President Obama’s top counterterrorism advisor has vowed that the CIA will no longer be able to use vaccination programs as cover for intelligence operations like those the agency carried out prior to the killing of Osama bin Laden in 2011.
Lisa Monaco announced the policy change last week in a letter to the deans of 13 schools of public health. Monaco’s letter said that the CIA has agreed to stop using vaccination programs and workers for intelligence purposes. The agency has also agreed not to use genetic material obtained through such programs.
The educators had written to Obama last year protesting the use of immunization programs as a front for espionage. The most prominent program was run by Dr. Shakil Afridi, who offered 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 U.S. 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 U.S.
In the May 16 letter, Monaco said the U.S. “strongly supports the Global Polio Eradication Initiative and efforts to end the spread of the polio virus forever.”
She added that CIA Director John Brennan said in August 2013 that the agency would “make no operational use of vaccination programs, which includes vaccination workers.” Also saying no DNA or genetic material from such programs would be used, Monaco said the CIA policy “applied worldwide and to U.S. and non-U.S. persons alike.”
CIA spokesman Dean Boyd said Brennan “took seriously the concerns raised by the public health community, examined them closely and took decisive action.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.