A Twitter-like Cuban social media network that the U.S. government built to stir unrest was a "cockamamie" idea doomed to failure, the chairman of a Senate panel that oversees the U.S. Agency for International Development declared Tuesday. (April 8)
1. SOUNDBITE (English) Sen. Patrick Leahy, (D) Vermont:
"While we debate what USAID is doing in Cuba, US citizen Alan Gross remains in solitary confinement in his fifth year in capacity, solely because he was carrying out a USAID program which was dumb in its inception."
"The program was designed in 2007 and 2008, in that time frame. That said the legislation that crafts the purpose of the program -- (Sen. Leahy: No, whose idea was it for this specific program? I read the legislation. The legislation doesn't say anything about setting up a cockamamie idea in Cuba with Twitter accounts and all in something that the Cubans would be so easy to discover."
Washington - April 8, 2014
3. Mid of Sen. Coats and Sen. Boozman at the hearing
"Working on creating platforms to improve communication in Cuba and many other parts of the world is a core part of what USAID has done for some time and continues to do. Our administration's policy is to continue to support efforts to allow for open communications. To the extent that the AP story and any other comment creates the impression that this effort or any other goes beyond that for other ulterior purposes. That is simply inaccurate. (Sen. Leahy: Was it a covert program?) Absolutely not. It was conducted (Sen. Leahy: And was anyone at the US interests section of the Department of State or the White House aware of the facts of this program?) This program has been notified publicly in Congressional budget justifications dating back to 2008. (Sen. Leahy: I've read those and when I talk about bureaucrats, if you can figure out it mean this, you're doing a lot better job than most of us."
A Twitter-like Cuban social media network that the U.S. government built to stir unrest was a "cockamamie" idea doomed to discovery and failure, the chairman of a Senate panel that oversees the U.S. Agency for International Development declared Tuesday. He said the agency didn't adequately describe to Congress the program it was secretly operating.
A key question for the hearings is whether the program endangered its users by concealing that the U.S. government was behind it. The network was publicly launched shortly after the 2009 arrest in Cuba of American contractor Alan Gross. He was imprisoned there after traveling repeatedly on a separate, clandestine USAID mission to expand Cuban Internet access using sensitive technology that only governments use.
His voice rising in anger at moments, Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., said, "while we debate what USAID is doing in Cuba, US citizen Alan Gross remains in solitary confinement in his fifth year in capacity, solely because he was carrying out a USAID program which was dumb in its inception." He also said that from its inception, the program had "no possibility of working."
Rajiv Shah, USAID's top official, said the program, disclosed last week by The Associated Press, was part of the administration's efforts to provide new digital methods to increase the flow of information in and out of Cuba. Shah said the effort operated "discreetly" and was described in congressional budget justifications. But Leahy interrupted Shah to say he had read those budget documents.
"If you could figure out it meant this, you're doing a lot better job than most of us," Leahy said.
An Associated Press investigation last week revealed that USAID oversaw the creation of the text message-based service, dubbed ZunZuneo for the sound made by a Cuban hummingbird. USAID and its contractors went to extensive lengths to conceal Washington's ties to the project, according to interviews and documents obtained by the AP.
Shah said the AP's report had a number of critical inaccuracies, but he was not asked to describe them and did not specify his complaints. Though he could not say who came up with the idea for Zunzuneo, he said the agency operates transparently and was "absolutely not" operating a covert program.