There is a wall of white Alabama marble in the main lobby of the Central Intelligence Agency's headquarters in Langley, Va., etched carefully with stars.
The stars signify the number of CIA agents killed in the line of duty. The names of many agents represented on the lobby wall remain a mystery to the public, as the circumstances surrounding their deaths often includes classified information. There were 31 stars when the CIA's Memorial Wall was first dedicated in 1974. There are now 125.
As the agency's former director, Mike Morell saw those stars at the beginning and end of every workday; a constant reminder of, "those members of the Central Intelligence Agency who gave their lives in the service of their country," as the Memorial Wall reads.
It should come as no surprise, then, to learn Morell resigned Thursday as senior fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School over its decision to extend a fellowship to Chelsea Manning, a former U.S. Army analyst who was convicted in 2013 of leaking hundreds of thousands of pages of classified U.S. intelligence.
"[I]t 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," the former CIA director said in a letter addressed to the dean of Harvard's John F. Kennedy School of Government.
Manning was found guilty on July 30, 2013, of 17 of 22 charges, including six counts of espionage and theft. Nevertheless, Manning, who is free today because President Obama commuted the sentence in January, is celebrated in media and political circles for being an outspoken member of the transgender community. The tenor of the praise is such that it seems as if those doing the cheering have forgotten Manning was also found guilty of treason.
Being transgender, it would seem, has insulated Manning somewhat from the stigma of being a traitor. Speak out against what Manning did, and you run the risk of being labeled anti-trans.
Morell, who joined the CIA in 1980, seems willing to take that risk.
"I cannot be part of an organization … that honors a convicted felon and leaker of classified information," the former director said in a letter addressed to the dean of Harvard's John F. Kennedy School of Government.
"[A]s 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," Morell added. "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."
It is not a mystery, however, that a public servant who has spent more than three decades guarding America's secrets would resign from an organization over its decision to elevate a person best known for exposing them.