For centuries, Harvard has been our country’s most prestigious university, while its rather newer John F. Kennedy School of Government serves as mecca for graduate students seeking entry to the elite halls of power – especially in Washington, D.C. The K-School, as it’s known to Cambridge cognoscenti, also provides sinecures for veteran pols and Beltway hangers-on, who are ideal faculty to teach the ways of American governance to the rising generation.
The K-School doles out fellowships as well, including to visiting fellows. These are hardly more than honorifics, not actual jobs, yet they are undeniably prestigious. They are also a way for Harvard to remain au courant with trendy issues of the day. However, an unusual firestorm erupted last week when the K-School announced its new crop of visiting fellows – roughly ten are selected annually – and the list included Chelsea Manning.
Manning – then Bradley — became a celebrity of sorts back in 2010 as an Army private who, while serving in Iraq, stole some 750,000 classified documents and passed them to WikiLeaks. In so doing, Manning became an icon to anti-American activists everywhere, yet Washington was far from amused.
The lion’s share of what Manning purloined and WikiLeaks revealed to the world consisted of State Department cable traffic – which isn’t highly classified yet is enormously sensitive. This represents the nuts-and-bolts of diplomacy – conversations between Foggy Bottom and our embassies worldwide about what foreign emissaries say to them, and vice versa – and it’s kept secret with good reason. Foreigners speak frankly to our diplomats because they expect, reasonably, that those conversations will remain private. Manning blew all that up.
The cost to American power and prestige that followed was difficult to enumerate yet very real. Our friends, allies, and interlocutors, witnessing WikiLeaks dump their secret chats with Washington online, understandably wondered if America could keep secrets any longer. This was a humiliating experience, especially for the nation’s top diplomat at the time, Hillary Clinton.
She took the Manning case personally – who, in Hillary’s shoes, would not? – and wanted justice to be served. The Defense Department and our Intelligence Community were equally livid about Manning, since plenty of their secrets were embedded in the vast trove of stolen files which Manning gave to Julian Assange. Although the Pentagon’s official public assessment is that these revelations cost no lives, that is widely considered to be a pleasant fiction in intelligence circles. Unquestionably the personal information that WikiLeaks dumped online, care of Manning, endangered foreigners who were working for the American government.
Read the rest at The Observer …