CIA faked health drive for bin Laden DNA

July 12, 2011 at 3:00 AM
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ABBOTTABAD, Pakistan, July 12 (UPI) -- The CIA set up a fake vaccination program near Osama bin Laden's Pakistan hideout before the raid that killed him hoping to get his family's DNA, officials say.

The elaborate scheme was carried out in Abbottabad, 30 miles northeast of the capital Islamabad, in an attempt to get evidence bin Laden's family lived where the CIA believed the al-Qaida leader was hiding, the U.S. and Pakistani officials and local residents told Britain's The Guardian newspaper.

The civilian U.S. intelligence agency, which also engages in covert activities at the request of the U.S. president, wanted confirmation bin Laden was in the compound before mounting a risky operation inside another country, the officials said.

It wanted to compare DNA from any bin Laden child from the compound with a sample from his sister, who died in Boston last year, to provide evidence the family was present, the officials said.

At one point, a nurse managed to gain entry into bin Laden's compound to administer the vaccines, and possibly record conversations or leave behind a surveillance device, the newspaper said.

U.S. special forces killed bin Laden in a post-midnight raid of the compound May 2.

As part of extensive preparations for the raid, CIA agents recruited a senior Pakistani doctor to carry out a phony hepatitis B vaccination drive, starting the "project" in a poorer part of Abbottabad to make it look authentic, the officials and residents said.

Dr. Shakil Afridi has since been arrested by the Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, Pakistan's top intelligence agency, for cooperating with U.S. intelligence agents.

Washington is said to be concerned for the doctor's safety and has sought to have intervened on his behalf, the newspaper said.

The U.S. State Department and the Pakistan government had no comment.

One senior Pakistani official told the newspaper: "Wouldn't any country detain people for working for a foreign spy service?"

Washington-Islamabad relations, severely strained by the bin Laden operation, have deteriorated considerably since then. The doctor's arrest has exacerbated these tensions.

Afridi, from northwest Pakistan's semiautonomous Kyber tribal area near Afghanistan, went to Abbottabad in March, saying he received funding to give the free vaccinations.

Bypassing local health services, he paid generous sums to low-ranking local government health workers, who took part in the operation not knowing about the bin Laden connection, the newspaper said.

A nurse known as Bakhto managed to gain entry to the bin Laden compound to administer the vaccines, the newspaper said.

Afridi, who waited outside, told her to carry a handbag fitted with an electronic device. It is not clear what the device was, or if she left it behind, the newspaper said.

It is also not clear if the CIA got any bin Laden family DNA, but one source indicated it did not, The Guardian said.

The nurse, whose real name is Mukhtar Bibi, told the newspaper she was unaware of the campaign's real purpose and would not comment on the program.

Islamabad is angry over being kept in the dark about the raid, and Washington is angry Pakistan appears more focused on finding out how the CIA was able to track down the al-Qaida leader than on how bin Laden was able to live in Abbottabad for five years.

Washington said Sunday it would withhold $800 million in military aid from Pakistan as punishment for its perceived lack of cooperation in the anti-terror fight.

Pakistan responded saying it would now turn to China, with which it said it had "close and effective defense ties."

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