The plot to use vaccines to find Osama Bin Laden

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?

Apparently, it makes the locals not trust genuine vaccination programs, and encourages terrorists to kidnap the people trying to save lives:

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?

Here is the letter itself:

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.

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Basically the same thing I said when I covered it on my Podcast last July:

By Shane Killian (not verified) on 01 Jun 2012 #permalink

With the additional irony that the comparison with the DNA of Bin Laden's sister did for some reason yield no usable results and they ended up not using the information they gathered through this fake vaccine campaign…

The doctor who faked the campaign has no be jailed for treason, btw. I think he was lucky and got "only" a 33 years prison term instead of the death penalty. The US administration is of course outraged:

By Tony Mach (not verified) on 01 Jun 2012 #permalink

Should read "… has now been jailed for treason …"

By Tony Mach (not verified) on 01 Jun 2012 #permalink

What Glenn Greenwald writes is so good, I have to cite it:

"… what if an American doctor of Iranian descent had done this on behalf of the Quds Force, in order to find a member of the designated Iranian Terror group MeK who was living in the United States (one who, say, has been working with Israel to help assassinate Iranian nuclear scientists and wound their wives, or one who was trained by the U.S.), after which Iranian agents invaded his American home, pumped bullets in his skull and shot a few others (his wife and a child) and then dumped his corpse into the Atlantic Ocean? Or take the case of Orlando Bosch, the CIA-backed anti-Cuban Terrorist long harbored by the U.S.; suppose a Cuban-American doctor sympathetic to Castro had injected American children as part of a fake vaccination program in order to help Cuba find and kill Bosch on U.S. soil; he’d be lucky to get 33 years in prison."

Worth reading in its entirety.

By Tony Mach (not verified) on 01 Jun 2012 #permalink

The only statements of success I've seen about this story is that DNA "could have been compared." Nowhere have I seen that a match was found, or that the program actually did confirm the presence of Bin Laden DNA. Was the harm to vaccine programs all for naught?

Was the harm to vaccine programs all for naught?

Sounds like it. :-|

The vaccinations were real. Children were protected from disease.


So far I have only read from the respectable news sources that the CIA program was a mere cover, and that no vaccinations were done. I hope you are right in saying the vaccinations were real, but I have yet to hear something to confirm that.

davidp is either unaware of the topic or being willfully untruthful.
Not only did the fake vaccination program enhance the already high suspicion of the on-going programs, resulting in a drop in people willing to receive them, the doctor ran a fake program for this mission, giving only 1 of three required shots. In short,

What Dr. Afridi actually did was concoct a pretextual vaccination program, whereby Pakistani children would be injected with a single Hepatitis B vaccine, with the hope of gaining access to the Abbottabad house where the CIA believed bin Laden was located. The plan was that, under the ruse of vaccinating the children in that province, he would obtain DNA samples that could confirm the presence in the suspected house of the bin Laden family. But the vaccine program he was administering was fake: as Wired‘s public health reporter Maryn McKenna detailed, “since only one of three doses was delivered, the vaccination was effectively useless.”

This IS the CIA we're talking about. They act like a bunch of Nazi retreads because that is what they are (google "Reinhard Gehlen").

If you haven't read the Hitch on the CIA you owe it to yourself to do so.

As much as I can't stand Greenwald, I do agree with that.

Dean, I knew that the vaccination was real. I did not know that they only gave one out of the required 3 shots. Thanks for the extra information.

I'm not sure how you can say the vaccinations are real if the weren't completed properly. You can decieve very effectively using true statements and some howling omissions, but nobody would call that honest.

And the entirely predictable blowback has hit, just when it can do the most damage:

A Pakistani Taliban commander has banned polio vaccinations in North Waziristan, in the tribal belt, days before 161,000 children were to be inoculated. He linked the ban to American drone strikes and fears that the C.I.A. could use the polio campaign as cover for espionage, much as it did with Shakil Afridi, the Pakistani doctor who helped track Osama bin Laden.…

By rodentrancher (not verified) on 23 Jun 2012 #permalink