A text message-based social network in Cuba, a so-called “Cuban Twitter,” was essentially a tool create by the U.S. government to promote unrest in the Communist Party-led country. The use of this tactic by the government has been frowned upon by foreign relations officials as a “dumb” idea.
ZunZuneo, the service that the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) created in 2009, was a way to bypass Cuba’s strict information regulations and a smartphone-focused workaround over its Internet policies. ZunZuneo, a slang word for a hummingbird’s tweet, exploded to 40,000 users lured in by the ability to freely discuss daily news and other tidbits.
Without the subscribers of the service knowing the U.S. was involved, messages urging Cuban citizens to mobilize against the Communist regime started to ring out.
The Associated Press unveiled much of the USAID’s covert social network operation in an investigative report earlier today, detailing the scope and scale of how ZunZuneo was being applied. A U.S. government official, Joe McSpedon, led a team of contractors from various regions to build the ZunZuneo network.
At issue with the revelation of “Cuban Twitter” is that any secret actions by a U.S. government agency must be approved by the president and Congress must be informed according to federal law. The Obama adminstration claims that the program was not covert and served the purpose of giving Cubans the right to free-flowing information.
More from the AP:
The administration also initially said Thursday that it had disclosed the program to Congress — White House spokesman Jay Carney said it had been “debated in Congress” — but hours later shifted that to say it had offered to discuss funding for the program with several congressional committees. “We also offered to brief our appropriators and our authorizers,” State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said.
Two senior Democratic lawmakers said they knew nothing about the effort, and the Republican chairman of a House oversight subcommittee said his panel plans to look into the initiative next week.
“If you’re going to do a covert operation like this for a regime change, assuming it ever makes any sense, it’s not something that should be done through USAID,” said Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., chairman of the Senate Appropriations subcommittee that oversees USAID’s budget.
Sen. Leahy was rankled by the news, calling the use of the ZunZuneo program “dumb” in a chat with MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell. The White House is maintaining the program was not part of a top-secret operation, although portions of the development of ZunZuneo were done discreetly.
A Cuban user of the program claimed to never have received the propaganda messages, saying that when the program shut down in 2012 he was dumbfounded like many others were.
“Besides, there was nothing wrong. If I had started getting subversive messages or death threats or ‘Everyone into the streets,'” “I would have said, ‘OK,’ there’s something fishy about this. But nothing like that happened,” said Ernesto Guerra in an interview.