CIA abandons use of vaccine programs for spying

Polio is on the rise in Pakistan, in part because of fears that Western vaccine workers there could be doubling as spies. But according to the CIA, that should no longer be a concern.

Lisa Monaco

In a letter to the deans of 12 public health schools, Lisa Monaco, President Obama's top counterterrorism and homeland security adviser, said that under a directive from August 2013, the CIA would not make "operational use of vaccination programs, which includes vaccination workers."

"Similarly, the Agency will not seek to obtain or exploit DNA or other genetic material acquired through such programs," she wrote. "This CIA policy applies worldwide and to U.S. and non-U.S. persons alike."

The Taliban's mistrust of vaccination programs has mounted since the CIA reportedly enlisted a Pakistani doctor, Shakil Afridi, to gather intelligence before the May 2011 raid on Osama bin Laden's compound, Yahoo News notes. Afridi used an immunization effort as a cover-up, attempting to help the agency confirm bin Laden's presence there through DNA obtained from local children.

In the years following, violence against vaccination workers has escalated, killing 56 people between December 2012 and May 2014, Yahoo reports. And that's only hurt the efforts to eradicate the disease; one of only three countries in which wild poliovirus is endemic, Pakistan has been the site of 61 of the 77 documented cases this year.

But the CIA hopes its move will change that. "By publicizing this policy, our objective is to dispel one canard that militant groups have used as justification for cowardly attacks against vaccination providers," CIA spokesman Todd Ebitz told Yahoo News.

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