Bruce Elleman is William V. Pratt Professor of International History at the US Naval War College, Newport, Rhode Island. The opinions expressed in this article are strictly his own and do not necessarily reflect the views of the US government, the U.S. Navy, or the U.S. Naval War College.
On Nov. 2, 2023, the U.S. Naval War College (NWC) finally honored RADM Dr. Jeffrey A. Harley USN (ret) for his service to the US Navy and to the Nation. After many unconscionable delays, RADM Harley’s official portrait was ceremoniously unveiled in Newport before a large crowd of onlookers.
The NWC is unique. It is the only PME MA-granting institution to focus on the prerequisites and strategic possibilities for maritime power. For the NWC to be anything less than a top-tier graduate institution risks U.S. national security, because it is the only graduate institution to study sea power, in other words, the actual geopolitical situation of the United States.
In June 2019, leaked documents to the Associated Press (AP) unfairly forced NWC President Harley to step down. This was, in fact, an “on-land naval mutiny” conducted by a small cohort of dissatisfied ex-Navy employees. It has been a trying time at the NWC ever since. Dozens of professors have left the institution, many in secret protest against this mutiny. But the portrait unveiling earlier this month graphically demonstrates Harley’s full exoneration over three years later.
Why do I say that the anti-Harley incident was the first – and arguably only – fully successful mutiny in US Navy history? Because the goal of the mutineers was to oust Harley. They clearly succeeded. And, there was zero punishment for the mutineers. So, the mutineers achieved their objectives and they were not punished. That is the textbook definition of a successful mutiny.
Those mutineers who ruined Harley’s career remain at large and unpunished. No top-tier institution does business this way. When asked, the Navy IG even claimed to R.I. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse on Dec. 8, 2022, that it had “no information” on the AP leaks. This is either an outright lie or a complete dereliction of duty. Either way it is damning that the Navy IG refused to conduct an official investigation into the AP leaks.
It is wrong that the US Navy IG has continued to drag its feet on investigating the anti-Harley AP leaks.
RADM Harley has now been fully exonerated, but there still needs to be a full investigation of why he was forced out in the first place. It is never too late to do the right thing. The Navy IG must initiate an official investigation into the circumstances surrounding the June 2019 AP leaks.