Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government rescinded its offer of a one-day visiting fellowship to whistleblower Chelsea Manning just two days after publicly announcing the invitation.

“I now think that designating Chelsea Manning as a Visiting Fellow was a mistake, for which I accept responsibility,” Dean Douglas W. Elmendorf said in a statement.

The school received some criticism when it announced it had offered Manning the fellowship earlier this week, but the most negative reaction reportedly stemmed from the Central Intelligence Agency. The Guardian reports:

The dean had said he needed to talk to Manning “urgently” after CIA figures first raised their objection to Harvard offering the whistleblower a place among its 2017-18 visiting speaker program – raising the prospect that one of America’s most prestigious academic institutions had kowtowed to pressure from the intelligence services.

Manning’s invitation to address students of the school’s Institute of Politics was denounced by Mike Pompeo, the CIA director who cancelled an appearance at Harvard on Thursday, and by former deputy director of the agency Mike Morell, who resigned his own visiting fellowship in protest at what the two men described as the honoring of a “traitor”.

Manning, who celebrated the news of Morell’s resignation on Twitter (as did the American Civil Liberties Union), had this to say about Harvard’s decision to rescind its fellowship invitation:

One of Manning’s lawyers, Chase Strangio, shared his thoughts on Twitter as well:

In a phone call to Manning on Thursday, Elmendorf attempted to explain his reasoning for rescinding her invitation while keeping other controversial figures on as fellows, but Manning hung up on him. The Guardian says:

Details of the phone call were shared with the Guardian by a source who was present at the time of the conversation. Manning had just stepped off stage in San Francisco where she was receiving a global freedom of information award from the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF).

When Elmendorf reached Manning on the phone he sounded audibly nervous, the source said. He argued that Harvard had to “weigh” what each visiting fellow “brought to the table”.

A member of Manning’s support team challenged Elmendorf to explain why Harvard was so anxious about giving her the title of “visiting fellow” when in the same roster of this year’s fellows they had included Sean Spicer, Donald Trump’s former White House press secretary, and Trump’s former presidential campaign manager Corey Lewandowski, who was charged with assaulting a reporter during the 2016 race.

They noted what they suggested was the absurdity of honouring two prominent members of a presidential campaign notorious for its bending of the truth and controversial stances on race issues in America.

Elmendorf further alienated the Manning team by responding that Spicer and Lewandowski “brought something to the table” and could teach the Harvard audience something. That, for the recipients of the phone conversation, implied that the whistleblower by contrast had nothing to contribute.

Elmendorf’s decision to roll over just hours after the two CIA figures protested has put the dean in a tight corner. The Guardian asked Harvard for comment on the phone call but did not receive an immediate response.

The fallout has brought other Harvard fellows such as Spicer, Lewandowski and former CIA Director David Petraeus under public scrutiny.

“What explains the difference in #Harvard’s treatment between Chelsea Manning and David Petraeus? Power,” whistleblower Edward Snowden said on Twitter. “Never forget who institutions serve.”

Editor’s note: Dean Elmendorf’s statement said that although the Harvard Kennedy School is “withdrawing the invitation to [Manning] to serve as a Visiting Fellow—and the perceived honor that it implies to some people,” it is “maintaining the invitation for her to spend a day at the Kennedy School and speak in the Forum.” There has been no public indication that Manning will participate.


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