2 Empty Chairs at Harvard After CIA Director's Snub


The opening video on the website for Harvard's John F. Kennedy Jr. Forum is, as of this report, an odd one.

It was a live stream that appears to have been automatically uploaded to YouTube last night. It's 30 minutes long, but for a majority of the time, it just shows an opening slide announcing the upcoming talk by CIA Director Mike Pompeo. Then, 20 minutes in, the video shifts to a camera showing two empty chairs in front of a Harvard backdrop, flanked by an American flag.

Then, after more than eight minutes of just empty chairs, Harvard Kennedy School Dean Douglas Elmendorf takes the stage to apologize, saying the CIA director will not be speaking and that he'll have to explain himself why.

In a letter sent to another Harvard official earlier that day and also to the news media, Pompeo did just that. He said he was protesting Harvard's recent naming of Chelsea Manning as a visiting fellow at Harvard -- an invitation Harvard later revoked amid the controversy.

"I am writing to confirm that I will not be speaking at the John F. Kennedy, Jr. Forum. It is a decision I did not make lightly. However, after much deliberation in the wake of Harvard's announcement of American traitor Chelsea Manning as a Visiting Fellow at the Institute of Politics, 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," Pompeo wrote. "Ms. Manning betrayed her country and was found guilty of 17 serious crimes for leaking classified information to Wikileaks. Wikileaks is an enemy of the United States, akin to a hostile foreign intelligence service... Indeed, Ms. Manning stands against everything the brave men and women I serve alongside stand for."

Manning, then Army intelligence analyst Bradley Manning, was convicted and sentenced in 2013 for leaking hundreds of thousands of confidential U.S. diplomatic cables and other classified information to WikiLeaks. While in prison, Manning transitioned to a woman and took on the name Chelsea. Manning was originally sentenced to 35 years but served seven before her sentence was commuted by then-President Barack Obama.

Prior to Pompeo's protest, former CIA Deputy Director Michael Morell reportedly wrote his own letter to Elmendorf saying he was withdrawing from his post as a senior fellow at Harvard because of the invitation to Manning.

Harvard appears to have buckled under the pressure and today announced it was withdrawing Manning's offer.

"...I now think that designating Chelsea Manning as a Visiting Fellow was a mistake, for which I accept responsibility," Elmendorf wrote in a statement online. "I still think that having her speak in the Forum and talk with students is consistent with our longstanding approach, which puts great emphasis on the value of hearing from a diverse collection of people. But I see more clearly now that many people view a Visiting Fellow title as an honorific, so we should weigh that consideration when offering invitations.

"I apologize to her and to the many concerned people from whom I have heard today for not recognizing upfront the full implications of our original invitation. This decision now is not intended as a compromise between competing interest groups but as the correct way for the Kennedy School to emphasize its longstanding approach to visiting speakers while recognizing that the title of Visiting Fellow implies a certain recognition."

Manning reacted on Twitter, saying she was "honored to be the 1st disinvited trans woman visiting @harvard fellow... they chill marginalized voices under @cia pressure." In an earlier tweet, she said, "this is what a military/police/intel state looks like... the @cia determines what is and is not taught at @harvard. #WeGotThis"

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