White House Pledges to Stop Using Vaccines as Cover for Spying

A Pakistani health worker gives an oral polio vaccine to a child in Lahore, Pakistan. A Pakistani health worker gives an oral polio vaccine to a child in Lahore, Pakistan. K.M. Chaudary/AP

Three years after the Central Intelligence Agency used vaccination programs as part of a campaign to track down Osama Bin Laden, the White House has promised that that particular tactic is no longer part of the agency’s playbook.

President Obama’s counterterrorism adviser, Lisa Monaco, wrote in a letter last week that the CIA would not use vaccination programs as a way of gathering intel, nor would they use genetic material obtained through them. The letter, however, did not say that the tactic was a mistake in its previous usage.

Following the raid on Bin Laden’s compound in Pakistan, The Guardian reported on how the CIA used DNA samples to confirm the terrorists whereabouts. That news led to a widespread backlash against vaccine workers, and the distrust has resulted in the killings of 56 people working in vaccine programs in the past year and a half.

Many Pakistanis have also avoided the polio vaccine since the CIA operations. 61 of the 77 polio cases reported worldwide this year were in Pakistan, where the disease is still endemic. Pakistan’s Health Ministry now requires all travelers leaving the country to get the vaccine.

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