Did the USAID Cuban Twitter Debacle ‘Taint All USAID Employees as Spies?’

Sen. Patrick Leahy asked if that was the case at an appropriations hearing Tuesday.

Rajiv Shah (L), administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), confers with committee chairman Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) prior to testifying before a subcommittee of the Senate Appropriations Committee April 8, 2014 in Washington, DC.
National Journal
Brian Resnick
See more stories about...
Brian Resnick
April 8, 2014, 8:04 a.m.

A man is in pris­on, pos­sibly for the rest of his life. A Twit­ter-like pro­gram has been ex­posed as a con­struc­tion of the Amer­ic­an gov­ern­ment, cre­ated with the hope of stir­ring demo­crat­ic un­rest in Cuba. The United States’ in­ter­na­tion­al de­vel­op­ment arm, USAID, is be­ing ac­cused of something like in­ter­na­tion­al es­pi­on­age.

And Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., isn’t happy with any of the above.

“Does it taint all USAID em­ploy­ees as spies?” the Demo­crat from Ver­mont asked the ad­min­is­trat­or of the agency dur­ing a Tues­day Sen­ate ap­pro­pri­ations hear­ing.

“We sup­port civil so­ci­ety,” re­spon­ded USAID Ad­min­is­trat­or Rajiv Shah, in what was es­sen­tially a non-an­swer.

Leahy was chas­tising USAID for im­ple­ment­ing Zun­Zun­eo, a Cuban ver­sion of Twit­ter, which gained tens of thou­sands of users. The pro­gram was cre­ated un­der a broad ini­ti­at­ive for “demo­cracy as­sist­ance” in Cuba. Though, in Leahy’s words, “the le­gis­la­tion doesn’t say any­thing about a cockamam­ie idea.”

Cuba has not taken kindly to earli­er such in­cur­sions. In 2009, Alan Gross, a 64-year-old U.S. cit­izen, was sen­tenced to 15 years for pro­mot­ing In­ter­net ac­cess in the coun­try. He is now on a hun­ger strike.

And des­pite Gross’s jail­ing, Leahy un­der­scored, USAID went for­ward with the Zun­Zun­eo plan, jeop­ard­iz­ing his chances of re­lease.

Shah de­fen­ded his or­gan­iz­a­tion, say­ing the op­er­a­tion went along with the mis­sion “to im­prove ac­cess to in­form­a­tion and In­ter­net free­dom in many parts of the world.”

Leahy asked if the pro­gram was cov­ert.

“These pro­grams are con­duc­ted more dis­creetly pre­cisely be­cause [of a] re­cog­ni­tion [that] provid­ing In­ter­net ac­cess in an au­thor­it­ari­an en­vir­on­ment ex­poses people to risk,” Shah re­spon­ded, echo­ing a state­ment that USAID re­leased Monday (and also echo­ing the White House). He also said USAID op­er­ates dis­crete pro­grams in oth­er parts of the world, such as provid­ing sur­gery as­sist­ance in Syr­ia.

Leahy also asked if Shah knew whose idea the pro­gram was. Shah replied that it was in place be­fore he entered his po­s­i­tion.

Oth­er sen­at­ors, such as Lind­sey Gra­ham and Mary Landrieu, were keen to change the top­ic, high­light­ing USAID’s work in world health and food short­ages, and its pres­ence in Ukraine.

But Leahy pressed on.

“Did we we tell the people in Cuba that this was a U.S. gov­ern­ment pro­gram?” Leahy asked Shah dir­ectly.

“No,” he said.

What We're Following See More »
A DARK CLOUD OVER TRUMP?
Snowstorm Could Impact Primary Turnout
2 days ago
THE LATEST

A snowstorm is supposed to hit New Hampshire today and “linger into Primary Tuesday.” GOP consultant Ron Kaufman said lower turnout should help candidates who have spent a lot of time in the state tending to retail politicking. Donald Trump “has acknowledged that he needs to step up his ground-game, and a heavy snowfall could depress his figures relative to more organized candidates.”

Source:
IN CASE OF EMERGENCY
A Shake-Up in the Offing in the Clinton Camp?
2 days ago
THE DETAILS

Anticipating a primary loss in New Hampshire on Tuesday, Hillary and Bill Clinton “are considering staffing and strategy changes” to their campaign. Sources tell Politico that the Clintons are likely to layer over top officials with experienced talent, rather than fire their staff en masse.

Source:
THE LAST ROUND OF NEW HAMPSHIRE POLLS
Trump Is Still Ahead, but Who’s in Second?
1 days ago
THE LATEST

We may not be talking about New Hampshire primary polls for another three-and-a-half years, so here goes:

  • American Research Group’s tracking poll has Donald Trump in the lead with 30% support, followed by Marco Rubio and John Kasich tying for second place at 16%. On the Democratic side, Bernie Sanders leads Hillary Clinton 53%-41%.
  • The 7 News/UMass Lowell tracking poll has Trump way out front with 34%, followed by Rubio and Ted Cruz with 13% apiece. Among the Democrats, Sanders is in front 56%-40%.
  • A Gravis poll puts Trump ahead with 28%, followed by Kasich with 17% and Rubio with 15%.
IT’S ALL ABOUT SECOND PLACE
CNN Calls the Primary for Sanders and Trump
1 days ago
THE LATEST

Well that didn’t take long. CNN has already declared Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump the winners of the New Hampshire primary, leaving the rest of the candidates to fight for the scraps. Five minutes later, the Associated Press echoed CNN’s call.

Source:
×