If You Run a Fake Vaccination Program as a Cover for a Covert Op, People Just Might Suspect That Real Vaccination Workers Are Covert Operatives

When news broke last year that the CIA had run a fake vaccination program in Pakistan as part of the effort to track down Osama bin Laden, Wired's Maryn McKenna pointed out that the tactic

plays, so precisely that it might have been scripted, into the most paranoid conspiracy theories about vaccines: that they are pointless, poisonous, covert shields for nefarious government agendas meant to do children harm.

That is not speculation. The polio campaign has already seen this happen, based on just those kind of suspicions — not in a single poor slum in New Delhi, but across much of sub-Saharan Africa.

In the fall of 2003, a group of imams in the northern Nigerian state of Kano — the area that happened to have the highest rate of ongoing polio transmission — began preaching against polio vaccination, contending that what purported to be a protective act was actually a covert campaign by Western powers to sterilize and kill Muslim children. The president of Nigeria's Supreme Council for Sharia Law said to the BBC: "There were strong reasons to believe that the polio immunisation vaccine was contaminated with anti-fertility drugs, contaminated with certain virus that cause HIV/AIDS, contaminated with Simian virus that are likely to cause cancers."...Three majority Muslim states — Kano, Kaduna and Zamfara — suspended polio vaccination entirely....

The accusations that polio vaccination was a Potemkin cover for anti-Islamic activities almost ruined the international eradication of polio when they were false. Now, on the basis of the CIA's alleged appalling ruse in Pakistan, they may be made again. And they will be much more believable, because this time they might be be true.

Now jump to this month. The Guardian reports:

Two more workers in a polio eradication campaign have been shot dead in Pakistan in the latest in a series of attacks that have partially halted the UN-backed global health campaign to stamp out the disease. A third health worker was seriously wounded....

There were at least three separate attacks on Wednesday. In the north-western district of Charsadda, men on motorbikes shot dead a woman and her driver, police and health officials said.

Hours earlier, a male health worker was shot and badly wounded in the nearby provincial capital of Peshawar. He remains in a critical condition, said a doctor at Lady Reading hospital, where he is being treated.

Four other women health workers were shot at but not hit in nearby Nowshera, said Jan Baz Afridi, deputy head of the expanded programme on immunisation.

I'm not saying that there's a simple causal relationship between the intelligence-gathering scheme and the assassinations. The conspiracy theories did predate the revelation about the CIA. But as McKenna said, people are more likely to believe a theory when they've seen a substantial reason to suspect it's true.

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  • R C Dean||

    Something something unintended consequences?

  • WTF||

    Yeah, but what does Jenny McCarthy have to say about this?

  • Brandybuck||

    When it comes to the health of my children I trust playboy bunnies so much more than my family doctor.

  • $park¥||

    unintended consequences

    No such thing, no matter who argues otherwise.

  • Hugh Akston||

    Huh. We should coin some kind of law or something about that.

  • $park¥||

    My opinion on the matter is quite different from RC's "Foreseeable consequences are not unintended."

    Do you really want H&R lawyers writing even more laws?

  • ||

    Oh Counselor, I have been chomping at the bit waiting for you to comment on this, speaking of foreseeable things.

  • Scarecrow Repair||

    I would say that you are bored out of your skull and trying to relieve that sensation by passing it on to us.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    The polio campaign has already seen this happen, based on just those kind of suspicions — not in a single poor slum in New Delhi, but across much of sub-Saharan Africa.

    I'm not sure how this is the intelligence community's concern.

  • Hugh Akston||

    Moar polio in the developing world = fewer terrorists in the future.

  • ||

    That's so brilliant it might just work!

  • WTF||

    That's what you think. They'll use their wheelchairs and iron lungs to get past the TSA, and then, BOOM! Just you wait and see.

  • Scarecrow Repair||

    You could hide quite a few RPGs in an iron lung.

