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The Other Plumbers Unit: The Dissent Channel of the U.S. State Department


  • Hannah Gurman


In 1971, the State Department implemented an official Dissent Channel. In the nearly four decades of its existence, the Dissent Channel has done little to influence U.S. foreign policy. This very failure reflects the channel's success in responding to the emerging culture of protest within the executive branch. In attempting to analyze the channel's impact on the diplomatic establishment, this article seeks to go beyond a general critique of institutionalized dissent in order to consider the Dissent Channel in relation to diplomatic writing. A comparison of Dissent Channel messages and routine diplomatic writing reveals how the Dissent Channel actually weakens the potential influence of dissenting diplomats, while at the same time shielding internal dissent from the public. And yet, the recent history of the Dissent Channel suggests limits to the State Department's ability to manage dissent. The result is a new genre of diplomatic writing that is simultaneously internal and public.