Former acting CIA director quits Harvard over Chelsea Manning post

Olivier Knox
Chief Washington Correspondent
Michael Morell, former deputy director of the CIA, and Chelsea Manning. (Photos: David Hume Kennerly/Getty Images and Heidi Gutman/ABC via Getty Images)

Former acting CIA Director Michael Morell on Thursday resigned from Harvard’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs to protest the appointment of convicted leaker Chelsea Manning to a fellowship at the university’s Kennedy School.

“I cannot be part of an organization — The Kennedy School — that honors a convicted felon and leaker of classified information, Ms. Chelsea Manning,” Morell wrote in a letter to Kennedy School Dean Douglas Elmendorf. CBS News tweeted the letter, and Morell confirmed its authenticity to Yahoo News.

In an odd twist, Morell’s letter emerged on the same day that CIA Director Mike Pompeo was scheduled to give a talk at the Belfer Center.

Manning was convicted and sentenced to 35 years in prison for leaking U.S. military incident logs and diplomatic cables, among other secret government documents, to WikiLeaks, in 2010. President Barack Obama commuted her sentence just before leaving office in January, and she was freed in May. Harvard announced on Wednesday that she was joining the Kennedy School as a visiting fellow.

In his letter, Morell said Manning was guilty of “serious crimes” and noted that Pompeo has said WikiLeaks “operates like an adversarial foreign intelligence service.”

“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 wrote. “I have an obligation to my conscience — and I believe to the country — to stand up against any efforts to justify the leaks of sensitive national security information. For this reason, I have decided to resign my position at Belfer.”

Morell said in the letter that he fully supports “Manning’s rights as a transgender American, including the right to serve our country in the US military,” and the Kennedy School’s right to invite whomever it chooses.

But, Morell said, “it is my right, indeed my duty” to argue that the decision to give her a fellowship is “wholly inappropriate” and that leaking classified information is “disgraceful and damaging.”

The Belfer Center features a number of national security figures among its experts, including former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, former national security adviser Susan Rice, former Defense Secretary Ash Carter, and former Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Michèle Flournoy.

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