Is USAID the New CIA? Agency Secretly Built Cuban Twitter Program

To Fuel Anti-Castro Protests

zunzuneoDemocracy Now

HAVANA TIMES – “U.S. secretly created ‘Cuban Twitter’ to stir unrest.” That is the name of an explosive new article by the Associated Press detailing how the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), created a fake Twitter program to undermine the Cuban government.

The communications network was called “ZunZuneo” — slang for a Cuban hummingbird’s tweet. It was reportedly built with secret shell companies financed through foreign banks.

According to AP, the United States planned to use the platform to spread political content that might trigger a Cuban Spring, or, as one USAID document put it, “renegotiate the balance of power between the state and society.”

We speak to Peter Kornbluh, director of the Cuba Documentation Project at the National Security Archive. He recently wrote an article in Foreign Policy called, “Our Man in Havana: Was USAID planning to overthrow Castro?”


AMY GOODMAN: “U.S. Secretly Created ‘Cuban Twitter’ to Stir Unrest.” That’s the name of an explosive new exposé by the Associated Press detailing how the U.S. government created a fake Twitter program to undermine the Cuban government. The communications network was called ZunZuneo, slang for a Cuban hummingbird’s tweet. It was reportedly built with secret shell companies financed through foreign banks. The program used cellphone text messaging to circumvent Cuba’s strict Internet restrictions. At its peak, it drew in more than 40,000 Cubans. However, its subscribers were completely unaware they were using a U.S. government program and giving American contractors their private data to potentially use for political purposes. Perhaps most shockingly, the Cuban Twitter program was not paid for and run by a spy agency such as the CIA. Instead, it was the brainchild of USAID, the U.S. Agency for International Development, best known for overseeing billions of dollars in U.S. humanitarian aid.

According to AP, documents show the U.S. government planned to build a subscriber base through “noncontroversial content”—news messages on soccer, on music, on hurricane updates. Later, when the network reached a critical mass of subscribers, 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.” By 2011, USAID was paying tens of thousands of dollars in text messaging fees to Cuba’s telecommunications monopoly routed through a secret bank account and front companies. Then, toward the middle of 2012, the program vanished as mysteriously as it appeared.

On Thursday, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney also defended the USAID’s Cuban Twitter program.

PRESS SECRETARY JAY CARNEY: Suggestions that this was a covert program are wrong. Congress funds democracy programming for Cuba to help empower Cubans to access more information and to strengthen civil society. These appropriations are public, unlike covert action. The money invested has been debated in Congress. In addition, GAO reviewed this program in detail in 2013 and found that it was conducted in accordance with U.S. law and under appropriate oversight controls.

AMY GOODMAN: That was White House Press Secretary Jay Carney.

Well, for more, we go to Madison, Wisconsin. We’re joined by Peter Kornbluh, who directs the Cuba Documentation Project at the National Security Archive, a public interest research center located at George Washington University. He’s the co-author of the forthcoming book, Back Channel to Cuba: The Hidden History of Negotiations Between Washington and Havana. He recently wrote an article in Foreign Policy called “Our Man in Havana: Was USAID Planning to Overthrow Castro?”

Peter Kornbluh, welcome back to Democracy Now! Well, why don’t you answer that question? Talk about this Twitter account and what you have been most surprised by.

PETER KORNBLUH: USAID is clearly in the job of trying to bring about regime change in Cuba. It financed a program sending private contractors into Cuba secretly several years ago to set up satellite communications networks. And now we’ve found out, through this extraordinary Associated Press story, that it was trying to set up a secret Twitter network that has all the elements of a classic covert operation. It has secret bank accounts, shell companies, multinational platforms in terms of various countries being used—Nicaragua, Spain, Ireland, London—and in the background a murky office in USAID called the Office of Transition Initiative, OTI, that clearly is, you know, competing with the Central Intelligence Agency for creative regime change programs in Cuba. It’s a stunning story. It’s an important story. And I’m glad we’re talking about it.

