their release with pro bono representation from Alex Haskell, Cliff Sloan, and Gregory Craig of Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom. The Archive has since published key Dissent Channel cables and responses from policy planning staff. 

The text or existence of any Policy Planning response to the January 2021 Dissent has not yet been made public in response to an Archive FOIA request to the Department of State.

Check back next week for more!

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