Welcome to the new age of political subversion.
In an effort to destabilize the Castro government and spread information among Cubans, the U.S. government secretly built a social network in the country several years ago, the AP reports.
The text-message based social network, dubbed ZunZuneo, was basically a stripped down Twitter. The plan was to start sending “non-controversial” content to subscribers — things like soccer and music updates — and eventually introduce political content to spark political uprisings. Ultimately, the network could be used to organize Cubans into “smart mobs,” perhaps recreating the events of the Arab Spring from years ago.
More than 40,000 Cubans signed up for ZunZuneo at its height, the AP notes. The news agency claims it pored over more than 1,000 documents about the development of the social network.
One of the most intriguing aspects of this story is that ZunZuneo was created by the U.S. Agency for International Development, which typically manages international aid, not subversive programs. The agency also sought funding from Twitter cofounder Jack Dorsey, though it’s unclear if he was ever directly involved.
“USAID is a development agency, not an intelligence agency, and we work all over the world to help people exercise their fundamental rights and freedoms, and give them access to tools to improve their lives and connect with the outside world,” USAID spokesman Matt Herrick told the AP.
“In the implementation,” he added, “has the government taken steps to be discreet in non-permissive environments? Of course. That’s how you protect the practitioners and the public. In hostile environments, we often take steps to protect the partners we’re working with on the ground. This is not unique to Cuba.”
Herrick noted the agency’s Cuba operations were deemed legal by congressional investigators last year, though it’s unclear who actually approved the program. As the AP points out, the President needs to sign off on covert actions by federal agencies.