AMY GOODMAN: Explain how it was going to work, I mean, how the whole thing—the Associated Press exposé, how they were going to—how they had the Cuban cellphone numbers, they got a hold of them, and why this went to USAID in the end.

PETER KORNBLUH: Well, USAID has funding from the U.S. Congress. This funding is done under the title of a democracy program, democracy promotion program. And every year Congress is, you know, basically throwing $20 million into USAID’s lap and demanding that this money somehow get into Cuba to foster democracy. Now, if we had better relations with Cuba, if the United States’ goal wasn’t regime change in Cuba, then that money could be used for scholarships, educational—educational programs, humanitarian programs, training programs, but instead it’s being used for this kind of operation, apparently—covert operations intended first to network young Cubans.

And this is one of the elements of the story that’s particularly interesting. You know, the Twitter accounts, the text messaging is clearly the domain, in the United States, but all around the world, of younger people. And the youth population in Cuba is the most disenchanted with the revolution itself. It is clearly the demographic that the United States would want to mobilize.

You create a network—the idea was to create a network first in a very benign way, where all these Cubans would be talking to each other, and then, once the network was built, to start to pass these messages, without anybody knowing where they were coming from, that would have much more of a political content. And then—and this is very important—when unrest would eventually come to Cuba, have a communications vehicle in which the United States could pass messages, mobilize, organize opposition. And so, you know, the—

AMY GOODMAN: I want to play for you a comment of Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont. He was on MSNBC yesterday and talked about the secret Cuba Twitter program.

SEN. PATRICK LEAHY: What they were trying to do here makes me think of people I somehow think are there still at the State Department and writing memos that they were writing back to President Eisenhower. You know, “If we just stay tough, those Castro brothers will be out of there any day now.” They’ve been saying that for 60 years. This—this made no sense at all. I was not briefed. I know of nobody who was briefed on this. I think most people would say, “Are you out of your mind?” This is not a program USAID should be involved with. And, you know, for one thing, it accomplished practically nothing.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont. Now, the U.S. government, we heard the spokesperson, Jay Carney, former reporter himself, for President Obama, saying this wasn’t secret. Yet AP gets these memos, like the one in 2010 from Mobile Accord, one of the project’s contractors: “There will be absolutely no mention of United States government involvement. This is absolutely crucial for the long-term success of the service and to ensure the success of the Mission.” Peter Kornbluh?

PETER KORNBLUH: Of course, it is secret. Jay Carney is misleading the American public. This is one of the saddest elements of this whole story, is the way the Obama administration has deceptively misrepresented these USAID programs. USAID, perhaps, is the new CIA here. And this all has a whiff of Iran-Contra kind of elements, in which, you may remember, Amy, you better than anybody, you know, back in the mid-1980s, when the CIA was banned from supporting the Contras in Central America by Congress and passed the operations to the National Security Council so that they could be conducted from there. And here we may have a situation where covert operations have simply been passed to USAID, where there isn’t very much scrutiny.

But it also begs a question: If this is what USAID is doing in Cuba, what has the CIA been doing there all this time? I think there’s quite a bit of programming and operations that we don’t know about directed towards Cuba that I think is really fundamental to be discussed and debated now, so we can change this archaic policy that Patrick Leahy referred to and get on with normalizing relations with Cuba, which, of course, is changing rapidly into a—from a communist society to a capitalist society. And we can help with that, but we can’t help with that by these silly, surreptitious and absolutely dangerous kind of covert operations.

AMY GOODMAN: Peter Kornbluh, you met with Alan Gross. He has been in prison in Cuba for, what, now I think he’s in his fourth year of prison. This is back in 2010, about the time that this program was starting, and he was arrested by the Cuban authorities for setting up a satellite communications network in Cuba as part of USAID’s Cuba Democracy and Contingency Planning Program. Is there a link?

