By Matt Bewig
AllGov, March 5, 2012
Did the CIA plan that located Osama bin Laden in Pakistan last May endanger the lives of foreign aid workers and Pakistani children? The answer is yes, according to InterAction, a coalition of American non-governmental organizations (NGOs), which has written to CIA chief David Petraeus to protest the agency’s use of a Pakistani doctor to help track Osama bin Laden, linking the trick to a worsening polio crisis in Pakistan.
Specifically, the CIA had a Pakistani doctor, Shakil Afridi, set up a fake polio vaccination program in the town of Abbottabad where it suspected bin Laden was living. The goal was for Afridi to extract DNA samples from bin Laden’s family members, thus proving his likely presence there. But the ruse seemed to provide proof for a widely believed myth—spread by religious extremists—that polio vaccinations are a Western conspiracy to sterilize Muslims.
Polio, which is caused by a waterborne virus, is endemic in only three countries: Nigeria, Afghanistan and Pakistan, which had 198 new cases in 2011, the most in the world and 58% of the total. Health workers warn that a catastrophe could spiral out of control, especially in the remote areas along the Afghan border and the western province of Baluchistan, where the problem is the worst.
InterAction, an alliance of 198 American NGOs, such as the International Rescue Committee, Mercy Corps, CARE, ChildFund International, World Wildlife Fund, Plan International USA, Helen Keller International, Action Against Hunger and Relief International, said the CIA’s tactics also endangered the lives of foreign aid workers. “The CIA-led immunization campaign compromises the perception of U.S. NGOs as independent actors focused on a common good and casts suspicion on their humanitarian workers. The CIA’s actions may also jeopardize the lives of humanitarian aid workers in Pakistan.”
In recent months, apparent Islamic extremists have kidnapped at least five international employees of NGOs, including American Warren Weinstein, who was helping develop Pakistan’s dairy and gem trades. Pakistani intelligence has increased surveillance and harassment of foreign aid workers; it also arrested Dr. Afridi and charged him with treason.