CIA’s despicable Pakistan vaccination ploy

Via Conflict Health, The Guardian reports that the “CIA organised fake vaccination drive to get Osama bin Laden’s family DNA”:

In March health workers administered the vaccine in a poor neighborhood on the edge of Abbottabad called Nawa Sher. The hepatitis B vaccine is usually given in three doses, the second a month after the first. But in April, instead of administering the second dose in Nawa Sher, the doctor returned to Abbottabad and moved the nurses on to Bilal Town, the suburb where Bin Laden lived.

Christopher Albon of Conflict Health writes:

If true, the CIA’s actions are irresponsible and utterly reprehensible. The quote above implies that the patients never received their second or third doses of the hepatitis B vaccine. And even if they did, there is absolutely no guarantee that the vaccines were real. The simple fact is that the health of the children of Abbottabad has been put at risk through a deceptive medical operations by the Central Intelligence Agency. Furthermore, the operation undermines future vaccination campaigns and Pakistani health workers by fueling conspiracy theories about their true purpose.

Albon notes that the Guardian’s source is Pakistan’s ISI… but this McClatchy story seems to confirm it via US sources:

The doctor’s role was to help American officials know with certainty that bin Laden was in the compound, according to security officials and residents here, all of whom spoke only on the condition of anonymity because they feared government retribution. U.S. officials in Washington confirmed the general outlines of the effort. They asked not to be identified because of the sensitivity of the topic.

The sensitivity of the topic? No kidding. This is absolutely terrible, and not just because the kids originally involved might not have gotten the second round of vaccine (which is bad) or because it will make the work of legitimate public health officials in Pakistan even harder (which is very bad). Vaccines are amazing innovations that save millions of lives, and they are so widely respected that combatants have gone to extraordinary lengths to allow vaccination campaigns to proceed in the midst of war. For instance, UNICEF has brokered ceasefires in Afghanistan and Pakistan for polio vaccine campaigns which are essential since those are two of the four countries where polio transmission has never been interrupted.

I hope I’m not overreacting, but I’m afraid this news may be bad for the kids of Pakistan, Afghanistan, and the rest of the world. Assuming the early reports are confirmed, this plot should be condemned by everyone. If US officials who support global vaccination efforts are going to control the damage as much as possible — though it’s likely much of it has already been done — then there need to be some very public repercussions for whoever authorized this or had any foreknowledge. What tragic stupidity: a few branches of the US government are spending millions and millions to promote vaccines, while another branch is doing this. The CIA is out of control. Sadly, I’m not optimistic that there will be any accountability, and I’m fuming that my own country breached this critical, neutral tool of peace and health. How incredibly short-sighted.

Update: In addition to the Guardian story, Conflict Health, and McClatchy stories linked above, this NYTimes article offers further confirmation and the CNN piece has some additional details. Tom Paulson at Humanosphere, Mark Leon Goldberg of UN Dispatch, Charles Kenny of CGD, and Seth Mnookin all offer commentary.

July

11

2011

5 Comments Add Yours ↓

The upper is the most recent comment

  1. 1

    Short-sighted says it all. This deception by the U.S. spells trouble for public health. The sad part is, I can’t see this operation furthering national security in the long-term either.

  2. 2

    Brett, I do not think you are over-reacting. Words like “despicable,” reprehensible, contemptible, etc. all seem way too mild for this unforgiveable CIA behavior.

    I sent around my own notes about this earlier today, but once I found your post, I have just been sending it around instead: You have expressed this far better than I could.

    I hope some people at WHO and the U.S. CDC and other western health agencies speak out about this. Perhaps there is a need for more rules of war, so we don’t have spy agencies posing as (and thus further endangering) journalists, vaccinators, and other good guys.

  3. malapf #
    3

    Check out Sunday’s Washington Post: http://wapo.st/rv49E8

    • 4

      Yup, Dr. Levine is one of my professors — good stuff especially given the space constraints.

  4. 5

    Hey, cool content, but WordPress breaks it up on my monitor. Maybe it’s the plugin you have on the site. Have you considered a different CMS?


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