PETER KORNBLUH: Yes. This is all part of a broader USAID effort to use the Internet, to use modern social media communication systems, to both network Cubans and then have an independent communications vehicle to Cubans on the island through which messages can be sent when unrest occurs, both to spur unrest and then to basically be able to communicate with leaders of the opposition to the Cuban government. And Alan Gross’s project was very similar, although it was—it had a different technological dynamic than the Twitter account, but it was the same idea: You create a network, you build a base of independent communications, and then later you can have people use those communications and receive communications from the United States in a way that gets around the controls of the Cuban government.

Alan Gross was arrested in December of 2009. I believe that this program probably was in the works, this Twitter program, all throughout 2009 also and may well have derived from the very end of the Bush administration. The Bush administration really wanted to help the Republican Party and help Jeb Bush in Florida, eventually, by pushing forward with covert operations and pro-democracy operations, and they started throwing even more money at USAID to do this. But one of the elements that we’ve learned here is that even after Alan Gross was arrested and Congress began to very forcefully scrutinize these types of surreptitious, certainly clearly covert operations being run out of USAID, USAID did not stop them. They continued and escalated this very Twitter-like program that we’re now learning about.

I think it’s very important, though, Amy, that we recognize one thing. Like the Alan Gross gambit, this Twitter operation failed miserably. It was a waste of money in the end, and now, with the revelations of it, are hurtful to the effort to kind of rebuild a U.S.-Cuban relationship, solve the problem of Alan Gross in prison in Cuba and the three Cuban spies that are still in prison in the United States, and get on with a relationship with Cuba that is a modern relationship that meets the national interests of the United States of America. And these regime change programs are only hurtful to those national interests.

AMY GOODMAN: Peter Kornbluh, I want to thank you for being with us, directs the Cuba Documentation Project, National Security Archive. We will link to the article you just wrote about this AP exposé.

45 thoughts on “Is USAID the New CIA? Agency Secretly Built Cuban Twitter Program

  • The Democracy original idea WAS a good idea until the insane WORLD CONTROLLERS kicked in.
    NOW Democracy turned into a monster with many heads and entire countries ARE BEING ENSLAVED under their FORCED Democracy.

  • Admit it, John. You invented this ELISA N. (Susie) sock-puppet to make yourself sound sane. It almost works.


  • There is no evidence in the report that the man was murdered. Suicides do happen everywhere for tragic, and usually very personal reasons.

  • ______________WHY IS NOBODY REPORTING THIS????
    *** WHO is he?

    A senior CIA official has died in an apparent suicide this week from injuries sustained after jumping off a building in northern Virginia, according to sources close to the CIA.

    CIA spokesman Christopher White confirmed the death and said the incident did not take place at CIA headquarters in McLean, Va.

    “We can confirm that there was an individual fatally injured at a facility where agency work is done,” White told the Washington Free Beacon. “He was rushed to a local area hospital where he subsequently died. Due to privacy reasons and out of respect for the family, we are not releasing additional information at this time.”

    A source close to the agency said the man who died was a middle manager and the incident occurred after the man jumped from the fifth floor of a building in Fairfax County.
    _______So the evil Agency called CIA USES it’s own Intelligence officials to commit CRIMES against humanity for the evil Illuminaties …then THEY KIILL THEM?

  • Just like your little fantasy of the rise of the super computer and the destruction of capitalism in 15 or 20 years you make up your own answers to your questions based on your warped world view. …not a game Moses is likely to be drawn into.

  • Ask your “neighborhood doctor” what additional coursework and board testing he faced upon arrival in the US. By the way, anybody can lease a bimmer.

  • Maybe YOU can answer the posed question for the suddenly dumbstruck Moses, Mr Einstein.
    I KNOW the answer to my question.
    You either don’t or cannot answer the question without making Moses look really historically ignorant.

