The CIA won’t use vaccination programs as covers for covert operations any more.
According to Fox News, the CIA had previously used the vaccination programs to cover operations such as the ones that were run before Osama bin Laden was killed in 2011. In those operations, the CIA also collected genetic material, which it has agreed not to use.
This policy change was announced last week to the deans of 13 schools of public health via a letter from Lisa Monaco, President Barack Obama’s top counterterrorism adviser.
According to Yahoo News, this letter was first revealed to the public by Laurie Garrett, Council on Foreign Relations senior fellow and a Pulitzer Prize-winning author. Garrett mentioned the letter on Facebook and Twitter.
— Laurie Garrett (@Laurie_Garrett) May 19, 2014
Last year, the deans wrote to Obama, complaining that “as a general principle, public health programs should not be used as cover for covert operations.”
One such operation was run by Pakistani doctor Shakil Afridi. He was trying to get DNA samples from children at the compound where bin Laden was eventually killed in order to confirm his location by comparing the collected DNA to bin Laden’s sister. Afridi was offering vaccinations in Abbottabad for this CIA-run operation.
The deans also said that they believed that the sham vaccination campaign exceeds the boundaries our open society has set on the collateral damages induced by political and security agendas.
CIA spokesman Todd Ebitz said the CIA director “took seriously the concerns raised by the public health community” and thus made the decision to remove the program.
According to Fox News, Monaco said CIA director John Brennan said they would “make no operational use of vaccination programs, which includes vaccination workers.” Monaco also said the policy to end the program and not use the DNA collected “applied worldwide and to U.S. and non-U.S. persons alike.”
Three days before the White House released the statement, Pakistan began working to stop its polio problem, requiring anyone leaving the country to get a vaccination. It implemented this rule because the World Health Organization declared the spreading polio an international public health emergency.
The WHO also said polio was spreading beyond Pakistan, Syria and Cameroon’s borders. But only in Pakistan did the number of new polio cases rise in 2012, making up over a fifth of cases in 2013.
As part of their letter last year, the deans had warned Obama that using the vaccinations as covers was part of the reason behind the shootings of Pakistani health workers. They also said the operations could harm anti-polio efforts.