Pushback on CIA and Fake Vaccinations: Maybe Not So Lame?

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Recently I argued that the CIA's scheme of luring Abbottabad families in for vaccinations, and as part of the process collecting their DNA to see if any were related to Osama bin Laden, was a bad idea.

For the record, two arguments on the other side. First, from a reader not in the CIA:

>>On the matter of vaccinations, I think there are two distinct issues:
  1. Whether it's right for the CIA to use vaccinations as one of their tools for gathering data.
  2. Whether it's right for the CIA to allow the world to find out that they're doing it. 
That might sound like a duplicitous approach, but this is espionage, some two-facededness is expected - right?

For me, the answers are: 1 - probably, 2 - certainly not - put it in a 50 year file and if we're still doing it in 50 years put it in a 100 year file. And if we think we're not capable of #2 then hire some people who are, they surely exist.

My understanding/assumption is that the intelligence community has a good track record of keeping tactics secret - based on what we find out when the 25 year files are opened. Shame they gaffed this one - I imagine there are some people in the CIA who feel this operations just went from an A+ to an A-.  <<

And from someone who used to be a CIA officer:<

>>As we approach the tenth anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, it's worth remembering how we felt on that day as we evaluate an American operation to bring the perpetrator to justice...  [The fake vaccine] operation could do long-term damage and it absolutely crosses the line of ethical behavior. But it's also true that this is exactly the kind of thing we pay our spies to do, and it's clear by now that this is what we want as a society given the absence of outrage over the intelligence community's growth following 9/11. During the entirety of the debt ceiling and deficit reduction debate, how often have you heard any politician--from either party--suggest that we need cuts in intelligence spending?...

The flip side of this story is just as important, and it suggests a trend with which intelligence operators must increasingly contend: the fact that the operation became public. As I said above, I was not an operations guy, but I can only imagine how tightly held the details of this vaccination program must have been given the sensitivity of the target. And yet only several weeks after the Navy SEAL raid the Guardian is printing details and senior U.S. officials are essentially confirming the story in the Washington Post.<<

More at his site.

As a bonus, a Switftian / Machiavellian "Modest Proposal"-style view:

>>It seems reasonable to assume that only those with anti-American prejudices will fail to avail themselves of free vaccinations; thus, wouldn't the use of clinics as espionage centers only further the goal of creating a world with less anti-Americanism in it?

A thorough-going pragmatist would probably endorse the strategy, since no amount of good we do anywhere in the world seems to lessen anti-American sentiment, which has been steadily increasing since WWII, even (or especially) among our greatest benefactees.<<
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James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

Fallows welcomes and frequently quotes from reader mail sent via the "Email" button below. Unless you specify otherwise, we consider any incoming mail available for possible quotation -- but not with the sender's real name unless you explicitly state that it may be used. If you are wondering why Fallows does not use a "Comments" field below his posts, please see previous explanations here and here.
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