I have no idea how I missed this insane bit of news last year:
The CIA organised a fake vaccination programme in the town where it believed Osama bin Laden was hiding in an elaborate attempt to obtain DNA from the fugitive al-Qaida leader’s family, a Guardian investigation has found.
As part of extensive preparations for the raid that killed Bin Laden in May, CIA agents recruited a senior Pakistani doctor to organise the vaccine drive in Abbottabad, even starting the “project” in a poorer part of town to make it look more authentic, according to Pakistani and US officials and local residents.
The vaccination plan was conceived after American intelligence officers tracked an al-Qaida courier, known as Abu Ahmad al-Kuwaiti, to what turned out to be Bin Laden’s Abbottabad compound last summer. The agency monitored the compound by satellite and surveillance from a local CIA safe house in Abbottabad, but wanted confirmation that Bin Laden was there before mounting a risky operation inside another country.
DNA from any of the Bin Laden children in the compound could be compared with a sample from his sister, who died in Boston in 2010, to provide evidence that the family was present.
Okay, so, Osama is dead. But what are the long-term effects of using vaccines as a ruse to find and kill terrorists?
An alliance of 200 US aid groups has written to the head of the CIA to protest against its use of a doctor to help track Osama bin Laden, linking the agency’s ploy to the polio crisis in Pakistan.
The country recorded the highest number of polio cases in the world last year, a health catastrophe that threatens to spiral out of control.
However the ruse has provided seeming proof for a widely held belief in Pakistan, fuelled by religious extremists, that polio drops are a western conspiracy to sterilise the population.
The group, which includes the International Rescue Committee, Mercy Corps and Care, said that as well as damaging the drive against polio and other health problems in Pakistan, the CIA’s tactics had endangered the lives of foreign aid workers. In recent months, at least five international NGO workers, including a British doctor, have been kidnapped by presumed Islamic extremists.
Who would have thunk it?
I urge you and your counterparts in the U.S. government to avoid adopting tactics that erode the ability of humanitarian actors in Pakistan and the rest of the world to work on behalf of the poorest and most vulnerable. It is imperative that independent, impartial humanitarian action be kept clearly distinct from intelligence gathering activities. Any blurring of the two risks causing setbacks in decades-long global health and humanitarian efforts and endangers the lives of those working to make those advances on the behalf of the global community.
You can add my name to that letter too, Petraeus. Vaccination campaigns in the Us are hard. They are exponentially harder in the places in the world that need them the most. We do not need this BS, Petraeus.