US Secretly Created ‘Cuban Twitter’—ZunZuneo—to Stir Unrest and Undermine Government

Secret Cuban Twitter

The AP article “White House Defends ‘Cuban Twitter’ to Stir Unrest” states that USAid started ZunZuneo, a social network built on texts, in hope it could be used to organize ‘smart mobs’ to trigger a “Cuban Spring.” Here are just a few excerpts; the full article is available in the links below:

The Obama administration on Thursday defended its creation of a Twitter-like Cuban communications network to undermine the communist government, declaring the secret program was “invested and debated” by Congress and wasn’t a covert operation that required White House approval.

But two senior Democrats on congressional intelligence and judiciary committees said they had known nothing about the effort, which one of them described as “dumb, dumb, dumb.” A showdown with that senator’s panel is expected next week, and the Republican chairman of a House oversight subcommittee said that it, too, would look into the program.

[. . .] First, the network was to build a Cuban audience, mostly young people. Then, the plan was to push them toward dissent. Yet its users were neither aware it was created by a U.S. agency with ties to the State Department, nor that American contractors were gathering personal data about them, in the hope that the information might be used someday for political purposes.

It is unclear whether the scheme was legal under U.S. law, which requires written authorization of covert action by the president as well as congressional notification. White House spokesman Jay Carney said he was not aware of individuals in the White House who had known about the program.

The Cuban government declined a request for comment.

USAID’s top official, Rajiv Shah, is scheduled to testify on Tuesday before the Senate Appropriations State Department and Foreign Operations Subcommittee, on the agency’s budget. The subcommittee’s chairman, Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., is the senator who called the project “dumb, dumb, dumb” during an appearance Thursday on MSNBC.

[. . .] State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf [. . .] described the program as “discreet” but said it was in no way classified or covert. Harf also said the project, dubbed ZunZuneo, did not rise to a level that required the secretary of state to be notified. Neither former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton nor John Kerry, the current occupant of the office, was aware of ZunZuneo, she said.

In his prior position as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Kerry had asked congressional investigators to examine whether or not U.S. democracy promotion programs in Cuba were operated according to U.S. laws, among other issues. The resulting report, released by the Government Accountability Office in January 2013, does not examine whether or not the programs were covert. It does not say that any U.S. laws were broken.

The GAO report does not specifically refer to ZunZuneo, but does note that USAID programs included “support for the development of independent social networking platforms.” At minimum, details uncovered by the AP appear to muddy the USAID’s longstanding claims that it does not conduct covert actions, and the details 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.

For full article, see http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/apr/03/us-cuban-twitter-zunzuneo-stir-unrest or http://hosted.ap.org/dynamic/stories/U/US_SECRET_CUBAN_TWITTER_ABRIDGED?SITE=AP&SECTION=HOME&TEMPLATE=DEFAULT&CTIME=2014-04-03-03-43-35

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