A new CIA policy mandates the agency will no longer use vaccination programs as cover for other operations.
The directive from CIA Director John Brennan was made nine months ago but has only come to light recently. The new policy is seen as a response to a protest letter sent to President Obama by deans of 12 U.S. public health schools in January of 2013.
“This disguising of an intelligence-gathering effort as a humanitarian public health service has resulted in serious collateral consequences that affect the public health community,” the deans wrote.
They had grown concerned about the use of vaccination programs when it was revealed that the CIA used a Pakistani surgeon, Shakil Afridi, to gather DNA evidence from relatives of Osama bin Laden. Afridi was sent into the al-Qaeda leader’s compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan under the guise of conducting a survey on Hepatitis B vaccines. In reality he was attempting to acquire DNA evidence to confirm that those related to the terrorist leader were living in the compound.
Afridi’s efforts failed and he was eventually convicted of treason in Pakistan and is now serving a 23-year prison sentence, according to the Washington Post.
The U.S. military raided the compound and killed bin Laden in 2011.
The letter from the deans pointed out that following revelations of the intelligence gathering operation "seven or more United Nations health workers who were vaccinating Pakistani children against polio were gunned down in unforgivable acts of terrorism.
The White House responded with a letter, dated May 16, telling the deans that Brennan had "directed in August 2013 that the agency make no operational use of vaccination programs, which includes vaccination workers.”
The letter added, "Similarly, the agency will not seek to obtain or exploit DNA or other genetic material acquired through such programs.”
CIA spokesman, Dean Boyd, told CNN that Brennan issued the directive "after carefully considering a variety of views, including those from outside the agency. He took seriously the concerns raised by the public health community, examined them closely, and took decisive action.”
But Boyd also noted that “militant groups have a long history of attacking humanitarian aid workers in Pakistan and those attacks began years before the raid against the bin Laden compound.”
A unnamed senior official who was asked why it took so long for the administration to respond to the deans’ letter said the government rarely discusses intelligence matters.
“But this was a unique case that required deliberate thought and review on our end before we made such a statement publicly,” the official said.