Vaccination Ruse is Used in Pursue of bin Laden
Pakistani doctor who helped CIA now in custody
WASHINGTON - In the months before Osama bin Laden was killed, the Central Intelligence Agency ran a phony vaccination program in Abbottabad, Pakistan, in an attempt to obtain DNA evidence from members of bin Ladenís family thought to be holed up in a compound there, according to a US official.
The vaccination program was set up as the CIA was struggling to learn whether bin Laden was hiding in the compound and adds a new twist to the months of spy games that preceded the nighttime raid in early May that killed the Al Qaeda chief.
It has also worsened tensions between the United States and Pakistan. The operation was run by a Pakistani doctor, Shakil Afridi, whom Pakistani spies have since arrested for his suspected collaboration with the Americans. Afridi remains in Pakistani custody, the official said.
Getting DNA evidence from the people hiding in the Abbottabad compound would have been a significant coup, because it would have allowed the CIA to match the samples with DNA from other members of the bin Laden family that are on file at the CIA - providing the first hard evidence in years of his whereabouts.
The US official said that the doctor managed to temporarily gain access to the compound, but he never saw bin Laden and was not successful in getting DNA samples from any family members.
The existence of the vaccination program was first reported by a British newspaper, The Guardian. A CIA spokesman declined to comment.
It is unclear how the CIA first recruited Afridi. The Guardian reported that he used a team of nurses and other health workers to administer hepatitis B vaccinations throughout Abbottabad, even starting the program on poor fringes of the town to maintain a low profile.
Pakistani military and intelligence operatives were furious about the US raid that killed bin Laden, and relations between the two countries have plummeted since. Pakistani officials have suggested that they might use troops to repel another incursion into Pakistan, and many US officials believe that Pakistan seems more concerned with hunting CIA informants than with finding Al Qaeda operatives.
US officials said they planned to suspend as much as $800 million worth of military aid to Pakistan - a move partly designed to chasten Islamabad for expelling US military trainers - and several influential lawmakers have suggested attaching more strings to the billions of dollars sent each year to Pakistan.