Nearly 200 international aid and humanitarian groups have issued a letter to the CIA to voice their opposition of the US intelligence agency's use of a fake hepatitis vaccination campaign to help pinpoint the location of Osama Bin Laden in Abottabad, Pakistan in early 2011. The groups link the covert operation to increased suspicion of aid workers and a subsequent polio crisis that has gripped Pakistan in the last year.
"The CIA's use of the cover of humanitarian activity for this purpose casts doubt on the intentions and integrity of all humanitarian actors in Pakistan, thereby undermining the international humanitarian community's efforts to eradicate polio, provide critical health services, and extend life-saving assistance during times of crisis like the floods seen in Pakistan over the last two years," the InterAction coalition wrote to the CIA director, David Petraeus.
The Guardian reports:
[Pakistan] recorded the highest number of polio cases in the world last year, a health catastrophe that threatens to spiral out of control.
In July the Guardian revealed that the CIA used a Pakistani doctor, Shakil Afridi, in the hunt for Bin Laden. In the weeks before the 3 May operation to kill Bin Laden, Afridi was instructed to set up a fake vaccination scheme in the town of Abbottabad, in order to gain entry to the house where it was suspected that the al-Qaida chief was living, and extract DNA samples from his family members.
However the ruse has provided seeming proof for a widely held belief in Pakistan, fuelled by religious extremists, that polio drops are a western conspiracy to sterilise the population.
The letter said the CIA should avoid tactics that “erode the ability of humanitarian actors in Pakistan and the rest of the world to work on behalf of the poorest and most vulnerable”.
The Dawn in Pakistan added:
The fact that the CIA had launched such fake campaigns was confirmed by US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta in an interview on Jan 27 where he praised a doctor named Shakil Afridi for helping the agency. Dr Afridi is in custody of Pakistani security agencies for launching the fake polio vaccination campaign and tipping the US government about Osama.
“The CIA’s use of cover of humanitarian activity for this purpose casts doubt on intentions and integrity of all humanitarian actors in Pakistan, thereby undermining the international humanitarian community’s efforts to eradicate polio, provide critical health services and extend life-saving assistance during times of crisis like the floods seen in Pakistan over the past two years,” InterAction chief Samuel A. Worthington said.
The ChildFund International, Mercy Corps, World Wild Fund, Plan USA, Helen Keller International, Action Against Hunger US and Relief International are among key members of InterAction.
Mr Worthington noted that since reports of the CIA campaign surfaced last summer, “we have seen continued erosion of US NGOs’ ability to deliver critical humanitarian programmes in Pakistan and an uptick in targeted violence against humanitarian workers. I fear CIA’s activities in Pakistan and the perception that US NGOs have ties with intelligence efforts may have contributed to these alarming developments”.
“Distrust of the US government runs high in parts of Pakistan and NGOs must take great care to avoid overt association with the US government. The CIA-led immunisation campaign compromises the perception of US NGOs as independent actors focused on a common good and casts suspicion on their humanitarian workers.”