CIA policy: Won't use vaccination programs as part of operations

Story highlights

  • Policy was put into place last August following concerns raised by health school deans
  • Vaccination ruse was part of effort to get Osama bin Laden in Pakistan in 2011
  • Health school deans said one group had to pull out of its polio vaccine program
  • CIA said it seriously considered the concerns and then acted

A newly disclosed CIA policy mandates that it won't use vaccination programs as part of its operations, according to the Obama administration.

The directive by CIA Director John Brennan, made nine months ago but only coming to light now, followed concerns raised by leaders of a dozen U.S. public health schools in a letter to President Barack Obama.

They spoke out following revelations the CIA had enlisted a doctor to oversee a false immunization campaign in Pakistan ahead of the 2011 raid that killed al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad.

The campaign's true purpose was to collect information on the residents of the compound, and attempt to confirm DNA matches to bin Laden or relatives.

The public health programs reached out to Obama after the organization Save the Children was forced to "withdraw all foreign national staff" from Pakistan as a "result of a CIA sham vaccination campaign."

Save the Children was in the midst of a campaign to administer the polio vaccination in Pakistan, one of the few places left in the world where the virus is still prevalent.

In their letter to the White House in January 2013, the deans also alleged that "seven or more United Nations health workers who were vaccinating Pakistani children against polio were gunned down in unforgivable acts of terrorism" as a result of the CIA effort.

In a letter dated May 16 and obtained by CNN on Monday, Lisa Monaco, the top White House adviser on homeland security and counterterrorism, told the health school deans that Brennan had "directed in August 2013 that the agency make no operational use of vaccination programs, which includes vaccination workers.

"Similarly, the agency will not seek to obtain or exploit DNA or other genetic material acquired through such programs," the letter said.

CIA spokesman Dean Boyd told CNN on Monday that Brennan established the policy "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."

Boyd also said it "is important to note 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."

By publicizing the policy, he said the CIA hopes to "dispel one canard that militant groups have used as justification for cowardly attacks against vaccination providers," noting that the agency "has great respect for the vital work that vaccination workers perform around the globe."

National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden confirmed Monaco's letter to the school deans and its contents.