CIA Set Up Fake Vaccination Drive to Gather Bin Laden Intel

The Guardian says the Pakistani doctor who worked with the agency has been arrested

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The Guardian is reporting that the CIA staged a fake vaccination drive as part of the agency's "extensive preparations" for the May raid that killed Osama bin Laden in Pakistan.

The CIA's objective, according to the paper, was "to obtain DNA from the fugitive al-Qaida leader's family," which would then be compared "with a sample from his sister, who died in Boston in 2010, to provide evidence that the family was present" in the Abbottabad Valley region.

What makes the story more just intelligence community inside baseball is the revelation that Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence agency (ISI) has arrested Shakil Afridibe, described by the Guardian as a "senior Pakistani doctor" who is the "health official in charge of Khyber, part of the tribal area that runs along the Afghan border" for helping the United States organize the phony vaccination drive. The Guardian describes the logistics of the plan.

"The doctor went to Abbottabad in March, saying he had procured funds to give free vaccinations for hepatitis B. Bypassing the management of the Abbottabad health services, he paid generous sums to low-ranking local government health workers, who took part in the operation without knowing about the connection to Bin Laden. Health visitors in the area were among the few people who had gained access to the Bin Laden compound in the past, administering polio drops to some of the children."

Afridi had posters for the vaccination programme put up around Abbottabad, featuring a vaccine made by Amson, a medicine manufacturer based on the outskirts of Islamabad."

In March health workers administered the vaccine in a poor neighbourhood on the edge of Abbottabad called Nawa Sher. The hepatitis B vaccine is usually given in three doses, the second a month after the first. But in April, instead of administering the second dose in Nawa Sher, the doctor returned to Abbottabad and moved the nurses on to Bilal Town, the suburb where Bin Laden lived."

Pakistani officials became aware of his involvement during the investigation following the raid on bin Laden's compound. The paper notes that while the doctor is "one of several people suspected of helping the CIA to have been arrested by the ISI," he is "thought to be the only one still in custody."

Relations between the United States and Pakistan haven't been stellar in the months since the raid. Obviously a public revelation like this won't do much to ease suspicion and bad feelings between the two countries. As McClatchy's item on the revelations points out, "previous news reports have quoted U.S. officials as alleging that the Pakistanis had detained some people for questioning about their role in assisting the United States in tracking down bin Laden" but this is the first time there's been "detailed information on anyone detained or what he or she might have done for the Americans."

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.