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Foreign Service labor union supports State Department’s refusal to provide dissent cable under subpoena

The labor union representing the Foreign Service came out on Thursday supporting the State Department’s decision to withhold a classified diplomatic cable that was subpoenaed by the Republican-controlled House Foreign Affairs Committee earlier this week. 

Eric Rubin, president of the American Foreign Service Association (AFSA), said in a statement that the organization believes that the Dissent Channel must be protected under the executive branch or risk undermining the privileged purposes the secure communication line allows.

The State Department’s Dissent Channel allows diplomats to quickly raise serious concerns surrounding foreign policy directly to senior officials in the department, including the secretary of State, without fear of retribution or retaliation. 

“AFSA maintains that constructive dissent can only thrive and be successful if it remains confidential and confined to internal discussion within the executive branch,” Rubin said in the statement. 

“Failure to protect the confidentiality of constructive dissent can lead to a fear of disclosure or retaliation that may dissuade career employees from offering their best professional advice. In this regard, AFSA believes that use of the Dissent Channel, which AFSA has strongly supported over the decades, must be protected within the executive branch of government.”

The statement from the labor union follows pressure from House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Michael McCaul (R-Texas), who issued a subpoena on Monday to attain a Dissent Channel cable reportedly sent in July 2021.

The cable reportedly raised urgent alarm to Secretary of State Antony Blinken that the U.S.-backed government in Afghanistan was at risk of collapse and was under threat from the Taliban. 

McCaul is seeking that cable as part of the committee’s investigation into the fatal and chaotic U.S. pullout of Afghanistan in August 2021. 

Blinken, in a hearing with the committee, last week, said he was reluctant to release the cable over the risk it would have a “chilling” effect on the sanctity of the Dissent Channel, and said that the State Department had offered the chairman to brief him on the cables contents, or find a different mechanism to provide more information.

McCaul rejected those offers, and cited the argument of a former American diplomat who supported releasing his dissent cables around U.S. involvement in Cyprus.

“Ambassador [Tom] Boyatt is emphatic about the need for the State Department to produce dissent channel cables,” McCaul said during the hearing with Blinken.

“He says that any claim [provided by the State Department] to Congress, that would have a ‘chilling effect,’ as your staff has claimed, is, and I quote him directly. ‘Bullshit.’ Not my words, it’s the ambassador.”

Vedant Patel, State Department principal deputy spokesperson, on Thursday maintained that the agency is committed to providing information to the chairman but did not answer questions on how the department would respond to the subpoena. 

Source: The Hill

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