Earlier this week, the Harvard Institute of Politics announced a list of Visiting Fellows who had been invited to the campus to speak during the 2017-2018 academic year, and among them were ousted White House press secretary Sean Spicer, former Hillary Clinton campaign manager Robby Mook, former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski, MSNBC hosts Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski, and recently imprisoned Wikileaker turned trans hero Chelsea Manning. The inclusion of Manning set off a "firestorm" in intelligence and conservative circles, as Fox News reports, prompting current CIA director Mike Pompeo to write an open letter to the university cancelling a scheduled speech Thursday because he wanted no association with "American traitor" Manning.
"[It's] a decision I did not make lightly," Pompeo wrote, "[but] my conscience and duty to the men and women of the Central Intelligence Agency will not permit me to betray their trust by appearing to support Harvard's decision with my appearance at tonight's event."
Also on Thursday, former CIA Acting Director Michael Morell resigned his position as a fellow at Harvard's Belfer Center, in protest of Manning's fellowship honor.
Late last night, Douglas Elmendorf, the dean of the university's John F. Kennedy School of Government, posted a statement to the school's website clarifying that while they were not rescinding Manning's invitation to speak, they were rescinding the perceived "honorific" that is the Visiting Fellow title.
"We invited Chelsea Manning to spend a day at the Kennedy School," Elmendorf wrote. "On that basis, we also named Chelsea Manning a Visiting Fellow. We did not intend to honor her in any way or to endorse any of her words or deeds, as we do not honor or endorse any Fellow."
He further clarified, "At any point in time, the Kennedy School has hundreds of Fellows playing many different roles at the School," and if they're invited for more than a few hours they are designated as "Visiting Fellows," "Resident Fellows," "Nonresident Fellows," "Research Fellows," and other titles. And that Manning was being invited to the school's Forum so that students could "ask hard questions and challenge what she has said and done." Elmendorf called the Visiting Fellow designation a "mistake" in retrospect, because of the endorsement it implied of Manning's actions when she was a US soldier who leaked a trove of classified material.
The Visiting Fellow program, according to the university, is intended to provide "thought-provoking viewpoints" for students from "experts, leaders and policy-shapers."
In reaction, Manning posted to Twitter:
The ACLU continues their support of Manning, and her longtime advocate and attorney at the ACLU, Chase Strangio, issued a statement on Harvard's decision saying, in part, "It doesn't surprise me that an institution that has produced many of our most dangerous war criminals & architects of our military & prison apparatuses would remain beholden to the state. Yet the decision to withdraw Chelsea Manning's visiting fellowship in the middle of the night without coherent explanation is disgraceful even for Harvard."
Chelsea Manning has exposed war crimes. Mike Morell has defended torture. We’re with Chelsea. https://t.co/NoR9DZSzxc— ACLU National (@ACLU) September 15, 2017
Manning, 29, has slowly been emerging from her four-year imprisonment and into a public life she may have never expected to have. She spoke to a small gathering of hackers and tech folk in San Francisco on Tuesday night, and wrote a thoughtful (and dark!) op-ed in the New York Times that was published Wednesday on the topic of Big Data and the creeping threats to all of our information and privacy.
Manning was released from federal prison in May following a commuting of her sentence by President Obama. She served four years of a 35-year sentence for espionage, and had made at least one attempt at suicide while in jail as she complained that she was not being allowed to groom or present as female while in a male prison.