Just sick

Intelligence agencies can get quite creative when developing ways to collect information.  But sometimes they get too creative that lead to more problems.  Not to mention endangering thousands of lives – innocent lives.

Take the case of Shakil Afridi, a Pakistani doctor in jail for his involvement in the terrorist group Laskhar-e-Islam.  What is far more troubling is his alleged participation in a fake hepatitis vaccination campaign where DNA samples were collected to assist the US in locating the late al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in 2011 (see story here).

We all know of course that US Special Forces eventually found the terrorist mastermind, slipped into his compound and killed him on May 2, 2011.  And we remember the jubilation that ensued as Americans marked the death (finally!) of the man behind 9/11.  USA!  USA!  USA!

But at what cost?

Was the death of bin Laden a good thing? – absolutely,  But as I have argued before, it hasn’t made a huge difference in the course of terrorism and certainly has not led to a significant drop in terrorist acts or groups (has it had an impact on Al Qaeda core? Yes, but that is not as important as it sounds).

Now, these are allegations and have not been proven in court.  But let’s assume they’re true and that the US really did use medical cover in its search for the AQ head.  What has been the aftermath of that ruse?

Deadly – from two perspectives.

First and foremost, it has become much more difficult to launch vaccination campaigns in parts of Pakistan and hence children are getting sick and dying from preventable diseases.

Actually, I could just stop there (and maybe should).  No innocent child should have to die just because we needed to find a terrorist.

Yes, I know that health care was a challenge in this part of the world before and that conspiracy theories abound on the evils of vaccination (it’s all a Western plot to sterilise Muslims don’t you know!).  But the belief that it was used as a cover for intel doesn’t help.

Secondly, the tactic has probably backfired.  Locals will be less likely to cooperate with authorities whom they no longer trust.  The false medical effort just confirms the narrative that the West hates Muslims and doesn’t care about them.  It undermines our claim that we do everything in our power to prevent taking innocent life (the so-called “collateral damage” – was there ever a more disgusting term?).

I am all for developing innovative ways to collect much needed intel, but there are good ways and not so good ways.

When someone raised the possibility of using needles, he should have been told to stick it.

By Phil Gurski

Phil Gurski is the President and CEO of Borealis Threat and Risk Consulting Ltd. Phil is a 32-year veteran of CSE and CSIS and the author of six books on terrorism.

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