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Immediate success can nurture future conflict

July 15, 2011

A small story in the media 12 July 2011, is a cautionary tale about trust in conflict zones and the law of unintended consequences.

The rumour is that the CIA used a nurse and doctor to withdraw some blood while vaccinating suspects. They used the needle to get a DNA sample. Sometime afterwards, the CIA performed a military operation in the compound because it had confirmed the suspect was indeed there. The CIA has not confirmed whether or not the story is true.

So, what’s the problem with tricking people using a fake medical scenario to obtain medical information or data?

First, trust breaking. The West and the Arab world are in high stakes conflict situations in a few places. Medical personnel in high conflict zones put their lives at risk, relying on trust about their impartiality to deliver emergency services to all combatants in need of treatment. Will they now be trusted as impartial? Eventually, peace will have to be negotiated. Those negotiations will require some level of trust among the parties. Deceit and trust building are usually mutually exclusive.

Second, the law of unintended consequences. The Internet is– rife with conspiracy theories that inoculations are a Western plot against Muslims.– Already some Muslim communities are refusing vaccinations that they believe are a plot to sterilize them or introduce genetic mutations or illness. Polio could make a resurgence as a global plague because those communities don’t trust the West. This ploy to find a targeted man using a medical team to vaccinate and, without consent take blood for DNA testing, feeds that conspiracy story.

While the CIA operation of DNA analysis was high tech, the device for obtaining it was simple. However, peacemaking can suffer when linear thinking is applied to complex nonlinear conflict situations.– For one objective – finding a person – there may be a setback in a global health objective of using modern vaccines for eradicating diseases.


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