  • SugarFree||

    More polio, but far less autism. What they are doing is destroying the pilot corp for Pakistan's eventual drone program.

  • Rasilio||

    "A June study from Pew’s Economic Mobility Project finds that 84 percent of Americans have “higher family incomes than their parents did.”"

    While undoubtedly true, even assuming that we are talking in inflation adjusted terms there is still something wrong here. I know that I make more than double what my parents combined incomes were in gross pay when they were my age and that puts me about 10% ahead of them in inflation adjusted income. However when you compare the things that each of us could actually afford I cannot come close to matching the lifestyle that they had.

    While it is true that a portion of the difference comes from their being more goods and services available which are considered "necessities" today it does not come close to explaining the discrepancy.

    The fact is that cost of actual real necessities has risen faster than the overall inflation rate and therefore even having a higher inflation adjusted income does not necessarily translate to higher standard of living.

  • Rasilio||

    What the heck? I was over on Nick's post about income inequality when I posted this.

    Damn squirrels.

  • Hyperion||

    Good points.

    In the home that I grew up in, there was one person working for a family of 3. In 1970 that person was making $18,000 a year, we had a nice and recently built, 3 bedroom home with a 2 car garage, and fenced in back yard, in a very nice middle class neighborhood. I will make the argument that in most of the country it would be very difficult to achieve that today, with 2 people working and 4 times that amount of income.

    Then again, we did not have 3 cell phones, multiple PCs, laptops, iPads, internet, 400 TV channels, 2 cars to put into the 2 car garage, designer clothing, designer pets, granite counter tops and 30 shiny kitchen appliances to decorate them with. We didn't go out to eat 4 times a week and often pay more than $100 for a meal.

    All in all, times were better back then, if you take away the tech toys and all the spending on totally unnecessary vanity stuff.

  • Stormy Dragon||

    Also, if you figure out the square footage of a modern 3BR vs a 3BR house in 1970, you find out much of the price difference is because the modern home is significantly bigger (According the the NAHB, average home size in 2009 was 2700 sq ft vs. 1400 sq ft in 1970).

    The condo I'm living in now has a closet that's almost the size of my first bedroom growing up.

  • Hyperion||

    You do see a lot of bigger homes today, and that figures in with what I am saying about totally unnecesary extravengance that people today feel they just must have.

    I would guess that the home I was referring to having grown up in was about 2000 sq. ft. and the home that I own now is 3400 sq. ft.

    But I would also say that the purchase price of my home is about 8x the price of my childhood home. So really, the sq. foot price today is greatly inflated from 30 years ago.

  • ||

    So, what exactly? The CIA is supposed to refrain from using public health as a cover for ordinary espionage, because there are crazy people out there who think vaccination is a conspiracy to infect people with AIDS?

    Should they refrain from putting spies in (say) oil and gas companies because there are crazy conspiracy cooks who think the CIA causes earthquakes?

    Don't you think it's a little unreasonable for the CIA to have defer to the fantasies of conspiracy theorists when deciding how to give an agent cover?

    If people are going to believe irrational things, they are going to find reasons to believe in them whether or not you do something that would be a perfectly rational normal act for any intelligence agency anywhere.

    If the CIA was using the vaccination program as a cover for (say) actually sterilizing Muslim children, then you'd have a point. But they weren't they were using it as a cover for doing a benign activity that you would expect an intelligence agency to do.

  • $park¥||

    So by all means put real health workers in danger by having a bunch of James Bonds pretending to be them.

  • GILMORE||

    $park¥| 12.19.12 @ 1:29PM |#

    So by all means put real health workers in danger by having a bunch of James Bonds pretending to be them.

    Bullshit.

    a) they *were* 'real health workers'. it still isn't clear if they actually provided *real* vaccinations or not. (i assume they did)... the issue is that

    b) they ALSO took patient DNA without their knowledge to try and track Bin Shithead down.

