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Harvard Kennedy School of Government

The Harvard Kennedy School serves as an institutional training ground for future servants of US empire and the US national security state, while providing broad support to US empire's global allies including Israel and Saudi Arabia.

Support for US empire and the US national security state

In How Harvard Rules, John Trumpbour documents the central role Harvard as a whole played in the establishment of the Cold War academic-military-industrial complex and US imperialism post-WWII (How Harvard Rules, 51), highlighting the role of the Harvard Kennedy School under Dean Graham Allison (1977-1989) in particular (HHR, 68). Trumpbour recounts that Dean Allison ran an executive education program for Pentagon officials at Harvard Kennedy (HHR 68). 

Indeed, Harvard Kennedy School of Government and its historical precursors have hosted some of the most infamous war criminals and architects of empire: Henry Kissinger, Samuel Huntington, Susan Rice (an HKS fellow), Madeleine Albright, James Baker, Hillary Clinton, Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice, and Larry Summers. HKS also currently hosts Ricardo Hausmann, founder and director of Harvard’s Growth Lab, the academic laboratory of the 2019 US-backed attempted coup in Venezuelan.

Harvard Kennedy School's support for the US military and US empire continues to this day. HKS states on its website: "Harvard Kennedy School, because of its mission to train public leaders and its depth of expertise in the study of defense and international security, has always had a particularly strong relationship with the U.S. Armed Forces. This relationship is mutually beneficial. The School has provided its expertise to branches of the US military, and it has given military personnel (active and veteran) access to Harvard’s education and training." The same webpage further notes that after the removal of ROTC (Reserve Officers Training Corps) from Harvard Kennedy School in 1969, "under the leadership of Harvard President Drew Faust, the ROTC program was reinstated in 2011, and the Kennedy School’s relationship with the military continues to grow more robust each year."

In particular, Harvard Kennedy School's Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs provides broad support to the US military and the objectives of US empire. The Belfer Center is co-directed by former US Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter (a war hawk who has advocated for a US invasion of North Korea and US military build ups against Russia and Iran) and former Pentagon Chief of Staff Eric Rosenbach. Programs within HKS Belfer Center include the Center's "Intelligence Program," which boasts that it "acquaints students and Fellows with the intelligence community and its strengths and weaknesses for policy making," further noting that "Discussions with active and retired intelligence practitioners, scholars of intelligence history, law, and other disciplines, help students and Fellows prepare to best use the information available through intelligence agencies." Alongside HKS Belfer's Intelligence Program, is the Belfer Center's "Recanati-Kaplan Foundation Fellowship." The Belfer Center claims that, under the direction of Belfer Center co-directors Ashton Carter and Eric Rosenbach, the Recanati-Kaplan Foundation Fellowship "educates the next generation of thought leaders in national and international intelligence."

HKS Belfer Center supports the US military and US empire by hosting a wide range events, conferences, and initiatives, through which students are inculcated with the imperialist ideologies of the US military and the US national security apparatus. Recent Belfer Center events have included:

(See here for full list of past Belfer Center events, conferences, and initiatives.) 

Additionally, HKS Belfer Center faculty regularly write pieces in the US media which parrot the talking points of the US national security state, imbuing US imperialist propaganda with the institutional legitimacy their positions at Harvard University can offer (see for example: herehere, and here).

Meanwhile, Harvard Kennedy School maintains a close relationship with the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). As Inside Higher Ed wrote in a 2017 review of Spy Schools by Daniel Golden:

[Harvard Kennedy School] currently allows the agency [the CIA] to send officers to the midcareer program at the Kennedy School of Government while continuing to act undercover, with the school’s knowledge. When the officers apply -- often with fudged credentials that are part of their CIA cover -- the university doesn’t know they’re CIA agents, but once they’re in, Golden writes, Harvard allows them to tell the university that they’re undercover. Their fellow students, however -- often high-profile or soon-to-be-high-profile actors in the world of international diplomacy -- are kept in the dark. 

“Kenneth Moskow is one of a long line of CIA officers who have enrolled undercover at the Kennedy School, generally with Harvard’s knowledge and approval, gaining access to up-and-comers worldwide,” Golden writes. “For four decades the CIA and Harvard have concealed this practice, which raises larger questions about academic boundaries, the integrity of class discussions and student interactions, and whether an American university has a responsibility to accommodate U.S. intelligence.”

