The CIA's Vaccination Program

by

Ankit Panda, writing in The Diplomat (May 21), opens with a mild, even slightly flattering assertion on CIA prowess. “While the general image of the United States’ Central Intelligence Agency, in part thanks to its popular portrayal, is one of extreme competence, events through history have shown that the organization is prone to taking action without fully considering the consequences.” During the phantom “war on terror”, ushered in by the Bush administration’s insistence that abstractions might, in fact, be the subject of military conflict, the CIA made full use of various undercover programs in Pakistan.  The object of such programs was, broadly speaking, the pursuit of Osama bin Laden; the means of doing so was running vaccination programs as a ruse.  Shakil Afridi, in receipt of CIA moneys, ran a hepatitis vaccine program in the military town of Abottabad, venue of Bin Laden’s killing. The measure was designed to obtain DNA from a member of the Bin Laden family, a concept that seemed positively astral in its conception. In 2011, The Guardian[1] revealed that Afridi had been arrested by the Inter-Services Intelligence Agency (ISIS) for cooperating with US intelligence agents.  Suspicion was cast on the operation when the doctor moved his operations from a poor neighbourhood called Nawa Sher, to the wealthier area of Bilal Town, where Bin Laden resided.  As an unnamed Pakistani official quoted in the report claimed, “The whole thing was totally irregular.  Bilal Town is a well-to-do area.  Why would you choose that place to give free vaccines?  And what is the official surgeon of Khyber doing working in Abbottabad?”  Room, perhaps, to doubt that legendary prowess. On Monday, Lisa Monaco, a senior counterterrorism advisor in the White House, announced that the CIA would no longer be using such vaccination programs in its conduct of espionage operations.  Monaco’s announcement was outlined in a letter[2] to thirteen schools of public health on May 16, claiming, in addition to halting “operational use” of such programs that the CIA would not seek to “obtain or exploit DNA or other genetic material acquired through such programs.” The letter itself is disingenuous more than touching, starting with the mandatory assertion of noble policy. “The United States strongly supports the Global Polio Eradication Initiative and efforts to end the spread of the polio virus forever.”  The point is stated as a direct response to concerns outlined by a group letter[3] by the deans from January 2013 expressing concerns to the President on the safety of vaccination workers.  “While political and security agendas may by necessity induce collateral damage, we as an open society set boundaries on these damages, and we believe this sham vaccination campaign exceeded those boundaries.”  In August 2013, CIA Director John Brennan did commit to a policy of avoiding using vaccination programs in CIA espionage operations, though those in Pakistan were none the wiser. The entire effect of such operations moves far beyond any implication of good old deceit. Humanitarian considerations mixed with heavy realpolitik provides a heady concoction, and it proves revolting for many, and lethal for others.  Indeed, given the controversies, and the scepticism that can accompany usual vaccination programs, adopting them as covers for covert operations do wonders to blacken the name. Islamic militants, for one, have cited the possibility that such vaccination programs are intended to sterilise Muslim children.  This, in addition to the now standard assumptions that such groups are, in fact, CIA fronts. The letter by the deans on the subject of workers’ safety was entirely pertinent.  Polio vaccinators have found themselves in the line of the politics and fire.  In June 2012, Taliban commanders in two districts of North and South Waziristan, banned polio vaccination teams.  The condition for their continued operation would be the cessation of US drone strikes. A spate of killings of vaccine workers, notably those working in the field of eradicating polio, has also ensued.  Salma Farooqi[4], a 30-year-old polio vaccinator, was a notable casualty in polio-ridden Peshawar, having been abducted in front of her family, tortured and shot.  She is one of over 30 killed in the last two years, many associated with crews of the vaccinating “Lady Health Workers”. Donald G. McNeil Jr. of The New York Times[5], writing in 2012, wondered whether, in their zeal to kill Bin Laden, an unintended victim had been created by CIA enthusiasm: the global drive to eradicate polio.  This could not have come at a worst time, given the resurgence of polio as a “global emergency”.  The statement[6] by the World Health Organization (WHO) this month asserts that, in the first few months of 2014, an acute rise in polio infections have been registered across the globe.  A “coordinated international response” is required.  Making it effective, free of suspicion of infiltration, is going to be a tall order.  Official reassurances from intelligence officials will continue to prove unconvincing. Dr. Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge.  He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne.  Email: bkampmark@gmail.com

