fb-pixel Skip to main content

Former CIA official leaves Harvard after Chelsea Manning named fellow

Michael Morell has abruptly resigned as a senior fellow at Harvard University over the school’s decision to hire Chelsea Manning, who was convicted of leaking classified information.Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP/File

If Harvard’s Kennedy School wanted to be provocative in its choice of visiting fellows this year, mission accomplished.

Michael Morell, a former deputy director and acting director of the CIA, resigned Thursday as a senior fellow at the university over its decision to hire Chelsea Manning, who served a seven-year prison term for leaking classified information.

And Mike Pompeo, the current CIA director, canceled a planned appearance at Harvard Thursday evening in protest of Manning’s appointment.

“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,” he wrote.


The moves by Morell and Pompeo were the most high-profile rebukes over the controversial roster of visiting fellows at the school’s Institute of Politics, a list that also includes Corey Lewandowski, Donald Trump’s presidential campaign manager, known for his bullying style, and the president’s former press secretary, Sean Spicer.

In a letter to the Kennedy School’s dean, Douglas Elmendorf, Morell said Harvard’s decision legitimizes the “criminal path” Manning took, and that the leaks endangered national security and US troops.

“It is my right, indeed, my duty to argue that the school’s decision is wholly inappropriate and to protest it by resigning,” Morell said in his resignation letter.

Morell, who was a fellow at the Belfer Center at the school, said his decision has nothing to do with Manning, a former US soldier, being transgender.

Manning was sentenced to 35 years in prison for giving WikiLeaks access to classified and other sensitive documents. Then-President Barack Obama commuted that sentence.

Manning responded to Morell’s resignation letter on Twitter with “good.”

She added a little later, “no more secrecy, surveillance, torture, murder, and genocide . . . abolish the @CIA.”

Kennedy School officials declined to comment Thursday, but they confirmed Morell’s resignation and said that no other fellows had resigned.


Brendan Roach, 29, a student at the Kennedy School, said he is surprised Manning’s fellowship has sparked controversy.

“I am encouraged that the IOP has chosen to bring in Chelsea Manning, who’s demonstrated admirable integrity as a champion of human rights,” Roach said. “It’s a bit puzzling to me that she’s so controversial at a school that has welcomed Henry Kissinger as recently as last year.”

In announcing its most recent roll of fellows, Bill Delahunt, the Institute of Politics’ acting director, said the program was trying to broaden its range of experts.

“We welcome the breadth of thought-provoking viewpoints on race, gender, politics, and the media,” Delahunt said at the time.

The list has prompted plenty of controversy, said Arohi Sharma, a Los Angeles resident, who graduated from the Kennedy School in May.

Sharma said her former classmates have all been e-mailing one another about some of the fellows that Harvard selected, including Lewandowski, who was seen last year on video grabbing a female reporter seeking to talk to Donald Trump during a campaign event. Some of her female friends are upset that Lewandowski has been given such a prominent stage.

“The Kennedy School has this history of wanting to exchange with folks on the other side of the political spectrum,” Sharma said. But many students felt that the Institute of Politics’ process of picking fellows lacked transparency and was a “black box,” she said.


On Thursday, conservative politicians, pundits, and professors weighed in on Morell’s resignation and Manning’s hiring.

“Well done, Mike. And abject shame on Harvard,” former Republican presidential nominee and Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney said on Twitter.

US Representative Liz Cheney of Wyoming, daughter of former vice president Dick Cheney, wrote on Twitter: “Harvard names convicted spy/traitor Chelsea Manning visiting fellow. All money they receive from US govt should be cut off. Now.”

Deirdre Fernandes can be reached at deirdre.fernandes
. Follow her on Twitter @fernandesglobe.