Polio Eradication Would be Much Easier If the CIA Would Stop Validating the Crazy People

In Somalia, a polio vaccination campaign has hit a snag. The AP has the report:

Al-Shabab, the rebels linked to al-Qaeda, have discouraged parents from getting their children inoculated against polio, a disease that is an incipient problem in this Horn of Africa nation long plagued by armed conflict and disease, according to health workers.

The al-Shabab extremists have been pushed out of virtually all of Somalia’s cities and face military pressure from African Union and government troops. Health workers are gaining access to more children to give the life-saving polio vaccine.

But some mothers and fathers are refusing the inoculation, apparently heeding the advice of the Islamic militants who warn that the vaccination exercise is part of a foreign conspiracy to kill or weaken Somali children.

That seems kind of crazy. Where could they possibly gotten such an idea?

The CIA organised a fake vaccination programme in the town where it believed Osama bin Laden was hiding in an elaborate attempt to obtain DNA from the fugitive al-Qaida leader’s family, a Guardian investigation has found.

Oh right. To be clear, this is not to excuse the Somali Islamists. What they are doing is completely unjustifiable. It’s merely to recognize that some things are so worth doing—things like, say, completely eradicating a disease that has crippled and killed millions throughout history—that even if our various lawless paramilitary wings could get some small tactical advantages by dispensing fake or incomplete vaccines, it just ain’t worth it. One paranoid cleric in Nigeria can set back the cause of polio eradication by years.

But this is the CIA; it has always been thus. From installing the Shah, to the Bay of Pigs, to arming and funding death squads in Nicaragua, partially by tacitly allowing cocaine trafficking into Los Angeles; the CIA is and always has been “both willing to do flagrantly immoral and illegal things to advance US interests and yet very bad at advancing US interests.”

On a related note, a documentary on Gary Webb, the San Jose Mercury News reporter who broke the CIA-cocaine story and was hounded out of the profession for his trouble, eventually committing suicide, will be out soon.

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Ryan Cooper

Ryan Cooper is a national correspondent at the Week. His work has appeared in the Washington Post, the New Republic, and the Nation. He was an editor at the Washington Monthly from 2012 to 2014.