    Basically - what they were doing was *benign* start to finish, and the only "negative consequence" was that the US found Bin Douchehat.

    ....but we're supposed to weep and moan because now Jihadists dont want to take their medicine? Cry me a river.

  • Hugh Akston||

    Widespread vaccinations are way way way more important than the US taking righteous vengeance on some elusive senior citizen. The CIA is making the world a worse place.

  • $park¥||

    PWND

  • fried wylie||

    The CIA is making the world a worse place.

    MISSION ACCOMPLISHED, Bitches!

  • Cytotoxic||

    Widespread vaccinations are being held back by the people the CIA are helping fight. The Taliban is making the world a worse place.

  • ||

    Read that sentence back to yourself, Cyto. If the VAX is not being disseminated amoungst the populance, wouldn't that stand to reason that the enemy is not getting VAX'ed either?

    CIA fighting bad guys, bad guys not allowing VAX inoculations, so bad guy potential fighting pool dwindles. I would think you of all people would be on board with this.

  • $park¥||

    I would think you of all people would be on board with this.

    Good call doc, I was just thinking the same thing.

  • DJF||

    How about the CIA not using vaccination programs to spy on people because some people think that vaccination programs are a crazy conspiracy by the CIA to spy on people.

  • $park¥||

    YOU

  • ||

    If the CIA eliminated every possible cover that conspiracy theorists thought might be a CIA cover, there wouldn't be many possible covers left.

  • Hugh Akston||

    What if they eliminated every possible cover that reasonable people thought might be a CIA cover?

  • $park¥||

    I think we get the fact that you're OK with doctors getting killed because the CIA dressed up as doctors once.

  • RBS||

    Just mandate that everyone involved carry some sort of liability insurance and everything will be fine.

    /HazelMeade

  • ||

    So CIA agents should never dress up as doctors out of fear that someone might target a doctor. Seriously?

    That is fucking nuts.

    The CIA should use whatever cover is going to be the most effective, and then do everything in it's power to make sure it stays a secret.

  • $park¥||

    OK Cytotoxic Hazel.

  • ||

    So CIA agents should never dress up as doctors out of fear that someone might target a doctor. Seriously?

    As a doctor practicing abroad Hazel, I for one would prefer not to get drone justice'd or liquidated because I might be mistaken for some CIA operative.

    Or am I expendable in your calculus?

  • $park¥||

    Sucks to be you, doc. Hope you bought some body armor.

  • ||

    I'm not worried about getting drone justice'd, Sparky. Or liquidated FTM. The Black Sea is a pretty big swathe to separate UKR from The Middle East, though there are a few Arab (and some Ay-Rab) folks running around. The largest medical uni in UKR is in Donets'k.

    I'm in a pretty safe place, although I did get a bona fide Ukrainian "TUK ER JERBZ!!!" hurled at me the other day.

  • $park¥||

    I did get a bona fide Ukrainian "TUK ER JERBZ!!!" hurled at me the other day

    Just wait until you take one of their women.

  • ||

    So CIA agents should never dress up as doctors out of fear that someone might target a doctor. Seriously?

    Also, Hazel, legit doctors should never take another life and engage in terrorism, like those doctors implicated in that UK bomb plot.

    Makes life difficult for others involved, and some things are just sacrosanct. That goes for us as well as them.

  • Jesse Walker||

    I think it's comparable to the principle that you shouldn't smuggle weapons in a Red Cross truck.

  • $park¥||

    ALL

  • ||

    I don't think it's that similar.
    Red Cross trucks are sacrosanct under wartime military conventions, because if people held Red Cross trucks in suspicion the military casualties couldn't be transported off the battle field.

    But we're not at war with the governments or the people of these countries. So espionage aimed at finding Bin Laden is not an act of war, so we're not using the vaccination groups as cover to gain any kind of military advantage. We're using it to find and kill a person who is an outlaw even in his own country.