Like What You’ve Read? Support CounterPunch
July 28, 2015
Mark Schuller
Humanitarian Occupation of Haiti: 100 Years and Counting
Lawrence Ware
Why the “Black Church” Doesn’t Exist–and Never Has
Peter Makhlouf
Israel and Gaza: the BDS Movement One Year After “Protective Edge”
Eric Draitser
China’s NGO Law: Countering Western Soft Power and Subversion
Paul Craig Roberts - Dave Kranzler
Supply and Demand in the Gold and Silver Futures Markets
Carl Finamore
Landlords Behaving Badly: San Francisco Too Valuable for Poor People*
Michael P. Bradley
Educating About Islam: Problems of Selectivity and Imbalance
Binoy Kampmark
Ransacking Malaysia: the Najib Corruption Dossier
Michael Avender - Medea Benjamin
El Salvador’s Draconian Abortion Laws: a Miscarriage of Justice
Jesse Jackson
Sandra Bland’s Only Crime Was Driving While Black
Cesar Chelala
Effect of Greece’s Economic Crisis on Public Health
Mel Gurtov
Netanyahu: An Enemy of Peace
Joseph G. Ramsey
The Limits of Optimism: E.L. Doctorow and the American Left
George Wuerthner
Bark Beetles and Forest Fires: Another Myth Goes Up in Smoke
Harvey Wasserman
Will Ohio Gov. Kasich’s Anti-Green Resume Kill His Presidential Hopes?
Jon Langford
Mekons Tour Diary, Episode 4, a Bowery Ballroom Blitz
July 27, 2015
Susan Babbitt
Thawing Relations: Cuba’s Deeper (More Challenging) Significance
Howard Lisnoff
Bernie Sanders: Savior or Seducer of the Anti-War Left?
Martha Rosenberg
Big Pharma’s Profiteers: You Want Us to Pay What for These Meds?
John Halle
On Berniebots and Hillary Hacks, Dean Screams, Swiftboating and Smears
Stephen Lendman
Cleveland Police Attack Black Activists
Patrick Cockburn
Only Iraq’s Clerics Can Defeat ISIS
Ralph Nader
Sending a ‘Citizens Summons’ to Members of Congress
Clancy Sigal
Scratch That Itch: Hillary and The Donald
Colin Todhunter
Working Class War Fodder
Gareth Porter
Obama’s Version of Iran Nuke Deal: a Second False Narrative
Joshua Sperber
What is a President? The CEO of Capitalism
Zoe Konstantopoulou
The Politics of Coercion in Greece
Vacy Vlanza
Without BDS, Palestine is Alone
Laura Finley
Adjunct Professors and Worker’s Rights
Jon Langford
Mekons Tour Diary, Episode Three, Where We Thrill Everyone by Playing Like “Utter Bloody Garbage”
Weekend Edition
July 24-26, 2015
Mike Whitney
Picked Out a Coffin Yet? Take Ibuprofen and Die
Henry Giroux
America’s New Brutalism: the Death of Sandra Bland
Rob Urie
Capitalism, Engineered Dependencies and the Eurozone
Michael Lanigan
Lynn’s Story: an Irish Woman in Search of an Abortion
Paul Street
Deleting Crimes at the New York Times: Airbrushing History at the Paper of Record
ISMAEL HOSSEIN-ZADEH
Making Sense of the Iran Nuclear Deal: Geopolitical Implications
Andrew Levine
After the Iran Deal: Israel is Down But Far From Out
Uri Avnery
Sheldon’s Stooges: Netanyahu and the King of Vegas
David Swanson
George Clooney Paid by War Profiteers
ANDRE VLTCHEK
They Say Paraguay is in Africa: Mosaic of Horror
Horace G. Campbell
Obama in Kenya: Will He Cater to the Barons or the People?
Michael Welton
Surviving Together: Canadian Public Tradition Under Threat
Rev. William Alberts
American Imperialism’s Military Chaplains
Yorgos Mitralias
Black Days: August 4th,1914 Germany and July 13th, 2015 Greece