USAID Secret Operation Spied on 40,000+ Cubans Who Used U.S.-Funded Twitter-like Texting Platform

Posted April 9, 2014

MP3 Interview with Marc Hanson, senior associate for Cuba, Washington Office on Latin America, conducted by Scott Harris

cuba

The results of a recent investigation published by the Associated Press revealed that the United States Agency for International Development, or USAID, had covertly created and funded a Twitter-like social media platform in Cuba, known as ZunZuneo. USAID, the government agency that delivers humanitarian aid around the world, built the social media program in 2010, using shell companies in the Cayman Islands which allowed Cubans to send text messages to others in the network. USAID’s plan was to build a subscriber base of perhaps more than 100,000 Cubans and then send messages designed to inspire political opposition and protest against Cuba’s government through the organizing of flash mobs and other tactics.

Although USAID officials have denied that their Cuban "Twitter" platform was covert, the unmistakable goal of the so-called “democracy promotion” program was to stir political unrest in Cuba. The estimated 40,000 to 68,000 ZunZuneo subscribers were unaware that their smart phone app was part of a secret U.S. government operation that collected information on their gender, age, "receptiveness" and "political tendencies."

The ZunZuneo program ran out of funds in 2012, but the Cuban government has charged that the U.S. continues to operate similar illegal and subversive social media programs within the island nation. U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., charged that the program was a "cockamamie" idea doomed to discovery and failure. Between The Line’s Scott Harris spoke with Marc Hanson, the Washington Office on Latin America's senior associate for Cuba, who takes a critical look at the USAID Twitter platform and its possible impact on U.S.-Cuba relations.

Find more information about USAID’s Cuba social media program and Marc Hanson’s recent article on the topic by visiting WOLA.org.

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