US Tried to Sow Dissent By Building 'Cuban Twitter'

AP reveals secret program aimed at spurring Cuban Spring

By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff

Posted Apr 3, 2014 6:54 AM CDT

(Newser) – The US in 2009 started work on a thoroughly 21st-century way to attempt to stir unrest in Cuba: It concocted a "Cuban Twitter" that it hoped would draw young people that it could prod toward dissent, an AP investigation has found. The text messaging platform, ZunZuneo—slang for a Cuban hummingbird's tweet—ran until funding ran out in 2012 and amassed 40,000 users during that time. It also collected personal data of users, who were unaware they were using a program funded and created—perhaps illegally, unless the president OKed it and Congress was notified about it—by the US Agency for International Development with the intention of getting "the transition process going again toward democratic change," documents show.

At the very least, the project contradicts USAID's claims that it doesn't carry out secret operations, and its reputation among foreign governments, to which it delivers aid, could suffer as a result, the AP adds. A memo from one of the creators notes, "There will be absolutely no mention of United States government involvement ... to ensure the success of the Mission." An estimated $1.6 million was spent on the project, though public data showed that money was set aside for a project in Pakistan. To further cloak things, creators established a corporation in Spain and an operating company in the Cayman Islands to pay the company's bills so the "money trail will not trace back to America," per a strategy memo; additionally, users' messages never touched American-based computer servers. Click for the full report, which explains how the project began with the acquisition of a half-million Cuban cellphone numbers.

A man sends a text message from his cell phone in Havana, Thursday, April  24, 2008.
A man sends a text message from his cell phone in Havana, Thursday, April 24, 2008.   (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)
Students gather behind a business looking for a Internet signal for their smart phones in Havana, Cuba, Tuesday, April 1, 2014.
Students gather behind a business looking for a Internet signal for their smart phones in Havana, Cuba, Tuesday, April 1, 2014.   (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)
Students gather behind a business looking for a Internet signal for their smart phones in Havana, Cuba, Tuesday, April 1, 2014.
Students gather behind a business looking for a Internet signal for their smart phones in Havana, Cuba, Tuesday, April 1, 2014.   (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)
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