CIA to End Fake Vaccination Program that Led to Killing of Osama bin Laden…but also Deaths of Real Health Workers

Wednesday, May 21, 2014
Pakistani health workers vaccinate children with protection of security guard (photo: Mohammad Sajjad, AP)

The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) has finally shuttered its fake vaccination program that was set up to help find Osama bin Laden three years ago. But the clandestine operation did considerable harm in Pakistan, where health workers were killed once word got out about the CIA effort that led to the al Qaeda leader’s death.


The decision comes a year after public health officials wrote to President Barack Obama to complain about the use of immunization for hepatitis B as an anti-terrorism front, which also led to the arrest of a Pakistani doctor, Shakil Afridi, after bin Laden was killed by Navy SEALs.


Afridi remains in a Pakistani jail, where he told interrogators that he became involved in the CIA operation through an employee of Save the Children. Afridi’s lawyer, who said he took Afridi’s case on “humanitarian grounds,” dropped representation of his client this week due to threats on his life from militant forces and extremist religious groups.


Dozens of public health workers in Pakistan have been killed since bin Laden’s death. Militants have justified the killings saying the victims were suspected of being spies. Save the Children denied any involvement in spying or the bin Laden operation, but nonetheless was forced to shut down its offices in Pakistan.


In March, 11 people died when two vans carrying a polio vaccination team struck a roadside bomb in northern Pakistan. The group responsible accused the polio workers of having a political agenda. Last year a Pakistani Taliban commander announced that polio vaccines would be banned as long as the U.S. continued drone strikes in the country. At least 22 polio workers have been killed since 2012, and many more have been kidnapped.


“While political and security agendas may by necessity induce collateral damage, we as a society set boundaries on these damages, and we believe this sham vaccination campaign exceeded those damages,” the health officials wrote in their letter to Obama, according to The New York Times.


Administration officials informed health educators last week that the CIA had stopped the vaccination cover operation, and promised to not “obtain or exploit DNA or other genetic material acquired through such programs.”

-Noel Brinkerhoff


To Learn More:

U.S. Cites End to C.I.A. Ruses Using Vaccines (by Mark Mazzetti, New York Times)

Attack Targets Polio Workers in Pakistan, Kills 11 (by Zahir Shah Sherazi and Tom Watkins, CNN)

Shakil Afridi’s Counsel Quits after Threats (by Shamim Shahid, Pakistan Today)

White House Letter to Health Officials

198 U.S. Aid Groups Criticize CIA for Using Fake Polio Vaccination Drive to Kill Bin Laden (by Matt Bewig, AllGov)


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