30 September 2011

CIA undermines aid agencies

That the CIA does sleazy stuff is hardly new. Perhaps we shouldn't have been surprised then that they exploited children to help track Osama bin Laden.

In order to confirm his presence in Abbottabad, they sought DNA samples from the residents of what they believed to be his compound. To this end, they recruited a Pakistani doctor to organize a vaccine program. The doctor claimed he had obtained funds for free hepatitis B vaccinations for children. Bypassing the management of the Abbottabad health services, he paid generous sums to low-ranking local government health workers to carry out the "project." The idea was to get workers inside the target compound to obtain the DNA samples.

Aid workers say the CIA's reckless behaviour has threatened the safety of genuine aid workers and endangered programs to help Pakistan's poor. Médecins Sans Frontières president Unni Karunakara said, "The risk is that vulnerable communities—anywhere—needing access to essential health services will understandably question the true motivation of medical workers and humanitarian aid." The president of InterAction, an alliance of 190 U.S.-based NGOs, commented, "Such unethical behaviour endangers not only local populations but also the lives of legitimate humanitarian workers."

These concerns have proven valid. Save the Children moved aid workers out of Pakistan after a warning from U.S. consulate officials that staff could be picked up by Pakistani Intelligence over alleged links to the doctor involved in the CIA scheme. Save the Children has 2,000 employees in Pakistan and assisted seven million people in 2010, many during the massive floods. After the security threat, its activities slowed or ground to a halt.

Other aid workers have also been forced to leave the country, and charities have experienced long delays in obtaining visas and shipments of relief goods.

Pakistan has the biggest polio problem in the world, and there is a particular concern that polio vaccination campaigns could be at risk. In northern Nigeria in 2003, local leaders suspended polio vaccination, claiming the vaccine was a plot by the West to sterilize Islamic children in order to reduce Muslim populations. As a result, annual cases more than doubled and Nigeria exported polio to nearly two dozen countries. Those suspicious of the West, and that includes a large portion of the Pakistani population, now have a powerful new weapon in their arsenal of propaganda against Western aid agencies and programs such as vaccination. One wonders how many children will die as a result of the CIA's most recent mischief.

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