    You can only see it as similar if you take the perspective that Al Qaeda and the people of these countries are actually on the same side, so we're sneaking people "behind enemy lines". You have to assume that the people who are getting vaccinated believe that the CIA is the enemy, and that killing Bin Laden is an attack on "their side".

  • SugarFree||

    But we're not at war with the governments or the people of these countries.

    Tell that to the men, women and children killed in drone strikes.

    You don't have to be Al Qaeda to not want the CIA poking around in your country. We aren't at war with Israel, should the Mossad be able to do anything they want in our country?

  • Ted S.||

    You'd be amazed at how many people defend Jonathan Pollard.

  • $park¥||

    You can only see it as similar if you take the perspective that Al Qaeda and the people of these countries are actually on the same side

    Foreign agents nosing around your country tends to have a uniting effect on the people. They may hate each other, but they hate outsiders more.

  • Cytotoxic||

    HazelMeade beats the article.

  • fried wylie||

    Y'all aren't even giving these Obamacare pilot programs a chance to work!

  • Hyperion||

    We all already know that every idea that progressives ever think up, works.

    If something doesn't work, it's only because they aren't doing enough of whatever it might be.

  • ||

    If anything what these incidents show is not that the CIA shouldn't use polio vaccination campaigns as a cover, but that it's stupid to tell the world all about it just so you can brag about killing Bin Laden.

    Who leaked the information that the CIA used vaccination as a cover?
    That is the salient question.

  • DJF||

    Since the CIA was running a secret program then I would look toward the CIA as the ones who leaked the information.

  • Drake||

    Some secrets are more secret - like Obama's transcripts and the whereabouts of the Benghazi survivors.

  • ||

    Well, let's see, who else might have access to secret CIA information?

    The White House, just possibly?

    You don't find it slightly curious that the 'Argo' operatoin took 20 years to be declassified, but for some reason, everything about the Bin Laden raid is being made public, even though some of the information is exposing real-life people to retaliation?

    When wikileaks does it, it's a criminal act, but when the White House does it, that's just public relations?

  • Stormy Dragon||

    Actually yes. Since what is and isn't classified is entirely up to the President's discretion, the White House by definition can't leak classified information.

  • ||

    Whichever.

    The CIA used the vaccination program as a cover. That information was leaked (declassified, released, whatever). The fact that it was leaked put actual vaccination workers in danger.

    And that's hunky dory because the White House did it?

    If the White House decides to spontaneously declassify the identities of every CIA agent in the world and they get killed, i guess you'll find that totally ok too?

  • RBS||

    So the CIA can whatever it wants as long as its kept secret?

  • Stormy Dragon||

    You didn't ask if it was okay, you asked why it wasn't a crime.

  • Drake||

    Interesting picture. An insurgent with a G3, mounted Hensoldt scope, and finger off the trigger? You sure these aren't CIA operators?

  • Hugh Akston||

    That's a picture of a cartoon bee, dude.

  • Randian||

    ¡Ay Dios Mio!

  • DJF||

    Probably depends on who is paying them that day.

  • R C Dean||

    I had the same thought, Drake. That looks to be about a $3,000 rig he has there, minimum. Pretty nice hardware, no question.

  • GILMORE||

    Actually, not likely. The NYT "At War" blog had a long series about weapons of the Taliban recovered in Afghanistan... and there how were a slew of really interesting *G3-looking* weapons that upon closer inspeaction were actually 5.45x39-firing, with a basic AK-operating system.

    If I remember correctly, they noted that the Quetta region (or all of West Pakistan) has long had a unique history in regional gun-manufacturing, with hundreds of cottage shops pumping out 100+ hand-constructed rifles a year... many based on rebuilds of bulk imported army-surplus parts. the Afghan G3 model is most-likely simply one of the more popular Pakistani hybrid designs.

  • Randian||

    Anybody care to explain how this was a "fake vaccination program"?

    Anybody?

