The Dissent Channel system was devised in 1971, during the Vietnam War, by Secretary of State William Rogers. It permitted any State Department employee who is a United States citizen, anywhere in the world, to voice criticism and have it addressed by the State Department’s elite policy planning staff. The dissenter is protected from reprisal, and there are even yearly awards for employees who dissent in the most effective way.
Critical policy changes have resulted from it. For example, a 1992 memo about genocide in Bosnia is credited with helping bring about the Dayton Accords that ended the war there. Sometimes, of course, policy is left unchanged. But at least decisions are made in full view of contrarian information.
The Dissent Channel is just one of many mechanisms for checks and balances inside an agency. Others include, notably, the “red teams” created by the C.I.A. after the Sept. 11 attacks. These teams are dedicated to arguing against the intelligence community’s conventional wisdom and spotting flaws in logic and analysis. They have forced second thoughts before a leader’s intuitions steer things in a wrong direction. The C.I.A. thanked its red teams when Osama bin Laden was killed.