by Anthony Robbins, MD, MPA
As an editor of the Journal of Public Health Policy, I have been following developments where public health intersects with the activities and policies of espionage agencies. New happenings appear regularly.
First there was the Central Intelligence Agency’s (CIA) creation of a special immunization campaign in Pakistan, where the only purpose of the program was to collect material containing DNA that stuck on the needles used to deliver hepatitis vaccine. The Agency hoped to find Osama Bin Laden. We published an editorial that predicted the terrible damage that would follow: set backs in polio vaccination, just as it was nearing effective eradication of the disease.
The CIA appeared to be oblivious to the damage they might do to immunization efforts, but this is unlikely. In the 1990s, when I ran the US National Vaccine Program, immunization programs were becoming a keystone in improving health around the world. The CIA recognized the value of controlling disease as part of US national security, and posted this observation on the Agency website. So in 2010, it is more likely that the CIA knowingly traded the lives of dozens of vaccinators in Pakistan and put thousands of unvaccinated children around the world in harm’s way to kill one terrorist. People all over the world were allowed to confirm their worst suspicions, that vaccination programs were part of a CIA plot. Trust, absolutely needed in public health, was surely a victim of CIA subterfuge. We must hope that the US government officials responsible for the vaccination ruse will end up in the docket in The Hague at the International Criminal Court.
Then came the National Security Agency revelations. Again trust became the central issue as James R. Clapper, Jr. explained that testimony he gave to the US Senate about collecting private data on millions of American citizens, was the “least untruthful” way to answer the Senate’s questions. We editorialized, “Least Untruthful, a new standard?”
Have things come full circle? Just this week, almost two years after our first editorial, the CIA announced that it had decided several months ago to abandon the use of vaccination programs for espionage. The White House made its announcement last week via a letter sent to the deans of 12 schools of public health. More than 16 months earlier, after my post here on The Pump Handle, the deans wrote to President Obama about the sham vaccination and its dire consequences to goals of disease eradication.
Here in France, I got a call from Jason Beaubien at National Public Radio. (By the way, this is exactly the kind of international call that the National Intelligence Agency may record: Americans talking to other Americans abroad.) As I told Beaubien, the CIA’s not exclusively responsible for the problems we have in getting children vaccinated, but it certainly didn’t make anything easier. Without trust, a vaccination program fails.
As I thought about this string of developments, I found it hard to imagine that if the Agency were doing so intentionally, the CIA could not have invented a more damaging assault on the trust on which public health relies.
With the US Director of National Intelligence apologizing for lying to the Senate, calling his testimony “least untruthful”, is there any reason that either Americans or the rest of the world should trust anything that the CIA says? And as we have asserted before, public trust is the central element of all public health programs.
Anthony Robbins, MD, MPA is co-Editor of the Journal of Public Health Policy.