Bioethics Blogs

CIA-sponsored vaccination programs: spin and tailspin

According to Wikipedia, the concept of ‘spin’ in public relations circles refers to “… a form of propaganda, achieved through providing an interpretation of an event or campaign to persuade public opinion in favour or against a certain organisation or public figure. While traditional public relations may also rely on creative presentation of the facts, ‘spin’ often implies disingenuous, deceptive and/or highly manipulative tactics.”

It might be worth adding a related concept to the public health vocabulary: tailspin. Tailspin is when, in the attempt to massage facts to persuade the public, you make yourself look completely unreliable or absurd. It is spin gone wrong.

I think today’s press conference by the CIA could work as an example of tailspin. Dean Boyd, CIA spokesman, announced that the CIA has stopped (since last August) using vaccination initiatives in Pakistan in its spying programs, or what CIA director more delicately called the ‘operational use of vaccination programs.’ The CIA has also stopped using such programs to obtain DNA or other genetic material for security purposes. Such use of vaccination programs is not unknown to the local Pakistani population, notably militants hostile to American interests. More than 60 polio workers and security personnel have been killed in Pakistan since 2012.

Admitting the existence and halting of the program seems fair enough. After all, causal — if not moral  – responsibility for the deaths of polio workers and the rise of polio cases could be attributed to it. Where does tailspin come in? It is all in what you don’t say, and how you say what you do say.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.