Harvard Kennedy School is also deeply enmeshed with the US weapons industry. Numerous employees and board members from major US weapons developers General Dynamics, General Electric, Raytheon, Northrop Grumman, L3Harris, Elbit Systems, and Lockheed Martin have studied, served as faculty, and/or done research at Harvard Kennedy School (See links between HKS and each of these companies for details). As just one example, Professor of the Practice of International Affairs at the Harvard Kennedy School Meghan O'Sullivan currently serves on the board of MA-based weapons developer Raytheon. O'Sullivan is also deeply enmeshed within US war machine and national security state, sitting on the Board of Directors of the Council on Foreign Relations, and having served as a "special assistant" to President George W. Bush (2004-07) where she was "Deputy National Security Advisor for Iraq and Afghanistan" (2006-07) in the midst of the US invasions and occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan. In April 2021, Meghan O'Sullivan penned an article in the Washington Post entitled "It’s Wrong to Pull Troops Out of Afghanistan. But We Can Minimize the Damage.” As reported in the Harvard Crimson, O'Sullivan's author bio in this WaPo article highlighted her position as a faculty member of Harvard Kennedy (with the perceived "expertise" that HKS imbues) but failed to acknowledge her position on the Board of Raytheon, a company which had "a $145 million contract to train Afghan Air Force pilots and is a major supplier of weapons to the U.S. military." This omission sparked charges of "conflict of interest," given Raytheon's clear business stake in extending the US war on Afghanistan in order to maximize its weapons sales and profits. WaPo's glaring omission aside, O'Sullivan's simultaneous positions as faculty at Harvard Kennedy School and board member at Raytheon, along with her former positions atop the US war machine and national security state provide an emblematic illustration of the grotesque "revolving door" which exists between Harvard Kennedy School, the US war machine and security state (which feeds its people into elite institutions like HKS), and the US weapons industry (which seeks business from US war machine and national security state).

Alongside its support for US militarism and empire worldwide, Harvard Kennedy School also actively supports the agencies carrying out the US government's militarized crackdown against populations (predominantly Black and Brown) within the US itself. Government spending records show yearly tuition payments from the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) for Homeland Security personnel to attend special Harvard Kennedy School seminars on Homeland Security which occurred through HKS's Program on Crisis Leadership. Similarly, Harvard Kennedy School maintains multiple ties with the US Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI), including:

Harvard Kennedy School also hosted former FBI director James Comey for a conversation with HKS Belfer Center's Co-Director (and former Pentagon Chief of Staff) Eric Rosenbach in 2020. The conversation was open to all Harvard students. 

Support for Israel

Harvard Kennedy School is home to the Wexner Foundation. Through its "Israel Fellowship," The Wexner Foundation awards ten scholarships annually to "outstanding public sector directors and leaders from Israel," funding these individuals to pursue a Master’s in Public Administration at Harvard Kennedy School. Past Wexner Fellows include more than 25 Israeli generals and other high-ranking Israeli military and police officials. Among them is the Israeli Defense Force’s current chief of general staff, Aviv Kochavi, who is directly responsible for Israel's latest aerial bombardment of Gaza in May 2021, and who is believed to be one of the 200 to 300 Israeli officials likely to be indicted by the International Criminal Court’s probe into alleged Israeli war crimes committed in Gaza in 2014. The Wexner Foundation also paid former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak — himself accused of war crimes in connection with Israel’s 2009 Operation Cast Lead which killed over 1,400 Palestinians in Gaza — $2.3 million for two studies, one of which he did not complete.

Alongside its extensive support for US empire, Harvard Kennedy School's Belfer Center has a long history of hosting Israeli generals, Israeli politicians, and other high ranking Israeli officials to give talks at HKS (See for example: here, here, here, and here). The Belfer Center also hosts crassly pro-Israel events for HKS students, such as: "The Abraham Accords - A conversation on the historic normalization of relations between the UAE, Bahrain and Israel," "A Discussion with Former Mossad Director Tamir Pardo," "The Future of Modern Warfare" (which Belfer described as "a lunch seminar with Yair Golan, former Deputy Chief of the General Staff for the Israel Defense Forces"), and "The Future of Israel's National Security." Ehud Barak (mentioned above) was himself a "Belfer fellow" at Harvard Kennedy School in 2016.

