The White House has pledged that the CIA will no longer use vaccination programs as a cover for spying operations, three years after the agency used the ruse in Pakistan before the U.S. raid that killed Osama bin Laden.
A White House spokesperson said President Barack Obama's top counterterrorism adviser, Lisa Monaco, responded to a letter from the deans of about a dozen prominent public health schools last week who were concerned the ruse could cause serious consequences to public health efforts.
Monaco told the deans the CIA has agreed it would no longer use vaccination programs or workers for intelligence purposes. The CIA also agreed not to use genetic materials obtained through such programs.
In 2011, the CIA recruited Pakistani doctor Shakil Afridi to offer a program of hepatitis vaccinations in the Pakistani city of Abbottabad as cover to obtain DNA samples from the bin Laden compound. The United States wanted to make sure bin Laden was there before launching an operation into another country.
Afridi was convicted of treason and sentenced to 33 years in a Pakistani prison. The sentence was overturned in 2013, and Afridi now faces a retrial.
Last week, Pakistan's Health Ministry announced that it would require that all travelers leaving the country first get a polio vaccination. That move followed the World Health Organization's declaration earlier this month that polio's spread was an international public health emergency. The WHO identified Pakistan, Syria and Cameroon as nations that had allowed polio to spread beyond their borders.