  • Jesse Walker||

    Anybody care to explain how this was a "fake vaccination program"?

    From the McKenna piece I linked to: "since only one of three doses was delivered, the vaccination was effectively useless."

  • fried wylie||

    "What's wrong with wasting medicine? Now fuck off, I've got international relations to muddy."

  • Hyperion||

    According to the article, the vaccines were real, but the program was fake. That's the way I read it.

  • GILMORE||

    Randian| 12.19.12 @ 1:41PM |#

    Anybody care to explain how this was a "fake vaccination program"?

    Anybody?

    I keep asking that. Apparently no one really knows whether they actually *did* vaccinate people while collecting DNA (seems to me kind of silly not to)

    Which is why I think this "fake" thing is BS. Its' like how the media keeps calling Benghazi a "consulate" even after every official now admits thats technically incorrect, and it was a CIA 'mission' supported by the State Department

  • Hyperion||

    No matter what happens, no matter how bad, people will continue to say that Ron Paul is a kooky old man for supporting the idea that we really would be better off if we mind our own fucking business a little more.

  • Cytotoxic||

    But that's not what he advocates.

  • Hyperion||

    Right, he's a war monger, blah bluh blah...

  • Bardas Phocas||

    Sandra Fluke is a SPIIIII!

  • CrazyOkie||

    While I wouldn't doubt that the CIA's fake vaccine clinics could exacerbate the problem, I was at a vaccine conference sometime in the early 2000s where it was reported that in India, the rumors of polio vaccine containing sterility drugs/etc... was started by Hindus in an effort to suppress vaccination rates among Muslims. The result was a major relapse in polio cases among Muslim children, seriously diminishing hopes that polio would be eradicated. The contrast was made with smallpox in the 1970s when civil wars in Africa were halted so people could be vaccinated. The person making the presentation felt that the polio vaccine rumors could qualify as a subtle form of 'biological warfare'.

  • GILMORE||

    the CIA's fake vaccine clinics

    HOW ARE THEY "FAKE" WHEN THEY ACCUALLY CONDUCT VACCINATIONS?

  • SugarFree||

    "I remember when I was with Special Forces... seems a thousand centuries ago. We went into a camp to inoculate some children. We left the camp after we had inoculated the children for polio, and this old man came running after us and he was crying. He couldn't see. We went back there, and they had come and hacked off every inoculated arm. There they were in a pile. A pile of little arms. And I remember... I... I... I cried, I wept like some grandmother. I wanted to tear my teeth out; I didn't know what I wanted to do! And I want to remember it. I never want to forget it... I never want to forget. And then I realized... like I was shot... like I was shot with a diamond... a diamond bullet right through my forehead. And I thought, my God... the genius of that! The genius! The will to do that! Perfect, genuine, complete, crystalline, pure. And then I realized they were stronger than we, because they could stand that these were not monsters, these were men... trained cadres. These men who fought with their hearts, who had families, who had children, who were filled with love... but they had the strength... the strength... to do that. If I had ten divisions of those men, our troubles here would be over very quickly. You have to have men who are moral... and at the same time who are able to utilize their primordial instincts to kill without feeling... without passion... without judgment... without judgment! Because it's judgment that defeats us."

  • T||

    We are not monsters, we're moral people
    And yet we have the strength to do this
    This is the splendor of our achievement
    Call in the air strike with a poison kiss

  • SugarFree||

    Everybody's happy when the dead come home.

  • Tim||

    "Charlie don't surf!"

  • ||

    I USED TO CARE but take a pill for that now.

  • GILMORE||

    the CIA had run a fake vaccination program in Pakistan as part of the effort to track down Osama bin Laden

    I read the story. The journalist does not clarify (*surprising!) whether the 'Fake Vaccination Program' did or did not actually vaccinate anyone while *also* collecting DNA to help track down Bin Laden.

