136. Memorandum From Raymond F. Smith, Kenneth Quinn, and Sandra Vogelgesang of the Secretary of State’s Open Forum Panel to Secretary of State Kissinger1

Leaks and the Lack of Consensus

We share the concern you expressed at our meeting of August 272 about the frequency of leaks from this building and agree with your analysis that the leaks are due to a lack of consensus on your policy framework. This lack of consensus derives in part from basically differing global outlooks and in part from a closed and secretive decision-making process which increases dissensus rather than builds consensus.

As we noted in our meeting with you, FSO’s often diverge from current policy, not just because of “clientism” or short-term concerns, but because they genuinely believe that their global conception better serves overall US interests than the currently prevailing one. They feel frustrated when their perspectives on US interests—for example, in [Page 465] cases of alleged disregard for human rights—are dismissed as particularistic nay-saying. Though sensitive to the limits of US intervention abroad, many FSO’s believe that US influence in the world suffers from discrepancies between expressions on behalf of human rights or improved welfare and actions which seem to belie these expressions. Apparent disregard for such perspectives combine with lack of participation in the policy-making process and lack of information about the reasons for policy decisions to cause genuinely concerned officers to go public either in frustration or because they see no other way of affecting policy.

The way to stop such leaks is not to further tighten the decision-making process and further restrict information, which produces a downward spiral of mutual mistrust, but to open up the process. Officers who have a chance to participate are not likely to leak information, even if they disagree with the decisions made. We urge a basic change in the style of operation of this Department. We propose as part of this change the following:

1. The Assistant Secretaries should be your direct link with the lower levels of the Department, a function they now serve in name only.

—They should meet at least monthly with junior officers (i.e., below level of Office Director and Alternate) for an exchange on the major issues facing the Bureau—how the Seventh Floor is approaching these problems, the relevant forces operating on the issue, different perceptions of junior officers, etc.

—In crisis situations, when there is the greatest tendency to cut desk officers out of the decision-making process, Assistant Secretaries should make a special effort to ensure that such officers understand the Seventh Floor’s approach to the problem and, if they still disagree, encourage and provide them with means to communicate their views to decision-makers.

2. The Open Forum Panel should be used more effectively by the Seventh Floor as a means of developing consensus within the building.

—Seventh Floor principals should occasionally appear at open meetings sponsored by the Panel.

—They should periodically meet with small groups of Panel members for the more frank and intimate dialogue on policy issues which larger, open meetings preclude.

—In addition to fulfilling its basic function of providing a vehicle for new or dissenting policy views, the quarterly classified publication, Open Forum, can occasionally provide a channel for illustrating the kind of thinking on policy issues that you wish to see and/or for critiquing the Department’s performance in a given situation (for example, in the Cyprus situation).

[Page 466]

3. Distribution of information should generally be on the basis of building consensus, not avoiding leaks.

—The image of the Department as a single-minded monolith is neither tenable nor helpful.

4. The decision-making process should be de-personalized.

—Many non-vital decisions which should be made at lower levels are being made on the Seventh Floor.

—In many cases, it would be better to have a less than optimum decision made and carried out at a lower level than to have a marginally better decision made on the Seventh Floor.

If you think a further exchange of views on these matters would be useful, the Panel leadership would welcome the opportunity to meet with you again.


Vice-Chairperson Kenneth Quinn did not participate in the preparation of this memorandum and disagrees with certain of its conclusions. He therefore disassociates himself from all sections of it other than recommendations 1 and 2, to which he subscribes.

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Records of the Policy Planning Staff, Director’s Files (Winston Lord), 1969–77, Entry 5027, Box 348, October 1974. No classification marking. An unknown hand crossed out the typed date on the first page and replaced it with the handwritten date of October 22. A note handwritten by Lord indicates that he, Eagleburger, and Lewis met with Smith and Vogelgesang to discuss this memorandum on October 22. No other record of such a meeting has been found.
  2. A transcript of Kissinger’s August 27 meeting with Smith, Quinn, Vogelgesang, and Lewis, summarized herein, is ibid., Central Foreign Policy Files, P820097–1176.