As of 2022, Harvard Kennedy School's Belfer Center is hosting former Israel military general and war criminal Amos Yadlin as a Senior Fellow at the Belfer's Middle East Initiative. In the Spring 2022 semester, HKS allowed Yadlin to lead a weekly study group for HKS students entitled “Israeli National Security in a Shifting Middle East: Historical and Strategic Perspectives for an Uncertain Future.” Harvard University students wrote open letter demanding HKS "sever all association with Amos Yadlin and immediately suspend his study group," in which students explained:

Yadlin presided over the committee that approved the IDF’s ethical code and is a leading architect of Israel’s illegal policy of “targeted killing.” He has dismissed as “immoral” the international legal principle of civilian immunity whereby the safety of non-combatants must be prioritized over that of combatants, glossing Israeli soldiers as “citizen[s] in uniform” whose safety may justify “collateral damage” to “persons in the vicinity of a terrorist.” Defending Israel’s assassination policy that has extrajudicially killed hundreds of Palestinians since 2000, he wrote that the “the laws and ethics of conventional war did not apply​​” vis-á-vis Palestinians under occupation.

Harvard students staged weekly protests against Yadlin at Harvard Kennedy School in Spring 2022, disrupting the study group and forcing HKS to move its location repeatedly.

Harvard Kennedy School also plays host to the Harvard Kennedy School Israel Caucus. HKS Israel Caucus coordinates "heavily subsidized" trips to Israel for 50 HKS students. According to HKS Israel Caucus's website, students who attend these trips "meet the leading decision makers and influencers in Israeli politics, regional security and intelligence, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, [and] the next big Tech companies." HKS Israel Caucus also regularly hosts events which celebrate "Israel's culture and history." Like the trips to Israel they coordinate, these HKS Israel Caucus events serve to whitewash Israel's colonial subjugation of Palestinians and systematic theft of Palestinian land and resources.

Support for Saudi Arabia

In 2017, Harvard Kennedy School's Belfer Center announced the launch of "The Project on Saudi and Gulf Cooperation Council Security," which Belfer stated was "made possible through a gift from HRH Prince Turki bin Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al Saud of Saudi Arabia." Through this project, the Harvard Kennedy School and the Belfer Center have hosted numerous events at HKS which have promoted Saudi Arabia as a liberalizing and positive force for security and stability in the region, whitewashing the reality that Saudi Arabia is a literal monarchy which, according to Amnesty International, regularly harasses, tortures, and executes women's rights activists, journalist, activists, relatives of activists, and members of the country's Shia minority, all while spearheading the barbaric Saudi-led (and US-backed) campaign of airstrikes and blockade against Yemen, which has precipitated conditions of mass starvation and an epidemic of Cholera amongst the Yemeni people.

The Belfer Center's Project on Saudi and Gulf Cooperation Council Security further normalizes and whitewashes Saudi Arabia's crimes through its "HKS Student Delegation to Saudi Arabia." This delegation brings 11 Harvard Kennedy School students on two-week trips to Saudi Arabia, where students "exchange research, engage in cultural dialogue, and witness the changes going on in the Kingdom first hand." Not unlike the student trips to Israel coordinated by Harvard Kennedy School's Israel Caucus, HKS's trips to Saudi Arabia present students with a crassly propagandized impression of Saudi Arabia, shoring up support for the "Kingdom" amongst the future leaders of the US security state which Harvard Kennedy School seeks to nurture.

Doing propaganda for corporations 

HKS must praise its benefactors – the leaders of US empire and corporate America – and it does so by lavishing them with awards. HKS’s Belfer Center, for example, has a program called “Technology and Public Purpose” (TPP), which gives awards to companies and “critical” scholars that serve the “public good.” In May 2021, this award was presented by Ashton Carter, Obama’s “Defense Secretary,” and Gideon Lichfield (former editor of MIT’s propaganda magazine, MIT Technology Review, whose main role is to cheer for neoliberalism and promote the gadgets and agendas of MIT and Harvard). A representative of the ACLU also participated in this award bestowed by Carter. Unsurprisingly, the runners-up for the award included corporate giants Microsoft and IBM Research.

In 2020, the same Belfer award was given to Google’s “ethical” employees, who received praise from servant of the US war machine, Ashton Carter. Carter described the purpose of the award as follows:

“When I left the Defense Department,” Carter said, “I asked myself what the most important thing was that I could do. I decided the issue of our time was bending the arc of technological change in the direction of overall public good. Technology brings lots of wonderful things, but there is inevitably a dark side as well. What we need to do is get the good without the bad.” That, he said, is what the [Befler’s] TAPP Project is working to do. 

That is, after helping to run the operations that bomb, kill, and extract profits from millions of people worldwide, servants of US empire like Carter to a place like HKS to “do good” – which means doing propaganda for their cronies and propping up the “softer” projects of US imperialism.

79 John F. Kennedy St, Cambridge, MA 02138

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