Harvard Kennedy Succumbs to CIA Pressure, Revokes Chelsea Manning's Fellowship

CIA director Mike Pompeo and other CIA officials pressured the Harvard Kennedy School to revoke Chelsea Manning's fellowship invitation. (Photo: Gage Skidmore/Flickr)

Harvard Kennedy Succumbs to CIA Pressure, Revokes Chelsea Manning's Fellowship

It is remarkable that any former CIA director would oppose someone for "long-standing efforts" to "legitimize" their "criminal path." 


The Institute of Politics at the Harvard Kennedy School revoked an invitation for United States military whistleblower Chelsea Manning to serve as a visiting fellow after intense pressure from the CIA.

According to the Harvard Crimson, the school newspaper, "high-ranking current and former CIA officials" convinced the Dean of the Kennedy School of Government to reverse course.

Mike Pompeo, the current CIA director, canceled his appearance at the school on September 14. He wrote a letter to the director of the Intelligence and Defense Projects at Harvard Kennedy that declared, "Ms. Manning betrayed her country and was found guilty of 17 serious crimes for leaking classified information to Wikileaks. Indeed, Ms. Manning stands against everything the brave men and women I serve alongside stand for."

Former CIA director Mike Morell resigned from his position as a senior fellow at the Belfer Center at the Harvard Kennedy School. His statement bore a distinct similarity to Pompeo's statement.

"Please know that I am fully aware that Belfer and the IOP are separate institutions within the Kennedy School and that, most likely, Belfer had nothing to do with the invitation of Ms. Manning to be a fellow at IOP," Morell stated. "But, as an institution, the Kennedy School's decision will assist Ms. Manning in her long-standing effort to legitimize the criminal path that she took to prominence, an attempt that may encourage others to leak classified information as well."

Morell acknowledged Manning's rights as a transgender American and contended he had nothing against her discussing the "circumstances around her crimes as well as the IOP's right to invite whomever they believe will further the education of Harvard's student body." However, Morell still found it necessary to impose his status as a former CIA director to pressure the Kennedy School to change its decision.

To the statement from Pompeo that, "Ms. Manning stands against everything the brave men and women I serve alongside stand for," there is some truth to that. She probably stands against the torture of prisoners in order to obtain "intelligence" or false confessions that can justify the global war on terrorism. She probably stands against deploying covert agents to countries to undermine their sovereignty and impose the agenda of the United States on governments. She probably does not support the cult of intelligence's regular engagement in secrecy and deception to avoid responsibility for crimes.

It is remarkable that any former CIA director would oppose someone for "long-standing efforts" to "legitimize" their "criminal path." This is exactly what former CIA director Michael Hayden, former acting CIA general counsel John Rizzo, former CIA Counterterrorism Center head Jose Rodriguez and others have done through books and speaking engagements. Rodriguez destroyed tapes showing torture, and he goes around defending his past at the CIA, even going so far as to celebrate the usefulness of torture techniques.

Amidst the uproar against Manning by the CIA, Harvard Kennedy is pressing ahead with having former White House press secretary Sean Spicer and Donald Trump's former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski as visiting fellows. Lewandowski grabbed Breibart News reporter Michelle Fields and was charged with battery. Prosecutors later chose not to prosecute but confirmed Fields' allegation that she was physically attacked by Lewandowski. Video also showed Lewandowski grabbing a protester.

A press release from Harvard Kennedy states, "As a TV political commentator, [Lewandowski] provides on-air analysis on political news of the day as well as an in-depth understanding of the political process and the administration of President Donald J. Trump." Part of that "analysis" included promoting birtherism--the racist notion that Obama was not a citizen when he ran for president.

On CNN, Lewandowski said, "Did he ever release his transcripts or his admission to Harvard University? You raised the issue, so just yes or no? The answer is no," and he added, "The question was did he get in as a U.S. citizen or was he brought into Harvard University as a citizen who wasn't from this country?"

It is a safe bet that the CIA will still be sending its personnel to speak to students, even as Harvard gives a platform to a birther. There won't be any letters to any deans for hiring a criminal who assaulted a reporter and got away with it.

Additionally, let's examine some of the past visiting fellows at Harvard Kennedy's Institute of Politics.

Former New Hampshire Republican Senator Kelly Ayotte was a visiting fellow in spring 2017. She was a leading hawk when it came to foreign policy, opposed to the Iran nuclear deal and against withdrawing troops from Iraq. She opposed trying Guantanamo prisoners in federal courts and spoke out against closing the military prison, despite its record of abuse and torture.

In August 2016, former Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel was a visiting fellow. Coincidentally, Hagel bears some responsibility for the frustration Manning experienced while trying to obtain hormone therapy while she was in prison at Fort Leavenworth.

Former U.S. House of Representatives Republican Majority Leader Eric Cantor was a visiting fellow in spring 2015. As late as 2014, Cantor was still speaking out against the withdrawal of troops from Iraq. He also advocated for troops to remain in Afghanistan.

Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee was a visiting fellow in the fall of 2014. Huckabee also opposed the Iran nuclear deal and wildly suggested that President Obama was marching the Israelis to "the door of the oven" with the deal. He said Guantanamo Bay was a "distraction" because people perceive there is torture and abuse but really "every consideration" is made to take care of prisoners. Plus, Huckabee is a Christian Zionist who thinks the Jewish people have a "God-given right to reclaim land" and that Palestinians should not have a state in the "Promised Land."

Michael Gerson, who served as a speechwriter and top aide to George W. Bush, was a visiting fellow in the fall of 2006. It was Gerson who proposed the metaphor of not allowing a smoking gun to become a mushroom cloud as a phrase that could help the Bush administration lie America into war in Iraq.

One thing all of the highlighted current and former visiting fellows have in common is their full support of any U.S. war or effort the country may take to expand its superpower at great cost to populations. Manning obviously does not fit because she has a record of speaking out against the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Visiting fellows, as Harvard Kennedy describes, are on campus to broaden the "range and depth of opportunity for students to hear from and engage with experts, leaders, and policy-shapers."

Had Manning served as a visiting fellow, she could have spoken with students from her experience as an all-source military intelligence analyst. She could have shared with them her ideas about how to degrade and destroy the Islamic State in Iraq and how bombs and bullets only fuel the militant organization responsible for so much brutality. But that does not fit the preferred narrative of the CIA.

Harvard Kennedy had an opportunity to have a voice on campus, who would not use her presence to absolve herself of her past actions but rather would draw from her experience to help students grapple with harsh realities in the world. She is a skeptic, who students should hear from as President Donald Trump stretches the rules of engagement in war zones and hundreds upon hundreds of more civilians are killed.

Moreover, Manning served her time in prison and serving as a visiting fellow at Harvard Kennedy would have allowed her to speed her reintegration into society after seven years in a military prison. Apparently, Harvard Kennedy stands against rehabilitation and stands with the CIA, who will vengefully attack Manning for the rest of her life so long as people laud any part of the action she undertook to inform the world of the true costs of U.S. wars.

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