The government acknowledged Thursday that the U.S. Agency for International Development launched a project in Cuba to create a Twitter-like social network to increase Cubans’ access to information but rejected describing the program as covert.
“Suggestions this was a covert program are wrong,” White House press secretary Jay Carney said during his daily briefing.
“It was not a covert program. It was debated in Congress. It was reviewed by the (Government Accountability Office). Those kinds of things don’t happen to covert programs,” he said.
Carney was referring to the information published by a U.S. news agency about USAID’s ZunZuneo project, the aim of which was to create a type of Cuban Twitter to foster dissidence among young people on the Communist-ruled island.
“When you have a program like that in a non-permissive environment, i.e., a place like Cuba, you’re discrete about how you implement it so you protect the practitioners. But that does not make it covert,” the White House spokesman said.
The planning for ZunZuneo began in 2009 with obtaining 500,000 cellphone numbers in Cuba, and USAID and its contractors hid Washington’s links with the project, creating a front company in Spain and channeling funds through a bank in the Cayman Islands, according to the news account.
The social network acquired about 40,000 users who shared via posts “non-controversial” content on sports and music, although the plan was to later introduce political elements to inspire the young people to organize marches and demonstrations against the Cuban regime.
The White House on Thursday denied that Alan Gross, a USAID sub-contractor imprisoned in Cuba since 2009 for “actions against the territorial integrity of the state,” had anything to do with the development of ZunZuneo.