07 April 2014

The U.S. continues to f*** with Cuba

As reported by The Guardian:
In July 2010, Joe McSpedon, a US government official, flew to Barcelona to put the final touches on a secret plan to build a social media project aimed at undermining Cuba's communist government.

McSpedon and his team of high-tech contractors had come in from Costa Rica and Nicaragua, Washington and Denver. Their mission: to launch a messaging network that could reach hundreds of thousands of Cubans. To hide the network from the Cuban government, they would set up a byzantine system of front companies using a Cayman Islands bank account, and recruit unsuspecting executives who would not be told of the company's ties to the US government.

McSpedon didn't work for the CIA. This was a program paid for and run by the US Agency for International Development, best known for overseeing billions of dollars in US humanitarian aid...

Documents show the US government planned to build a subscriber base through "non-controversial content": news messages on soccer, music, and hurricane updates. Later when the network reached a critical mass of subscribers, perhaps hundreds of thousands, operators would introduce political content aimed at inspiring Cubans to organize "smart mobs" — mass gatherings called at a moment's notice that might trigger a Cuban spring, or, as one USAid document put it, "renegotiate the balance of power between the state and society."..

The program's legality is unclear: US law requires that any covert action by a federal agency must have a presidential authorization. Officials at USAid would not say who had approved the program or whether the White House was aware of it. McSpedon, the most senior official named in the documents obtained by the AP, is a mid-level manager who declined to comment.

USAid spokesman Matt Herrick said the agency is proud of its Cuba programs and noted that congressional investigators reviewed them last year and found them to be consistent with US law.
There's more at the link, and undoubtedly some other viewpoints elsewhere on the 'net this week.  Can some reader here offer a morally-defensible justification for this activity based on strategic necessities?  Personally, I'm so very, very, very tired of the U.S.' endless attempts to subvert the Cuban government.  These shenanigans go back for probably 50 years - and for what reason?  Is it just because Cuba has continued to maintain a form of governance of which we don't approve?  Do they provide any smidgen of a threat to the U.S. in any real way?  Or is this just an example of the U.S. f***ing with any country it wants to because it can?  I get so mad when I blog about stuff like this that I have to walk away from the computer to the back yard for a few minutes to calm down so I don't use language I shouldn't.

Now, somebody... please offer some explanation or justification.

Addendum:  There is commentary at The Dish on how ventures like this undermine the broader humanitarian goals of USAid (if such broader goals actually exist).

Also - a hat tip to reader misterjeff for a link to an incisive comment at Techdirt and for another related story at The//Intercept.

Still waiting for a comment or link to a contrary viewpoint supporting the activity...


  1. The explanation is simple. We're AMERICA. We're exceptional. We don't loose. Until Cuba falls in line we will f**k with it because we know what's good, and right, and moral, and....

  2. I guess that Cuba doesn't attract the younger, dynamic strategists in the Pentagon these days, hence the Cold War-approach.

    Frankly the best way to beat them would be to do business with them. Open up trade, get goods and services moving, watch as one of the last bastions of communism falls to the free market.

    McDonalds could do far more damage than an exploding cigar or fake Twitter account.

  3. It's bizarre. As a kid I kind of idolized America, always wanted to go and live there. These days, not a bit of it.
    I'm sure there's a reasonable majority of people I could look up to and respect as much as way back then, they just don't seem to have a voice.
    BTW - another good article on this in Techdirt (http://www.techdirt.com/articles/20140405/07072226809/fallout-usaids-bay-tweets-invasion-is-going-to-be-felt-far-wide.shtml), and Glenn Greenwald in the Intercept (https://firstlook.org/theintercept/2014/04/04/cuban-twitter-scam-social-media-tool-disseminating-government-propaganda/)

  4. I wonder if (actually I don't, I'm sure that) these kind of things also happened during the Ukraine protests (thereby proving Putin with an excuse to hit back).

  5. "broader humanitarian goals of USAid" - nonsense.

