News / Americas

    White House: 'Cuban Twitter' Was Not Covert Operation

    Students gather behind a business looking for a Internet signal for their smart phones in Havana, Cuba, April 1, 2014.
    Students gather behind a business looking for a Internet signal for their smart phones in Havana, Cuba, April 1, 2014.
    VOA News
    The White House says a so-called "Cuban Twitter" communications network created by the U.S. government was a development program, not a covert operation.
     
    White House spokesman Jay Carney commented about the program Thursday, responding to a report released earlier in the day by the Associated Press news agency.  Carney said the program was completed in 2012.
     
    Carney said the United States takes steps to be "discreet" when operating in "non-permissive environments" such as Cuba, in order to protect those involved in the program and the general public.
     
    The AP report said the U.S. government secretly financed the social network in Cuba in an effort to stir political unrest and undermine the country's communist government.  It said the U.S. Agency for International Development’s (USAID) program evaded Cuba's Internet restrictions by creating a text-messaging service that could be used to organize political demonstrations.
     
    AP said it is unclear whether the project was legal under U.S. law, which requires written authorization of covert action by the president and congressional notification. 

    No comment
     
    The Cuban government declined an AP request for comment.
     
    The AP said details uncovered by its reporters appear to contradict USAID's longstanding claims it does not conduct covert actions.  The report says the project could undermine the agency's mission to deliver aid to the world's poor and vulnerable, an effort that requires the trust and cooperation of foreign governments.
     
    The report says the project, dubbed “ZunZuneo,'' slang for a Cuban hummingbird's tweet, was publicly launched shortly after the 2009 arrest in Cuba of American contractor Alan Gross.  He was imprisoned after traveling repeatedly to the country on a separate, clandestine USAID mission to expand Internet access using sensitive technology that only governments use.
     
    For more than two years, ZunZuneo grew and reached at least 40,000 subscribers.  But documents reveal the team found evidence Cuban officials tried to trace the text messages and break into the ZunZuneo system.  USAID told the AP ZunZuneo stopped in September 2012 when a government grant ended.
     
    The AP says it obtained more than 1,000 pages of documents about the project's development, and independently verified the project's scope and details in the documents through publicly available databases, government sources and interviews with those involved in ZunZuneo.

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    Comments
         
    by: TonySalsa from: USA
    April 03, 2014 3:00 PM
    Wow America got caught with its pants down.

    by: Cranksy from: USA
    April 03, 2014 2:04 PM
    Free speech is one aspect of American life I appreciate most, but I do think social media can cause flash-mob democracies.

    by: quslera from: USA
    April 03, 2014 1:22 PM
    Hmmm -- let's see. USAID is involved in a clandestine mission that, according to the AP report, the legality of which has been called into question.

    USAID and the State Department have also been involved in funding various programs of the Broadcasting Board of Governors.

    Was anybody, at any time, in the BBG (which has made much of its so-called engage and connect strategies, aware of the USAID covert program in Cuba?


    by: Marc from: Texas
    April 03, 2014 12:25 PM
    I see articles like this condemning another country for their repression against their citizens. I would like to point out one thing, we live in America. Where we do have these freedoms. Don't take it for granted, people died for that freedom.

    by: Freedom from: USA
    April 03, 2014 10:59 AM
    I have to disagree. Giving oppressed people the tools to communicate freely among them is always a good thing. Whether the program broke the law if it didn't follow the proper protocol, is a different matter. But, not withstanding that, it was a good thing.

    by: Not Again from: Canada
    April 03, 2014 9:48 AM
    Everyone should have acess to twitter and the internet; there is nothing sinester about providing means of communication for people, that a dictatorship denies them. Once again we observe some kind of an issue- in protecting/advancing the rights of the cuban dictatorship's position of denying its people a free means of expression/communication; if it can be afforded why not provide such a service?. What are the intentions of the people making this an issue, do not all US/Western citizens have access to twitter? were does the evil rest, in twitter or in the dictatorship that denies the people the right to communicate by twitter? More needs to be done for the freedom of expression around the world, not less!

    by: meanbill from: USA
    April 03, 2014 9:37 AM
    USAID and all the other US agencies in foreign countries, get most their funds from the (CIA), and like the wise man said; "nothing is free, and nobody gets to ride for free".

    by: Curly4 from: USA
    April 03, 2014 9:25 AM
    This sounds like a good thing and it may have been if it brought down the government and allow a freely elected government to takes its place. But when one understands that if the government could do this, for a good cause, then it could do a similar thing against a group in the US also for a good cause.

    So the finale conclusion will have to be it is not good and it is or may have broken US law.

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