  • And what would you know about ZNet ?
    You are quite unable to read anything there .
    The articles there are too deep and too factually contrary to your erroneous beliefs for you to bear .
    ZNet doesn’t do minute-by-minute news.
    It carries deep analytical coverage of major stories.
    The corporate media did not reveal anything not already known and their “breaking” the story is no threat to the government or U.S. foreign policy.
    You don’t have a clue as to how the corporate media operates and why.

  • Ha ha ha! Where did you read this? Fox News? URBAN LEGEND. Tell that to my neighborhood doctor who now drives a sporty BMW!!! Look if this gets around no one will “defect”!!!!

  • Easy check the NYT which has a report on the FBI’s own investigation (just like Chris Christie investigating himself ) You need to read more….something beyond Fox news.

    “But if such internal investigations are time-tested, their outcomes are also predictable: from 1993 to early 2011,
    F.B.I. agents fatally shot about 70 “subjects” and wounded about 80 others —and every one of those episodes was deemed justified, according to interviews and internal F.B.I. records obtained by The New York Times through a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit.”

  • It’s not his job to correct your failed high school education. Whenever I read your posts I feel quite disappointed in the state of U.S. education.

  • I find it curious that it’s your “corporate” media which breaks, and in which we find out all about this so called Secret twitter program and not your precious ZNet

  • Really bud? So tell me what murders the FBI and police are conducting mmmm?

  • Thanks,
    Very nicely said.
    Any government that would plan to have Fidel lose his facial hair as a means of discrediting the revolution is apt to do anything..
    That’s what happens when you use Wily Coyote’s Acme Company Subversion Schemes.
    In my newspaper, the “State department spokesperson” said that this was absolutely not a plan to overthrow the Cuban government .
    I’m still laughing as I type this the next day.
    He was as believeable as Moses when Moses says that the U.S. is trying to bring………wait for it…………DEMOCRACY to poor benighted Cuba.
    ………my sides are aching.

  • Elisa N,
    There is no such conspiracy .
    The reality is bad enough.
    The very wealthy .0001 % pretty much run our lives.
    Their philosophy of making ever-more money is a far more cruel and totalitarian force than the Illuminati at their worst .
    The richest 85 people in the world have more wealth than the bottom 3.5 BILLION.
    The Illuminati are rank amateurs in this company .
    If you persist in believing this as deeply as you do WHEN NO CONCRETE EVIDENCE exists , you can only expect ridicule from the vast majority who will never accept your conspiracy as real .
    Good luck, kid.
    You can take or leave this advice.
    Try reading the content at ZNet daily and especially people like Noam Chomsky and Paul Street and compare their view of the world and their back-up documentation with your Illuminati beliefs .
    If you wrap yourself up in just looking at Illuminati conspiracy ” evidence” and avoiding other objective and factual sources for your belief system, you lock yourself into an enormous potential for fanaticism and irrationality.

  • To repeat the question you won’t answer:
    How many countries out of the 65 or so in which the USG has intervened have had their societies democratized in any way ?
    ANSWER THIS QUESTION and cite country and year when doing so.

  • How many people total have been killed in Venezuela ON BOTH SIDES in these wealthy-led demonstrations ?
    Who provoked the violence ?
    How would similar actions in any other democracy such as the U.S. have been handled given the use of Molotov cocktails and other lethal weaponry by the protestors. ?
    Anyone interested in an OBJECTIVE and TRUTHFUL look into what is going in in Venezuela need only go to ZNet or Venezuelanalysis .
    And by no means take my word for this.
    You’ve already read, heard and seen what the corporate media has to say and if you are right wing, probably ONLY from Fox .
    Read just a few of the articles at these two websites and compare for yourself.
    YOu CAN just believe what Fox will tell you or the US government or you can get what IMO is far more reliable info from these two sites.
    Test them out.

  • The reality Moses, is that after 54 years of the U.S. economic war on Cuba , the overwhelming majority of Cubans SUPPORT their government and systems knowing how imperfect they are but how still preferable they are to the alternative surrender to imperialism would be.
    Unlike you , the Cuban people lived through both your holy capitalism and Cuba’s undemocratic but far more equitable socialist-STYLE system and THEY are clear on what they want.
    You are arrogant and presumptive in your . perspectives and wishes to impose what YOU want on the people of Cuba .
    As we have agreed, you are a totalitarian through and through and are vehemently against democratic forms so playing the “I want democracy for Cuba ” card is overtly hypocritical of you.
    You want to impose capitalism like your president Obama.
    BTW:There is a good story on Obama selling out his fellow black Americans today ( Saturday Apr 5) at ZNet.
    You can also Google :
    “No Favor To Black America” Paul Street and pull up the article and avoid all contact with ZNet as is your wont.

  • The truth is that most Cuban doctors, at least in the beginning, when they arrive to work in the US, end up being paramedics or nurses because their medical training in Cuba is sub-par to US standards. After two more years of academic training and several more years of interning, these Cuban doctors are then permitted to practice medicine in the US. Even then, very few are given admitting privileges to the best hospitals because of language limitations. They usually don’t end up serving the wealthy as you suggest. They go to work for HMOs which serve government workers and large corporations. Still, its better than what they would have been doing in Cuba.

  • I think using Twitter to provoke civil disobedience in Cuba is a dumb idea, but a crime? I could receive a thousand tweets to take to the streets. If it wasn’t something I didn’t want to do anyway, I would use the free service to talk to my friends and ignore the silly tweets. I give Cuban youth the same credit I give myself. Again, dumb idea.

  • You are right. My bad. But c’mon…’she’ thinks the CIA turned on the camera on her computer to watch her. I couldn’t resist. I only thought people said that in the movies.

  • The United States also has a program to encourage Cuban medical personnel who are abroad helping other countries with lack of access to health care. The US helps them relocate in the US so they can serve the wealthy because for sure, they will not end up serving the middle class of working class. What a country!

  • When someone does not have anything to say they resort to questioning the opponent’s mental health…wow how creative!

  • Do you think they were twitting how to get Bucanero beer? Be real this was to emulate what happened in Egypt. If Venezuela resourced the US protesters Obama would have a cow!

  • Really, is this the best you can muster? What about the police officer and members of the guard who have been charged with those events? Here in the US FBI and police officers kills with impunity very often. I guess that driving down the streets of Caracas in a armored car with bombs, laser, night seeing glasses is just the new way of exploring the city? Two Venezuelans were arrested driving this vehicles (photos are everywhere and their names) I am sure they were planning to peacefully protest or express and “communicate” their hate and paranoia.

  • you are talking about the voices of wisdom…the voices of the TRUTH… that was hidden from the human race to hear? is time for ALL humans to hear those voices…NOT only a few. “THE TRUTH BELONGS TO ALL…not just to a few.”

  • ” The truth is incontrovertible. Malice may attack it, ignorance may deride it, but in the end, there it is.”

    Winston Churchill

  • What is wrong with helping people to communicate?
    You seem to say that if Cubans are more aware of what happens in the world and the country they will start a new “Maleconazo”.

  • Have you tried making an aluminum foil helmet? It also helps with the voices you are probably hearing.

  • I’m pretty sure I saw this on an episode of the Twilight Zone (cue spooky music) if not you should submit this as a script to Hollywood; you might make some money.

