NEW YORK – A “Dissent Channel” memo is gathering steam within the State Department among foreign service officers who believe President Donald Trump’s executive order banning citizens of six predominantly Muslim countries will harm America’s standing in the world and not yield meaningful security improvements.
A five-page memo from an unknown number of State Department employees detailed the ways in which they saw the Jan. 27th executive order as both counterproductive and un-American.
“The end result of this ban will not be a drop in terror attacks in the United States: rather, it will be a drop in international good will towards Americans and a threat to our economy,” the memo read.
Trump has described it as a “temporary” immigration ban, but the memo said Trump’s executive order sets “conditions which will be difficult or impossible for countries to meet.”
Among other requirements, the governments of Syria, Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen will need to prove to the U.S. government that their citizens do not pose a security or terrorism risk before they are permitted access into the United States.
Several of the countries targeted by Trump’s executive order are wracked by civil war, while others lack effective government institutions to make such guarantees.
Click below to read the dissent channel memo in full.
The drafters of the dissent memo also criticized the executive order for failing to target the individuals considered to pose the greatest terrorist risk to the United States, and instead focusing on a population responsible for “a vanishingly small number of terror attacks.”
“The overwhelming majority of attacks have been committed by native-born or naturalized U.S. citizens,” the memo said.
Foreign nationals who did commit acts of terror, according to the memo, hailed from countries such as Pakistan or Saudi Arabia, “which are not covered by the executive order.”
Critics of the executive order have observed that countries with which Trump has done business in the past – namely Egypt, Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates – were excluded from the immigration ban.
According to the dissent memo:
“Given the near-absence of terror attacks committed in recent years by Syrian, Iraqi, Irani, Libyan, Somali, Sudanese, and Yemeni citizens who are in the U.S. after entering on a visa, this ban will have little practical effect in improving public safety.”
Beyond critiquing the executive order as ineffective, the dissent cable described how the order would “immediately sour relations” with targeted countries and cause the United States to “lose access to the intelligence and resources need [sic] to fight the root causes of terror abroad.”
Specifically, the memo’s authors said the countries targeted by the executive order would view it as “religiously-motivated.”
The memo points out that “governments of these countries are important allies and partners in the fight against terrorism, regionally and globally.”
While Iran and Syria are not widely seen as cooperating in American anti-terror efforts, the Iraqi government is a close partner of the United States and Sudan was recently released from U.S. sanctions after the country was deemed to have improved anti-terror cooperation.
In addition to fostering distrust between governments, the memo predicted that Trump’s executive order would “increase anti-American sentiment” among the populations of the affected countries.
“Instead of building bridges to these societies through formal outreach and exchanges and through informal people-to-people contact, we send the message that we consider all nationals of these countries to be an unacceptable security risk,” the memo said.
That would be particularly unwise, the memo said, given that one-third of the populations in the countries targeted by the executive order are younger than 15 years old and “there is no question that their perception of the United States will be heavily colored by this ban.”
The “Dissent Channel” was established to allow agency employees to “bring dissenting or alternative views on substantive foreign policy issues … to the attention of the Secretary of State and other senior State Department officials in a manner which protects the author from any penalty, reprisal, or recrimination,” according to State Department policy.
But during a briefing with reporters on Monday, White House spokesman Sean Spicer undercut that core principle of non-reprisal, telling State Department employees who disagreed with President Trump’s policy that they should “either get with the program or they can go.”
That comment caught the attention of Susan Hennessey, the managing editor of Lawfare.org and a former NSA attorney, who Tweeted that Spicer’s comments undermined the “whole point” of the dissent channel.
Incredibly important: The government *cannot* retaliate against anyone, in any way, for using the Dissent Channel. That’s the whole point.
— Susan Hennessey (@Susan_Hennessey) January 30, 2017
The dissent channel was notably used during the Obama Administration to circulate a memo critical of the president’s decision not to strike the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad.