The CIA says that it will no longer use vaccination campaigns as a cover for intelligence programs, as it did several years ago when investigating Osama bin Laden's potential presence in his Abbottabad compound, reports Yahoo News. The agency saw backlash after details of the operation were revealed, as those programs already faced opposition in key regions and began to see even less acceptance as well as deadly attacks on health workers following the revelation. The CIA's director apparently implemented the ban in August of last year, but it was only revealed in a letter last week in a letter sent to deans of 12 public health schools who had joined together to condemn the use of health programs for covert operations.
"This CIA policy applies worldwide."
The letter attempts to fully distance the CIA from vaccination campaigns, explaining that it would not make use of the programs or their workers. "Similarly, the agency will not seek to obtain or exploit DNA or other genetic material acquired through such programs," Lisa Monaco, President Obama's homeland security advisor, writes in the letter. "This CIA policy applies worldwide and to US and non-US persons alike."
The reply comes as a late response to the deans' letter, which was reportedly sent in January of last year. But it may be no coincidence that it arrived now. Polio is seeing a comeback in select countries in the Middle East and Africa, and the World Health Organization recently declared it a global emergency. With distrust of Western vaccinators already contributing to the issue, the United States' government likely hopes to avoid having any further program and personnel endangerment or failures pinned on it.
Laurie Garrett, Pulitzer Prize winner and senior fellow of global health for the nonprofit Council on Foreign Relations, was reportedly the first to reveal the letter's existence. She writes on Facebook that she's been distressed about the CIA's use of vaccine programs and is delighted that it's agreed to stop using them. "But my god, more than 50 vaccinators have been murdered, mostly by Taliban, and millions of kids have gone unimmunized," she writes. "The CIA scheme propelled an Islamist response that has us fighting back polio in 10+ countries in 2014... in 2011 the virus was in only three."