WASHINGTON: The United States plotted to find Osama bin Laden by concealing tracking devices in medical supplies, possibly through Red Cross hospitals, a report said Thursday, citing documents leaked by former security contractor Edward Snowden.
The Intercept news site quoted from a National Security Agency slide presentation dated June 2010 which discussed the possibility of going from “Pharma to Target” by penetrating “the non-electronic moat” that protected bin Laden from surveillance in his Pakistan hideout.
Titled “Medical Pattern of Life: Targeting High Value Individual #1,” the presentation cites CIA reports on the Al-Qaeda chief´s poor health and invokes a scenario in which spy agencies target the “supply chain” of likely medicine and equipment destined for bin Laden.
The “supply chain” could possibly include International Committee of the Red Cross hospitals, according to the presentation slides.
It remains unclear if the idea was ever acted on. The CIA managed to track down bin Laden through his courier to the Pakistani garrison town of Abbottabad, where he was eventually killed in a May 2, 2011 raid by US Navy SEAL commandos.
The ICRC told the news site that the organisation is “absolutely against the use of humanitarian aid for other purposes.”
At the time of the NSA presentation, the ICRC hospital in nearby Peshawar did not disperse medical supplies to the population, it said.
The NSA was unavailable for comment on the report.
Tagging and tracking medications or supplies allows “us to leap over the non-electronic moat with which HVIs (high-value individuals) surround themselves, enabling their geolocation,” the documents say.
The presentation discusses embedding electronic chips — which can be tracked at long range — inside medications and devices like dialysis solution bags or injection bottles.
It also said the project would require support from a number of “stakeholders,” including the NSA, the Central Intelligence Agency, British intelligence agency GCHQ and various US government laboratories.
US spy agencies came in for criticism over reports that the CIA set up a hepatitis vaccine drive in Abbottabad as a front to secure DNA samples from bin Laden.
The doctor working for the CIA was arrested by Pakistani authorities and eventually sentenced to a decades-long prison sentence — on charges he helped a militant group.
The CIA scheme triggered a backlash against vaccine drives in the region.