Monday, December 1, 2014

Explaining Away the Killings of Vaccination Workers

Eighty-nine vaccination workers from Pakistan and Nigeria have been killed by extremists, and the number of new polio cases in Pakistan is up 400% over last year. Pakistan has exported the polio virus to China, Egypt and Syria. Just last Wednesday, four more Pakistani vaccination workers were gunned down. The world had nearly won the fight against polio.  What caused this sudden turn for the worse?

Into an environment rife with suspicions about vaccinations, we hijacked an anti-hepatitis campaign as cover for a CIA operation. As one foreign broadcaster put it:
In the wake of the CIA’s attempt to confirm bin Laden’s presence in Abbottabad through a fake hepatitis B immunization campaign, many residents and local governments in Pakistan as well as Afghanistan have refused to take part in medical vaccination efforts out of fear of participating in a Western plot. With polio now making a comeback around the world and health workers being killed or tortured by the Taliban, the consequences have been deadly.
We knew what we were getting ourselves into. Predictably, revelations of our scheme eroded the trust of ordinary Pakistanis in vaccination programs generally and emboldened violent extremists. The facts present a public relations nightmare for the Department.

Fortunately, our media partners are turning to time-proven methods to neutralize this narrative.  Here we look at four approaches they have taken.

#1 Bury it  
In a report on the four Pakistani vaccination workers killed last week, the LA Times waits until the fourteenth paragraph to mention our fake vaccination program.

#2 Blame the victims
The BBC blames the rise in polio cases on the Taliban, the ignorance of Britain's former colonial subjects and the stupidity of their government, but neglects to mention our covert operation:
This refusal to vaccinate is one of many reasons why Pakistan is failing to eradicate polio. But it's not just the influence of the Taliban - experts now point the finger at government mismanagement as well.
The New York Times attributes the violence against health workers and rise in polio cases to Pakistan's "political chaos." The 1,200 word article makes no mention of our CIA program.  According to the Times, the deplorable situation causes not Americans, but Pakistanis "embarrassment." It makes a "mockery" not of CIA leaders, but Pakistani politicians.

#3 Blame a local  
VOA pins the blame on a local doctor:
Pakistani officials insisted a fake vaccination campaign run by Pakistani doctor Shakeel Afridi has led to the attacks on polio teams. 
Afridi’s fake hepatitis vaccination campaign helped the CIA locate and kill terror mastermind Osama bin Laden in 2011. An anti-terror court sentenced Afridi to 33 years in prison. 
#4 Alter the dates
Newsweek, taking a page out of 1984, falsifies a date to make it appear as if a fatwa issued by Islamic clerics predated our decision to commandeer a vaccination program:
Attacks on polio vaccination teams in Pakistan have become increasingly common ever since the Pakistani Taliban leadership began declaring fatwas against the vaccination progammes, and in particular the female health-care workers helping to carry them out. 
The campaign to prevent the spread of the disease has continued despite this opposition, but in June 2012 it suffered a serious setback when radical Islamic clerics and Taliban leaders issued a fresh fatwa. This time, the reason for the religious edict had a political basis, banning polio workers from giving out vaccinations in Waziristan, so long as the US continued its campaign of drone strikes in the region. 
On June 16th a fatwa pamphlet, made by key Taliban leader Gul Bahadur, was distributed in Miranshah, the capital of North Waziristan, threatening anyone who attempted to carry out polio vaccinations in the region. “We announce a ban on polio vaccination campaign from today,” the pamphlet said. “Anybody who disrespects this order will not have the right to complain about any loss or harm.” According to the pamphlet, the drone attacks caused conditions worse than those of polio. 
Their opposition was fuelled further in July 2012 when it was discovered that the CIA had recruited now-imprisoned Pakistani doctor, Shakil Afridi to help them find al-Qaeda's former leader Osama bin Laden, by establishing a fake vaccination programme in the city of Abbottabad in a plan to obtain DNA samples from the children living near Osama bin Laden.
Newsweek's account is nonsense. Knowledge of our CIA vaccination operation became known a full year before the new fatwa. By the summer of 2011 it was widely known that we had turned the fear-mongering of Pakistani conspiracy-theorists into cold hard substantiated fact.

At the time, The Washington Post even observed, "news of that anti-hepatitis campaign, which U.S. officials said did not succeed in collecting bin Laden DNA, has stirred outrage among international public-health organizations, which say it could deal a stiff blow to efforts to stem polio and expand routine vaccinations in Pakistan and beyond."

"If you repeat a lie often enough, people will believe it" is a quote often attributed Joseph Goebbels. The Washington Post article reminds us that this quote has a corollary.  In the words of the Secretary of Fear, "A truth spoken once ought never be heard again."  In practice, this means that although from time to time a truth will get reported by U.S. media outlets, our media partners will try to avoid ever mentioning it again.

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Dr. Rebecca Wolf
Undersecretary for Community and New Media
United States Department of Fear