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The CIA Stops Fake Vaccinations as Real Polio Rebounds

The CIA Stops Fake Vaccinations as Real Polio Rebounds
Photograph by Lawrence Lawry/Getty Images

The White House confirmed this week that the Central Intelligence Agency will no longer use vaccination campaigns in its operations, reviving the debate over a surprise comeback of the polio virus. The CIA famously used fake vaccinations during its hunt for Osama bin Laden, which ended in his killing at a Pakistan hideout in 2011. The operation spawned a backlash against vaccination workers that hampered efforts to eradicate the disease there. After the deans of 12 U.S. public health schools complained (PDF) to President Obama in January 2013 of the “collateral damage,” the White House replied on May 16, saying a CIA policy established in August 2013 banned the use of such campaigns.

Why is the White House only answering the letter now?
It always takes time to evaluate whether to disclose details about operations, said a senior administration official. The CIA, for its part, said the agency took seriously the concerns raised by the public health community. “By publicizing this policy, our objective is to dispel one canard that militant groups have used as justification for cowardly attacks against vaccination providers,” Dean Boyd, a CIA spokesman, said by e-mail.