Friday, July 18, 2014

Inspector general probing US 'Cuban Twitter' plan

Posted on Thursday, 07.17.14

Inspector general probing US 'Cuban Twitter' plan

WASHINGTON -- The inspector general for the nation's international aid
agency is probing a once-secret Obama administration program that
created a social media network in Cuba, The Associated Press has learned.

The review centers on the U.S. Agency for International Development's
Twitter-like service in Cuba, which was meant to circumvent Internet
restrictions on the island and undermine the government. USAID has been
criticized for using the program to conduct overt political messaging
and for not fully informing Congress about the scope of its work there.

The inquiry follows an AP investigation in April that revealed the
existence of the "Cuban Twitter," known as ZunZuneo. That report found
USAID contractors deployed the primitive text-messaging service by
hiding sources of taxpayer money and not telling subscribers it was
backed by the U.S. government or that it gathered private user data for
political purposes.

USAID's inspector general confirmed Thursday it was focusing on the
Cuban Twitter program and that it's examining in part whether
appropriate management controls — including proper oversight of ZunZuneo
— were in place. It said it plans to publish its findings when the
review is complete. Inspectors general act as auditors within federal

The Obama administration has said ZunZuneo was not covert but
"discreet," and that it served an important, non-political purpose by
helping information flow more freely to Cubans. But the AP found
instances in which organizers drafted or sent politically charged
messages, which the State Department said would be "troubling" if confirmed.

In April, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee asked USAID to turn
over all records about the Obama administration's secret Cuban twitter
program as part of a broader review of the agency's civil-society
efforts worldwide.

Separately, Sen. Patrick Leahy, chairman of the Senate appropriations
subcommittee for foreign operations, also asked for details about the
program. His office said Thursday that USAID has not turned over the
information yet, a delay the Vermont Democrat called "unacceptable."

Those requests followed a series of congressional hearings during which
lawmakers debated whether USAID — best known for its humanitarian
efforts — should be running such a cloak-and-dagger mission instead of
spy agencies like the CIA. It's unclear whether the IG investigation
will focus on whether or not USAID may have violated federal law or if
it conducted a covert operation.

ZunZuneo's organizers wanted the social network to grow slowly to avoid
detection by the Cuban government. They hoped the network would reach
critical mass so that dissidents could organize "smart mobs" — mass
gatherings called at a moment's notice — that could trigger political
demonstrations, or "renegotiate the balance of power between the state
and society." At its peak, ZunZuneo drew in more than 68,000 Cubans,
according to USAID, before it mysteriously disappeared in 2012.

USAID said it has handed over all politically oriented messages from
ZunZuneo to congressional investigators.

The agency publicly launched ZunZuneo shortly after the 2009 arrest in
Cuba of American contractor Alan Gross. He remains imprisoned after
traveling repeatedly to the country on a separate, clandestine USAID
mission to expand Internet access using sensitive technology that only
governments use.

USAID administrator Rajiv Shah has said publicly that the program
comported with U.S. law and congressional oversight.


Contact the AP's Washington investigative team at

Follow on Twitter: Gillum at, Butler at

Source: WASHINGTON: Inspector general probing US 'Cuban Twitter' plan -
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