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CIA to stop using vaccination programmes as cover to spy

Published:Wednesday | May 21, 2014 | 12:00 AM
A Pakistani health worker gives an oral polio vaccine to a child in Lahore, Pakistan, on Monday. - AP


A top White House official has pledged that the CIA will no longer use vaccination programmes as cover for spying operations. The agency used the ruse in targeting Osama bin Laden before the U.S. raid that killed him in 2011.

Lisa Monaco, President Barack Obama's top counterterrorism adviser, wrote to the deans of 13 prominent public-health schools last week, saying the CIA has agreed it would no longer use vaccination programmes, or workers, for intelligence purposes. The agency also agreed to not use genetic materials obtained through such programmes.


A Pakistani doctor, Shakil Afridi, offered a programme of hepatitis vaccinations in the Pakistani city of Abbottabad as cover for his CIA-backed effort to obtain DNA samples from children at a compound where bin Laden was later killed during a 2011 raid by US Navy SEALs. Afridi was convicted and sentenced by a Pakistani court to 33 years in prison for treason. The sentence was later overturned and Afridi faces a retrial.

In 2012, the United Nations suspended a polio vaccination effort in Pakistan after gunmen killed several health workers. Taliban militants accused health workers of acting as spies for the US

The health school deans were among a group of medical authorities who publicly criticised the CIA's use of the vaccination programme after it was disclosed by media accounts and Pakistan's arrest of Afridi as a CIA operative.

- AP