A top White House official has pledged that the CIA will no longer use vaccination programs as cover for spying operations. The agency used the ruse in targeting Osama bin Laden before the U.S. raid that killed him in 2011.
Lisa Monaco, President Barack Obama’s top counterterrorism adviser, wrote to the deans of 13 prominent public health schools last week, saying the CIA has agreed it would no longer use vaccination programs or workers for intelligence purposes. The agency also agreed to not use genetic materials obtained through such programs.
A Pakistani doctor, Shakil Afridi, offered a program of hepatitis vaccinations in the Pakistani city of Abbottabad as cover for his CIA-backed effort to obtain DNA samples from children at a compound where bin Laden was later killed during a 2011 raid by U.S. Navy SEALs. Afridi was convicted and sentenced by a Pakistani court to 33 years in prison for treason. The sentence was later overturned and Afridi faces a retrial.
In 2012, the United Nations suspended a polio vaccination effort in Pakistan after gunmen killed several health workers. Taliban militants accused health workers of acting as spies for the U.S.
The health school deans were among a group of medical authorities who publicly criticized the CIA’s use of the vaccination program after it was disclosed by media accounts and Pakistan’s arrest of Afridi as a CIA operative.
In her May 16 letter to the health school deans, Monaco said the U.S. “strongly supports the Global Polio Eradication Initiative and efforts to end the spread of the polio virus forever.”
She added that CIA Director John Brennan said in August 2013 that the agency would “make no operational use of vaccination programs, which includes vaccination workers.” Also saying no DNA or genetic material from such programs would be used, Monaco said the CIA policy “applied worldwide and to U.S. and non-U.S. persons alike.”