Metro Weekly

Harvard dean says offering Chelsea Manning fellowship was a “mistake”

Mike Pompeo, head of the CIA, cancels appearance at Harvard to protest school's invitation

Chelsea Manning – Photo: Instagram.

“I now think that designating Chelsea Manning as a Visiting Fellow was a mistake, for which I accept responsibility.”

Douglas W. Elmendorf, the dean of Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government, writing in a 700-word statement apologizing for extending the offer of a visiting fellowship to Chelsea Manning, the former Army private who was convicted of espionage and theft for leaking sensitive information to the cyber-anarchist site Wikileaks. In total, Manning released more than 700,000 files detailing the civilian casualties of American military actions abroad.

President Obama later commuted Manning’s sentence, leading to her release from the U.S. Disciplinary Barracks at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.

The offer of one of four visiting fellowships, in which Manning would appear on campus for speaking engagements and events on a regular basis and interact with undergraduate students on “topical issues of today,” was badly received, reports The Washington Post. While Manning fashions herself a “whistleblower,” others — particularly pro-war conservatives believe her to be a modern-day Benedict Arnold.

One of those conservatives, former Kansas Congressman and CIA director Mike Pompeo, was so incensed by the invitation that he withdrew from a planned appearance at Harvard and fiercely criticized the school for calling attention to Manning, who he referred to as an “American traitor.”

“Harvard’s actions implicitly tell its students that you too can be a fellow at Harvard and a felon under United States law,” Pompeo said. “I believe it is shameful for Harvard to place its stamp of approval upon her treasonous actions.”

Several other national security experts also decried the school’s decision, with Michael Morell, a former CIA leader for more than three decades, resigning in protest from his position at Harvard’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs.

“I have an obligation to my conscience — and I believe to the country — to stand up against any efforts to justify leaks of sensitive national security information,” Morell wrote in his resignation letter. 

Elmendorf later withdrew the invitation for a fellowship, but said Manning would still be allowed to visit for a day and speak at the school’s John F. Kennedy, Jr. Forum. He said the invitation was never intended to “honor her in any way or to endorse any of her words or deeds.”

Manning did not issue a statement directly responding to criticism of her, but did accuse the university of engaging in censorship and trying to silence marginalized communities, tweeting: “This is what a military/police/intel state looks like. The @cia determines what is and is not taught at @harvard.”

John Riley is the local news reporter for Metro Weekly. He can be reached at jriley@metroweekly.com