  • Nonsense…WE ALL know the REAL purpose of the CIA inside FaceBOOK..TWITTER…PIN THE REST…LINKEDIN..etcetcetc…
    No I do NOT prefer to live in a authoritarian country…I AM a big defender of HUMAN RIGHTS..INCLUDING the one that is being taken from the American people. FREEDOM of speech .
    And NO you are wrong by saying that in the United States we have the right to communicate with whomever I wish…you are wrong…they took that right way from me…the INSANE Illuminati evil men inside the Nazi/CIA took that right from me AND from him to. In fact let me add…when you belong to that evil Agency called CIA you completely LOOSE your HUMAN RIGHTS…they even select who you can and who you can not speak with…Go ask Luis Rueda the Illuminati pappit what he has to say about your nonsense comment.
    CIA is on a MISSION…and I AM sure that YOU know what mission that is.
    I am NOT an Idiot …go try to insult someone else.

  • This is news, only for younger generations. Nothing have changed in 50 years, since the United States advocated openly in 1959, for all Cubans to jump the chain link fence or swim across Guantanamo Bay to GITMO….into “Freedom”, where each arrival was labelled an “exile”, given a bunk, three meals a day, was issued an I-94 which entitled him to legally work in United States and a free flight from GITMO to Norfolk, VA.

    WGBY, the Armed Forces Radio and TV station became bi-lingual, calling listeners to “Freedom”, all of which was repeated on Radio Swam, Radio Netherlands, The Voice of America and a number of mid-western religious Radio Station including Billy Graham.

    Spies and informants were recruited in bright daylight and like Allan Gross, many were captured, some illiterate, sent to jail and a few, to face the firing squad.

    Invasions, terrorism, bio-terrorism, sabotage, economical and financial blockade have failed stridently. Should anyone expect to see a handful of salaried dissidents dressed in white, silly phones and hand made journalist succeed where heavy weight, concerted efforts to overthrow the government failed?

  • Cuban dissidents don’t use those tactics because after nearly three generations of Castro tyranny, Cubans are so afraid and beaten down that the will to fight back is nearly non-existent.

  • What crime? Twitter access for 40,000 Cubans? Hardly a crime.

  • The US is trying to bring democracy to Cuba. Let’s hope it won’t take a revolution to bring it about.

  • People have an interesting way of deciding what’s right and will mobilize and communicate with whatever means are at their disposal when given the chance. Examples can be seen in Egypt, Iran and Venezuela. That is why the Cuban government fears these means of communication. Your comments seem to show you would prefer to live in an authoritarian Cuba or air an than s country where you have the right to communicate with whomever you please

  • I don’t think is only to fuel anti-Castro protests…is much more uglier than that…they want someone to get VERY MAD and do something against the United States …an EMP or something similar that could cause the START of the last steps for the NWO. They are trying to create chaos everywhere in the hopes one of the world Leaders pulls the trigger first. So far they seam to be all holding back…a WW3 will be the biggest and the last BIG mistake ever here on earth.
    What people needs to understand is that there IS a very evil group of MONSTERS that want to hurt the United States…not Cuba…not Venezuela…not Crimea… the evil MONSTERS want to upset the Leaders of the powerful Nations by USING the Leaders and the people from the smaller nations.

  • No. More like the Venezuelan solders breaking car windows with their weapons and firing point blank into crowds and firing up into apartment buildings. The video was shown at the UN

  • Really. Where?

  • the US is trying to start a revolution in Cuba, meanwhile the US violently stifles non-violent protests in the US

  • another crime committed against Cuba by the US

  • NWO…New World Order? Enslave? Dude, I suggest less caffeine.

  • Those who have follow the “dissidents” of Cuba knew this long time ago, now Obama says it was about creating democracy? Really? Like the peaceful Venezuelan protesters who use improvised explosive devices (IAD), “bombas tiples” or pipe bombs, “miguelitos” (barb wire across a road) and all those wonderful tools to enhance democracy the US has provided them and their Voluntad Poplar fascists. Dissidents in Cuba don’t use those tactics because they are so few but their Miami friends who have engaged in sabotage and assassination have used them in dramatic ways.

  • The CIA IS USING different social media sites to instigate conflicts inside countries …Is part of the NWO. Part of the world control they have planned for all the countries they want to enslave.

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