The Dissent Channel of the Department of State

Today’s post is written by David Langbart, an Archivist in the Textual Records Division at the National Archives at College Park.

In recent weeks we have seen and heard many media reports mentioning the DISSENT CHANNEL of the Department of State. Most stories note that it finds its origins in the controversies over U.S. policy in Vietnam during the 1960s and 1970s, but provide little other explanation.

While the issue of policy in Vietnam played a part in establishing the Dissent Channel, this special procedure for providing policy-makers with alternative views and recommendations outside the normal channels for the discussion of policies was a direct outgrowth of the management reform activities carried out in the Department in 1970 culminating in the report Diplomacy for the 70’s: A Program of Management Reform for the Department of State. Among other things, those reforms were aimed at creating an atmosphere of openness and stimulating creativity. Not all of the reports recommendations were carried out, but establishment of the Dissent Channel was one significant result.[1]

The following are the foundational documents of the Dissent Channel.

The first announcement of the Dissent Channel came in the following telegram of November 4, 1971, sent by the Department of State to all U.S. diplomatic and consular posts.[2]


To clarify procedures for submitting dissent messages and to explain how those messages would be handled, the Department sent the following airgram to all U.S. diplomatic and consular posts.[3]


In a memorandum of December 15, 1971, Secretary of State William P. Rogers designated the Policy and Coordination Staff as the action office for the Dissent Channel. Today, that office’s successor, the Policy Planning Staff, continues to serve as the action office.[4]


[1] Documentation on Department of State management reform is in Foreign Relations of the United States, 1969-1976, Volume II: Organization and Management of U.S, Foreign Policy, 1969-1972. See documents 312, 321-326, 329, 332, 338, 339, and 346.

[2] Department of State to All Diplomatic and Consular Posts, Telegram 201473, November 4, 1971, file CR 4, 1970-73 Subject-Numeric File, RG 59: General Records of the Department of State.

[3] Department of State to All Diplomatic and Consular Posts, A-3559, April 8, 1972, file PER 15-8, 1970-73 Subject-Numeric File, RG 59: General Records of the Department of State.

[4] Secretary of State William P. Rogers to William Cargo, Director, Policy and Coordination Staff, memorandum, December 15, 1971, file PER 15-8, 1970-73 Subject-Numeric File, RG 59: General Records of the Department of State.

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Nikita Khrushchev’s Memoirs: Part II

Today’s post is written by David Langbart, an Archivist in the Textual Records Division at the National Archives at College Park.

As noted in the previous post, Little, Brown and Company published the memoir of Nikita Khrushchev, KHRUSHCHEV REMEMBERS, in late December 1970.[1] The question of authenticity of the book was of interest to all readers, but critically important to American officials in order to assess its value for an understanding of the Soviet Union.

The Central Intelligence Agency’s WEEKLY SUMMARY of December 18, 1970, discussed publication of the book as follows:[2]

“The publication of Khrushchev’s reminiscences has returned to the limelight after six years the figure of the quirky, dynamic former leader, and with it . . . the Soviet leadership’s problem of Stalin’s image.”

In mid-December 1970, Hedley Donovan, editor-in-chief at Little, Brown and Company, publisher of KHRUSHCHEV REMEMBERS, sent Secretary of State William Rogers an advance copy of the book. In forwarding the book to the Secretary, the Department’s Bureau of European Affairs wrote: Continue reading

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Nikita Khrushchev’s Memoirs: Part I

Today’s post is written by David Langbart, an Archivist in the Textual Records Division at the National Archives at College Park.

In November 1970, the world was surprised by the announcement of the upcoming publication of the memoirs of Nikita Khrushchev, deposed leader of the Soviet Union. Time, Inc. reported that it had acquired the material which it planned to serialize in shortened form in the magazine Life and to publish in full as a book issued by Little, Brown and Co. The articles appeared in late November and early December and the book, KHRUSHCHEV REMEMBERS, came out in late December.[1] Khrushchev died in September 1971. Time magazine and Little, Brown issued a second set of memoirs, KHRUSHCHEV REMEMBERS: THE LAST TESTAMENT, in 1974.[2]

Time, Inc. provided no details on how it came into possession of the text other than to say that it was smuggled out of the USSR. The translator/editor for both parts of the project was Strobe Talbott, then a journalist with the Time organization. Talbott later served as Deputy Secretary of State from 1994 to 2001. To create the magazine articles and books, Talbott took disjointed manuscripts and turned them into coherent memoirs, organizing and condensing the original texts.

Recognizing that questions of authenticity would arise, the first book was published with the following statement: “The publisher is convinced beyond any doubt, and has taken pains to confirm, that this is an authentic record of Nikita Khrushchev’s words.” Nevertheless, there was controversy over the genuineness of the material and Khrushchev himself issued what can only be considered a non-denial denial. The second volume went into more detail on both the source of the memoirs and the process of authentication, but still offered little on how the materials came out of the USSR.

