News Briefs 5/25/14

CIA to no longer use vaccination effort as front

A newly disclosed CIA policy mandates that the CIA will no longer use vaccination programs as a part of its operations, according to the Obama administration.

The directive by CIA Director John Brennan, was made nine months ago but only recently became public knowledge. It followed concerns raised by leaders of a dozen U.S. public health schools in a letter sent to President Barack Obama. (CNN, “CIA policy: Won’t use vaccination programs as part of operations”, 5/20/14)

In this letter, President Obama’s senior counter-terrorism adviser said the C.I.A. had banned the practice of making operational use of vaccination programs, adding that the agency would not try to “obtain or exploit DNA or other genetic material acquired through such programs.”

The letter from the adviser, Lisa O. Monaco, comes more than a year after public health officials wrote to Obama expressing anger that the United States had used immunization programs as a front for espionage. The educators were protesting the C.I.A.’s employment of a Pakistani doctor, Shakil Afridi, to set up a hepatitis B vaccination program in Abbottabad in order to gain access to a compound where Bin Laden was believed to be hiding. (New York Times, “U.S. Cites End to C.I.A. Ruses Using Vaccines,” 5.20.14)

While in custody, Afridi told interrogators that he was introduced to C.I.A. officers in Pakistan by an employee of, international health program, “Save the Children”. Both the C.I.A. and Save the Children have denied the aid group was used for spying, but the revelation led it to close its operations in Pakistan.

In 2012, the United Nations suspended a polio vaccination effort in Pakistan after gunmen killed several health workers. Taliban militants accused health workers of working as spies for the U.S.

The White House statement came three days after Pakistan made public their effort to fight a growing polio crisis within its borders. The public health deans had warned last year that the CIA’s use of a vaccination program had played a role in the shootings of several health workers in Pakistan and could hamper anti-polio efforts.

“Public health programs should not be used as cover for covert operations,” they said.(AbcNews, “CIA: Vaccination Programs Won’t Be Used as Cover” 5.20.14)

CIA spokesman Dean Boyd told CNN on Monday that Brennan established the policy “after carefully considering a variety of views, including those from outside the agency. He took seriously the concerns raised by the public health community, examined them closely, and took decisive action.”

Boyd also said it “is important to note that militant groups have a long history of attacking humanitarian aid workers in Pakistan and those attacks began years before the raid against the bin Laden compound.”(NYT)

 

Report finds US Hunger Initiative Successful

 

On Monday, the U.S. Agency for International Development released a progress report about its Feed the Future program, an initiative that has been aided by Iowa State University researchers. The report showed that the agency has helped 12.5 million children and nearly 7 million smallholder farmers and food producers last fiscal year alone.

The Obama administration, concerned about declining investment in agriculture and rising hunger and poverty caused by record spikes in global food prices, established Feed the Future with a three-year, $3.5 billion pledge in 2009. Currently in its fourth year of operations, the program is part of a larger multinational effort to improve food security. (Ames Tribune, “ISU researchers part of USAID global hunger efforts” 5.19.14)

According to former Secretary General of the United Nations, Kofi Annan, “African countries have the potential to increase agricultural productivity with the right policies and investments. Programs like ‘Feed the Future’ make an important contribution by supporting innovation, providing technical knowledge, and developing markets for smallholder farmers to sell their products.” (AllAfrica, “Africa: USAID Unveils Results for President Obama’s Feed the Future Initiative to Reduce Global Hunger and Poverty” 5.19.14)

The program operates in 19 countries, mostly in Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean, and has had the greatest success in Senegal, Bangladesh and Honduras, the report found.

In Senegal, efforts financed by the United States helped the country reduce its dependence on food imports, particularly rice. The country’s rice imports fell by more than 20 percent between 2008 and 2011. (New York Times, “U.S. Initiative on Hunger Aids Millions, Report Finds” 5.19.14)

President of the Bread for the World Institute, David Beckmann, said of the initiative, “Feed the Future is the United States’ contribution to the exodus from hunger. The report underscores the great progress and potential of the program. Smart and targeted investments in improving smallholder agriculture, maternal and child nutrition, value chains and rural infrastructure are already transforming the lives of hungry and poor people. This is a down payment to global food and nutrition security.” (AllAfrica)

Iowa State University Sociology professor, Robert Mazur, who has collaborated with USAID on similar projects predating Feed the Future, now leads a project at the Michigan State University lab focused on improving soil fertility for smallholder farmers growing beans and maize in Africa.

“Simply working with several communities isn’t going to save the world,” Mazur said, “but trying to come up with innovative management practices and technologies that can, that could then be scaled up and integrated (into larger programs) — the intent certainly is to be able to do things that eventually can have significant development impact.” (Ames Tribune)

 

Pennsylvania Judge Strikes Down Gay Marriage Ban

 

Several states have attempted to ban gay marriage, only to have those laws overturned by federal judges. On Tuesday, May 20, Pennsylvania joined the ranks of Arkansas and Idaho, whose state judges have ruled these bans unconstitutional.

“We are a better people than what these laws represent, and it is time to discard them into the ash heap of history,” said Judge John E. Jones III of Federal District Court in his decision. (New York Times, “Judge Strikes Down Pennsylvania’s Gay-Marriage Ban” 5.20.14)

Part of Jones’ decision is an order to prevent any Pennsylvanian authorities from keeping same-sex couples from obtaining marriage licenses. The governor of the state, Tom Corbett, informed the population via Twitter that he was in the process of reviewing the ruling.

If this ruling is not challenged, Pennsylvania would become the 19th state to legalize gay marriage. Attorney General Kathleen Kane released a statement in support of Jones’ ruling. “Today brings justice to Pennsylvanians who have suffered from unequal protection under the law because of their sexual orientation,” she said. (CNN “Federal judge rules same-sex marriage ban in Pennsylvania is unconstitutional” 5.20.14)

Despite the voices of some, such as the National Organization for Marriage, who opposed the ruling, the strikedown of this ban parallels a distinct shift in American society. A recent ABC News/Washington Post survey found that 59% of those who responded to the poll supported same-sex marriage. (Washington Post, “Support for same-sex marriage hits new high; half of Constitution guarantees right” 3.5.14).

 

—Noble Ingram and Meaghan Hughes

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.