    If they did in fact vaccinate people *while* collecting DNA, then I call double-bullshit on the idea that the CIA conducted an "appalling ruse". Its one thing if ignorant zealots murder health workers because, like many soccer-mom progtards, that vaccines *are an evil plot to make their kiddies teh retarded*.... but its another thing if they murder health workers *because health workers helped catch Osama Bin Laden*.??

    I mean, for fucks sake. The fact that psychotic islamic zealots are not grateful for Western medical charity does not entirely suprise me. But when the Western NGOs and liberals start tut-tutting the US for *killing terrorists* because it hurts their Aid programs...?? uhm. I say "well tough titties then".

  • Randian||

    Count me on Team Gilmore here.

  • GILMORE||

    I must have missed it on the first go-round, but they are clear here...

    A senior U.S. official said the campaign involved actual hepatitis vaccine and should not be construed as a “fake public health effort.”

    ...which made me sort of confused by the following -

    “The vaccination campaign was part of the hunt for the world’s top terrorist, and nothing else."

    Anyways. My view hasnt changed - just glad that detail was already 100% clear

  • $park¥||

    IOW, you're in the camp that says the dirty sand-people are all terrorists anyway so who cares if they don't get medicine. Please make sure you notify every health organization that they should stay out of there so they don't end up dead.

  • GILMORE||

    $park¥| 12.19.12 @ 4:06PM |#

    IOW, you're in the camp that says the dirty sand-people are all terrorists anyway so who cares
    ...

    That's cute. Why don't you just simplify it to "RACIST!!"

    I'm not much interested in playing 'who can straw-man the other harder'...or reductio ad absurdum. My point is simply a lack of "Aghastness" or moral indignation that the CIA used a medical op as cover to help find Bin Laden. If crazed jihadis are consequently killing health workers, and someone wants to lay the responsibility for it 100% on the CIAs door,

    a) I think maybe they're being a little silly - noting that these same 'crazed jihadis' have a record of killing NGO workers for advocating womens rights or protecting minorities... its not like this is a 'new and unexpected phenomenon'...

    ...and b) What did these "evil CIA doctors" do again? collected DNA. and used it to locate the MOST WANTED MASS MURDERER IN THE WORLD

    I mean, thats TOTALLY something I'd be pissed off about if doctors came to my country and helped with... I mean, THEY TOOK ME DNA! And... uhm. Killed that murderer guy. WHICH MAKES ME ANGRY!!! ..because... uhm... the needle stung? And I only got 30% vaccinated!!! JIHAD THE DOCTORS!!

    See what I mean? Its just fucking stupid to be so indignant about in context. If you're all tweaked because you're a MD for some NGO, well, I'll see your whinging and raise you an 'I don't care'

  • $park¥||

    It's fine with me if you don't care that doctors are getting killed.

  • $park¥||

    What did these "evil CIA doctors" do again? collected DNA. and used it to locate the MOST WANTED MASS MURDERER IN THE WORLD

    Also, nice to see you're an ends justify the means guy.

  • Jesse Walker||

    Again: "since only one of three doses was delivered, the vaccination was effectively useless."

  • Michael S. Langston||

    Well, I'd say it was effective at least 1/3rd of the time, so not "completely useless"....

    But beyond that - any proof to this allegation other than this article?

  • GILMORE||

    Ah.

    Didn't read the Mckenna piece. The WaPo article mentioned nothing precisely re: what was being done, just asserted that it was in fact "doing vaccinations".

    I'm still not particularly aghast, but am more skeptical.

    At the very least, did they "do no harm"? Seems so. at least they're not giving them all AIDS, like with the blacks in the 80s....

  • Braaainz||

    How does gathering DNA help find Bin Laden? It seems like gathering DNA can be used in far more sinister ways than just detective work.

    Not saying it would be used for nefarious purposes, only that it sounds creepy as hell.

  • $park¥||

    It's totally OK though, because BIN LADEN!!!

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