As with any self-portrait, the finished product has limitations. There are omissions, evasions, errors of memory, deceptions, and self-justifications. Given the nature of secrecy about the inner workings of the Soviet government, however, publication of Khrushchev’s memoir, if genuine, was of paramount interest to the U.S. Government. Continue reading

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Caleb Brewster

Today’s post is written by Jackie Kilby, Archives Technician at the National Archives at College Park, MD.

After the end of the American Revolutionary War numerous veterans were disabled, or invalid, and petitioned for pensions to the United States Congress and/or their State Governments.  One such person was Caleb Brewster, a name made recognizable by the television show Turn: Washington’s Spies, as played by Daniel Henshall, and the book Washington’s Spies: The Story of America’s First Spy Ring, by Alexander Rose.

Caleb Brewster was essential to the communication of the Culper Spy Ring, as he coordinated the exchange of intelligence and instructions between Major Benjamin Tallmadge and General George Washington and the spy ring.  Brewster did not join the Intelligence Service until 1778, but joined the Revolutionary War effort in 1776.

Caleb Brewster was injured on December 7, 1782 during a naval exchange with British troops on Long Island Sound.  He was hit by a musket ball through his shoulder, or “breast,” as he described in his letter to President George Washington.  Due to this injury he was placed on an invalid list.  After the end of the war, Brewster was supposed to receive a pension through the Continental Congress, and then the United States Congress. Continue reading

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Fortuitous Lineage

Today’s post is written by Robert Ripson, a Processing Archivist in the Textual Records Division at the National Archives at College Park.

1430 hours, 28 December 2016, quittin’ time and I am heading towards the sign out sheet and to begin an afternoon of chores. However, I decide to stop and chat with a coworker to enquire what new project they are working on. “An audit of digitized papers,” was the reply. I stoop over the open folder and begin to read the context of the letter: From the War Department, 5 August, 1847. “Sir, I would respectfully request you to inform this Department at your earliest convenience. . .” Signed W.L. Marcy, Secty. of War. This was just the beginning as I noticed a second signature on the bottom left of the page. It reads, J.L. Fenimore, Esq. Bank of Pennsylvania at Philadelphia. Pausing a moment, I re-read the name, pause again and think, no, it can’t be, this isn’t a relative. NO WAY!


Letter from W.L. Marcy, Secretary of War, to J.L Fenimore, August 5, 1847. As payment from the War Department is being readied, Secretary of War Marcy looks for fiscal assurances that money is available for disbursement.

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A Foreign View of Guns in the United States, 1928

Today’s post is written by David Langbart, an Archivist in the Textual Records Division at the National Archives at College Park.

In September 1928, the U.S. consul at Fort William and Port Arthur, Ontario, submitted a report entitled “Canadian Press Comments Regarding Governmental and Individual Disarmament in the United States.”  The report included the text of an editorial from THE PORT ARTHUR CHRONICLE, a local daily newspaper.  Enclosed was the following clipping of the editorial.


Source:  U.S. Consulate Fort William and Port Arthur, Ontario, Report No. 98, September 21, 1928, file 811.113/117, 1910-29 Central Decimal File, Record Group 59: General Records of the Department of State.

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Lew Wallace: After the Civil War

Today’s post is written by David Langbart, an Archivist in the Textual Records Division at the National Archives at College Park.

An earlier post briefly discussed former Confederate general James Longstreet’s post-Civil War career in the Federal government. Among the positions he held was that of minister to Turkey (1880-81). His successor in that position also was a Civil War veteran – former Union Major General Lew Wallace. Wallace served as minister to Turkey from 1881 to 1885.

During the Civil War, Wallace led troops in western Virginia, helping to secure what became West Virginia for the Union. Serving under the command of U.S. Grant, his division helped capture Fort Donelson, Tennessee, in February 1862. At the battle of Shiloh, Tennessee, in April 1862, Wallace and his troops lost their way to the battlefield on the first day of fighting, thus incurring the ongoing ire of U.S. Grant, commander of the Union forces at that battle. Leaving Grant’s command, Wallace subsequently held other posts. Perhaps most notably, in July 1864, he led Union forces against those under the command of Confederate general Jubal Early at the battle of the Monocacy River outside Frederick, Maryland. Despite losing the battle, Wallace’s troops successfully delayed Early’s advance toward Washington during the third invasion of the North by troops under the direction of Robert E. Lee, allowing reinforcements from the Union forces outside Richmond and Petersburg to man the fortifications around the capital city. Wallace also served on the military commission established to prosecute the Lincoln assassination conspirators and headed the military court that tried the commandant of the Confederate prisoner of war camp at Andersonville, Henry Wirz.