  6. Maybe because of these things that Mark Rubio claims that Cuba does? (Propaganda or truth?) I'm not advocating this, or saying there isn't a better way, but there is little liberty in Cuba. Especially religious liberty, which is sad. http://www.newsmax.com/Newsfront/Marco-Rubio-Cuba-Harkin-speech/2014/02/27/id/555102/

  7. It's interesting that this post and a comment have used this scandal as an opportunity to impugn USAID for lacking "broader humanitarian goals." Is this sound thinking?

    As a graduate student in molecular epidemiology, USAID was one of the larger, more active supporters and funding sources for public health research at agencies not otherwise connected to the US federal research bureaucracy (like the FDA or NIH). For example, a decade ago USAID provided the funding that let me work with the Ethiopian Ministry of Health as a biostatistician when they couldn't recruit someone to do the work on a project that otherwise would have had to have been done pro bono. As part of USAID's funding agreement, I was to develop the curriculum for and carry out a training webinar (which at the time still seemed a bit futuristic to me) for students in programs like my own in Ethiopia so that the Ministry would get their statistical work completed in addition to gaining six affordable, in-house biostatistical consultants for continuing work. And it was a great experience, for everyone involved. This is how international public health field work gets done, on a very fundamental basis: with a lot of collaboration, no scandal, and a lot of history and experience in making the arrangements work for all parties on behalf of USAID.

    So, by all means, critique the weird programs like this one as they arise. but by all means I encourage you to take a measured tone and do your best to untangle questionable practices from the unquestionable ones, as the former is not an indicator that the latter don't exist. If one can point to a field that is untouched by scandal and misdeeds, I would be interested to hear of it. I one can point to a field that is wholly defined by a given scandal or misdeed, I, too, would be interested to hear of it.

  8. You seem to assume that the broader goal of USAID is (as its charter claims) international humanitarian cooperation, but your personal experience is no sufficient evidence for that conclusion. I don't know the specifics of the particular agreement in which your service was provided, but I don't think we should suppose that these services were provided with no strings attached.

    I will provide a counter-example that may have the advantage of revealing some specifics of the kind you haven't touched (political). It is the one that have effected me and Brazil the most: MEC-USAID 1964-68.

    After Kennedy instructed Ambassador Lincoln Gordon to finance and coordinate opposition in all sectors (1962), Lyndon Johnson personally authorized a military coup against the democratically elected president João Goulart in 1964 (the coup's 50th anniversary was just last week). Soon after, the agreement between the Ministry of Education and Culture and USAID was signed by dictator Castelo Branco, former General of the Armies. Here are some points:

    * 1-year reduction of school curriculum (12 to 11 years)
    * termination of the specialization in sciences or arts in the high school curriculum
    * implementation of industrial training for high school students, using American-bought machinery and training (most of these students end up working on American- and European-owned plants: Ford, Wolkswagen, etc.)
    * obligatory English language education for students in all levels; termination of French and Spanish education
    * termination of all philosophy, art and civic studies
    * reduction of history classes in half; redirection of the history curriculum to focus on north-American and European historical experience; extinction of studies on Latin-American historical experience
    * handing over curriculum and policy decisions to USAID contractors (previously they were done by elected members of the school community; see below)
    * Redirecting 40% of education funds to private institutions

    The agreement was signed by USAID under the conditions of implementing the Suplicy de Lacerda Act of November 9th, 1964, which determined:
    * Extinction of student representative bodies in local, state and federal level
    * Extinction of all teacher unions
    * Extinction of History departments in public superior education institutions (reverted in 1974)

    It also followed the Institutional Act Number 1, which impeached all elected officials with connections with teacher unions, deported or imprisoned many of them, forcibly retired leftist professors and censored all publication which attacked government education policy.

    After handing over all democratic control over the education process, Brazil received:
    * Studies on public administration of schools and universities effective at the time;
    * Consulting over the economical situation of university students (while they were censored and imprisoned)
    * A new unified plan to university admission
    * A new plan of support to poor students (never put in place)
    * A new general legislative plan for educational and cultural matters

    In suma: it killed programs and made research.

    On that basis, I would ask: What was the State Department and Pentagon plan for Ethiopia? How does it relate with the presence with USAID there at the time? Is the presence of USAID independent to focus on human necessity, or does it exist only as a function of north-American state and economical interest?

    If so, the broader goals of USAID is imperialism, not humanitarian progress.


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