How the CIA organized a "Fake Vaccination" campaign in Pakistan

How the CIA organized a "Fake Vaccination" campaign in Pakistan

The CIA organized a fake vaccination campaign to obtain DNA from Osama Bin Laden's family. An elderly Pakistani doctor organized a vaccination program in Abbottabad, arrested by the ISI for working with U.S. agents. The CIA organized a fake vaccination program in the city where he believed Osama bin Laden was hiding in an elaborate attempt to obtain DNA from the family of the fugitive leader of Al Qaida.

As part of the preparations for the raid that killed Bin Laden in May 2011, according to Pakistani and US officials and local residents, CIA agents recruited an elderly Pakistani doctor to organize a vaccination campaign in Abbottabad, starting the "project" in a poor part of the city to make it more authentic.

The doctor, Shakil Afridi, was later arrested by the Inter-Services Intelligence agency (ISI) for collaborating with American intelligence agents.

Relations between Washington and Islamabad, already severely compromised by the Bin Laden operation, have significantly deteriorated since then. The doctor's arrest exacerbated these tensions.

The vaccination plan was conceived after American secret service officers tracked down an al-Qaeda courier, known as Abu Ahmad al-Kuwait, to what turned out to be Bin Laden's Abbottabad compound in the summer of 2010. The The agency monitored the complex via satellite and surveillance from a local CIA safe house in Abbottabad, but wanted confirmation that Bin Laden was present before starting a risky operation within another country. The DNA of one of Bin Laden's children could be compared to a blood sample from his sister (who died in Boston in 2010) to provide evidence that the family was present. So the agents contacted Afridi, the health officer responsible for Khyber, part of the tribal area that runs along the Afghan border.

The doctor went to Abbottabad in March, saying that he had procured funds to give free vaccinations for hepatitis B. By bypassing the management of Abbottabad's health services, he paid generous sums to state health workers who participated in the operation without knowing the connection with Bin. Laden. Healthcare workers were among the few people who had access to the Bin Laden compound in the past, giving oral polio vaccine to some children. Afridi had posted posters throughout the Abbottabad for the vaccination program with a vaccine made by Amson, a drug maker who lives on the outskirts of Islamabad.

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

It is not known exactly how the doctor hoped to get DNA from vaccinations, although nurses could have been trained to withdraw some blood into the needle after administering the drug. "The whole thing was totally irregular," said a Pakistani official. "Bilal Town is a wealthy area, why should you choose that place to give free vaccines? And who is the official Khyber surgeon who works in Abbottabad?" A nurse known as Bakhto, whose full name is Mukhtar Bibi, managed to gain entry to the Bin Laden complex to administer vaccines. According to several sources, the doctor, who waited outside, told her to take it in a bag that was equipped with an electronic device. It is not clear what the device was or if it left it behind. It is not even known if the CIA managed to obtain any Bin Laden DNA, although a source suggested that the operation was unsuccessful.