After the war, Wallace resigned his commission and went to Mexico to assist the Mexican army. After returning to the United States in 1867, he made unsuccessful runs for Congress in 1868 and 1870.

While his quest for a diplomatic or consular posting did not culminate until 1881, the extant records indicate that Wallace began maneuvering for such an appointment in 1872. In June of that year he sent the following letter to President Ulysses Grant: Continue reading

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The President Says Thank You, 1948: The Marshall Plan

Today’s post is written by David Langbart, an Archivist in the Textual Records Division at the National Archives at College Park.

On June 5, 1947, Secretary of State George C. Marshall addressed the graduating class at Harvard University. In his speech, Marshall noted that World War II had caused “the dislocation of the entire fabric of European economy” with consequences for the U.S. economy, too. To stabilize the situation, he proposed a program of economic aid to European countries:

“It is logical that the United States should do whatever it is able to do to assist in the return of normal economic health in the world, without which there can be no political stability and no assured peace. Our policy is directed not against any country or doctrine but against hunger, poverty, desperation and chaos.”

This speech led to the establishment of the European Recovery Plan, also known as the Marshall Plan, and the establishment of a new agency, the Economic Cooperation Administration (ECA), to administer it. While the Soviet Union and other East Bloc countries ultimately did not participate in the Marshall Plan, they were invited to do so.

The Marshall Plan complemented the Truman Doctrine. President Harry Truman announced that initiative in a highly ideological March 12, 1947, speech to a joint session of Congress in which he requested approval for aid to Greece and Turkey as part of a global fight against communism.

Scholars continue to debate the origins and objectives of the Marshall Plan, which was a major departure in U.S. foreign policy. Whatever they may be, taking a broad suggestion such as that made in the speech and bringing it to fruition was no simple matter. It fell to the Department of State to make the vision a reality. Development of the policy surrounding such a major new initiative in U.S. foreign policy, securing passage of the necessary legislation (The Economic Cooperation Act of 1948, 62 Stat. 138) in the face of significant opposition, and setting up a new government agency took a tremendous amount of concentrated work on the part of the Department. All of those things took place within the relatively short span of 11 months, and the new Economic Cooperation Administration went into operation in May 1948. Continue reading

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The CCC . . . in Color!

Today’s post is written by Cody White, Archivist at the National Archives at Denver.

In his first 100 days in office, President Franklin Roosevelt worked furiously to tamp down the widespread unemployment and economic unrest that gripped the United States back in 1932. Arguably the most famous legislation passed that spring was the Emergency Conservation Work (EWC) Act, creating the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) that ultimately put over 2,000,000 men to work during its nine years of existence.

The CCC projects were accomplished through a host of existing federal agencies as well as state and local municipalities. Records regarding CCC work done through federal agencies can be found in National Archives holdings nationwide. At the National Archives at Denver this includes the series “Narrative Reports of Individual CCC Camps, 1936-1938, (NAID 292847)” which details the work done in Department of Grazing camps in the west.

Found in Record Group 49, Records of the Bureau of Land Management, these narrative reports were compiled per period, the six month span of time that CCC enrollments were broken into, and chronicle the work, as well as sometimes the educational and recreational activities, of the enrollees through both text and photographs. Typically these photographs are black and white, but in 1937 Camp DG-32, out of Dalton Wells, Utah, had Arrow Photo Service of Minneapolis, Minnesota hand color select photographs, giving their narrative reports a distinctive feature not seen in others.


Dalton Wells Camp DG-32 was located about 15 miles northwest of Moab, Utah, due west of Arches National Park today. During World War II, the shuttered camp was turned into the Moab Relocation Center, housing Japanese internees deemed “troublemakers” from other internment camps. Today the site, off U.S. Highway 191, is marked with a plaque and all that remains of the camp are two stone pylons that once held the entrance sign.


View of Camp DG-32, with sheep grazing in foreground.

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“Cutting Capers on the Sands of North Africa”: A Soldier’s Art before, during, and after World War II

Today’s post was written by Jennifer Eltringham, a summer 2016 intern at the National Archives at Denver.

Albert Racine of the Blackfoot Tribe from Browning, Montana, enlisted in the U.S. Army in April of 1942, one day before his 35th birthday. When he left home to serve in World War II, however, he was not alone. He brought along a man with a mischievous grin, a large belly, and an even larger hat. Racine’s drawings of the Blackfeet figure Napi created a connection between Montana and troops overseas that resonated with the Blackfeet community in Browning and left an enduring mark. This juxtaposition between playfulness and seriousness would become characteristic of Racine’s legacy as an artist.


Albert Racine in Uniform (NAID 37489831).

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