As American intelligence narrowed its search for Osama bin Laden to the Pakistani city of Abbottabad, after tracking the movements of an al Qaeda courier, the CIA sought confirmation that the terrorist leader was holed up in a compound in that city before risking a military operation.
The Guardian newspaper reports today that Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) has arrested a prominent doctor who was allegedly hired by the CIA to run a fake immunization drive, in order to acquire DNA samples from children living in an Abbottabad compound and compare them to samples obtained from bin Laden's sister.
The plan, reportedly designed by the CIA, was initiated in poor communities before advancing to the more well-do-to suburb of Abbottabad, in order to lend it greater credibility.
The paper said Dr. Shakil Afridi, a high-ranking health official in the tribal region of Khyber, was approached by U.S. intelligence about organizing the vaccine drive.
In March the doctor went to Abbottabad and - bypassing officials at the local health services - paid off local health workers to participate in the project giving free hepatitis B vaccinations. Posters were put up announcing the drive, and vaccinations were administered to residents of a poor neighborhood in Abbottabad, and then a month later moved to Bilal Town, the suburb where bin Laden was believed to be living. One nurse managed to gain entry to the bin Laden compound to administer the vaccines.
The Guardian reports that it was not clear how the DNA samples might have been collected during administration of an immunization - perhaps by withdrawing blood in a needle after injecting the drug - but it was suggested the operation did not succeed.
Islamabad has expressed anger towards the U.S. for not advising Pakistani officials before the raid in May that led to bin Laden's death. ISI agents arrested Dr. Afridi when the secret project came to light.
The Guardian writes that the U.S. is concerned for the doctor's safety, and is believed to have intervened on his behalf.
The CIA refused to comment to the paper about the plot, but the Guardian notes that American officials are angry that Pakistan appears more concerned with investigating how the CIA tracked down bin Laden than how the al Qaeda leader was able to hide in plain sight of a Pakistani military academy for five years.
For more go to the Guardian website.