A former acting CIA director resigned his post as a senior fellow at Harvard University’s Belfer Center on Thursday in protest of what he said was the school’s “inappropriate” invitation for Chelsea Manning to join its Institute of Politics as a visiting fellow.
In a letter to Douglas Elmendorf, dean of Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government, Michael Morell announced his resignation “effectively immediately.”
“I do so with sadness because I have enjoyed immensely my time at Belfer. Interacting with the future leaders of our country — and helping to inform their worldviews in even a small way — has been a meaningful part of my post-government life,” Morell, a former deputy CIA director who also led the agency in an acting capacity, wrote Thursday.
“Unfortunately, I cannot be part of an organization — The Kennedy School — that honors a convicted felon and leaker of classified information, Ms. Chelsea Manning, by inviting her to be a Visiting Fellow at the Kennedy School’s Institute of Politics.”
Manning, a transgender woman who served in the Army, was arrested in 2010 for leaking hundreds of thousands of classified documents to WikiLeaks. Former President Barack Obama commuted Manning’s 35-year sentence during his last week in office.
Morell noted that Manning “was found guilty of 17 serious crimes, including counts of espionage,” and recalled statements by military and congressional leaders that she endangered American soldiers’ lives and hurt America’s national security.
The Belfer Center and Institute of Politics are separate entities within the Kennedy School. Morell acknowledged that Belfer likely had nothing to do with the IOP’s invitation but argued that “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.”
“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,” he said. “For this reason, I have decided to resign my position at Belfer.”
Morell, in closing, stressed that his resignation had nothing to do with Manning’s rights as a transgender American. He expressed support for her right to serve in the U.S. military and even discuss publicly “the circumstances that surrounded her crimes.”
“But, it is my right, indeed my duty, to argue that the School’s decision is wholly inappropriate and to protest it by resigning from the Kennedy School — in order to make the fundamental point that leaking classified information is disgraceful and damaging to our nation,” he said.
The IOP announced Manning as a visiting fellow on Wednesday alongside former Hillary Clinton campaign manager Robby Mook and former White House press secretary Sean Spicer, who join former Donald Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski and MSNBC “Morning Joe” co-hosts Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski.
Manning cheered Morell’s exit, tweeting “good.” She later pinned a tweet to her Twitter page: “no more secrecy, surveillance, torture, murder, and genocide,” it reads. “abolish the @cia.”