The use by the US government of a fake vaccination campaign in Pakistan as part of its efforts to find Osama bin Laden was an outrage. Heroic vaccination workers in that and other countries like Afghanistan and Nigeria were already battling obscurantist anti-vaccination Muslim religious leaders who were frightening people by saying that this was some kind of dark western plot. The revelation that the CIA was using the vaccination program for its own ends has given these people support for their allegations and made the work of public health officials that much harder and has led to many health workers had being murdered and the resurgence of this dreaded disease, just when it seemed like it we were on the verge of eradicating it worldwide.
Even before those revelations, the Taliban in Pakistan had already opposed Western-backed vaccination campaigns, claiming that they were secret efforts to sterilize Muslim children. But the CIA’s actions helped fuel an armed backlash against immunization workers, reportedly killing 56 people between December 2012 and May 2014. The victims include not just medical workers but police officers assigned to guard them.
Another result of the CIA’s actions was to lead many Pakistani parents to forgo vaccinations for ailments like polio. The crippling and sometimes fatal illness has no known cure – but there are several safe and effective vaccines, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
Of the 77 documented new cases of polio worldwide in calendar year 2014, 61 were in Pakistan, mostly from the remote and restive Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) region, which serves as a Taliban stronghold.
Of course, there are those who will say that since the US is at ‘war with terrorism’, then anything is acceptable in winning that war, even nuclear weapons, so what does it matter if poor children die or are paralyzed for life by polio in distant countries as a result of that glorious war effort to ‘keep us safe’ in our comfortable homes?
The CIA apologized today for this particular program.
Amid a deadly backlash again vaccinations and a resurgence of polio in Pakistan, the White House has promised that the CIA will never again use an immunization campaign as a tool of spycraft.
“I wanted to inform you that the Director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) directed in August 2013 that the agency make no operational use of vaccination programs, which includes vaccination workers,” President Obama’s top counterterrorism and homeland security advisor, Lisa Monaco, wrote to the deans of 12 public health schools. Yahoo News obtained a copy of the May 16 letter (below).
“Similarly, the Agency will not seek to obtain or exploit DNA or other genetic material acquired through such programs,” Monaco wrote. “This CIA policy applies worldwide and to U.S. and non-U.S. persons alike.”
This is not good enough. As usual, we have apologies but no accountability. The identity of the person who made the ultimate decision to carry out this ghastly plan should be revealed, because such a person is someone with no moral compass and should not hold any position of authority.
Furthermore, why should we believe the CIA’s promises now? This is an agency that prides itself on its ability to deceive. Lying is part of its mission. It will surely resort to doing whatever it feels necessary, even if it involves doing this again.