US created fake social network firm to foster dissent in Cuba

Cell phone user in CubaBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
A United States government agency secretly created a bogus social networking platform in order to foment political unrest in Cuba, according to a report by the Associated Press. Over 40,000 subscribers regularly used the ZunZuneo social networking service that began operating in the communist Caribbean island in 2009. The service, dubbed “Cuba’s Twitter” was based on SMS messages sent via mobile telephone subscribers. Its rapid success was attributed to the strict controls over Internet usage that are in place in Cuba, as well as the population’s relative lack of access to networked computers. But The Associated Press revealed on Thursday that ZunZuneo was in fact a secret program devised by the US Agency for International Development (USAID), which is a federal body operating under the Department of State. The news agency reported that the US government was able to conceal its role in building and sustaining the network by operating through a complex system of front companies set up in the Cayman Islands and in Spain. The latter were used to register ZunZuneo’s parent company and to pay the company’s bills, as well as to route millions of subscribers’ text messages without the involvement of servers based on US soil. The report stated that ZunZuneo’s corporate website even carried “bogus advertisements” strategically placed to give the site a realistic corporate look. It is worth noting that the social networking service suddenly stopped working in 2012, without providing a warning or an explanation to its tens of thousands of subscribers. But the Associated Press said the reason the service was terminated was that the US taxpayer’s money used to sustain the program simply run out. The news agency argued in its report that the program was covert in nature and should have been subjected to Presidential authorization and Congressional scrutiny. But the White House said on Thursday that the program was “discreet” rather than “covert”, and thus did not require executive or legislative input. Speaking to journalists on Thursday, White House spokesman Jay Carney said the USAID scheme was “neither covert nor an intelligence program”. A spokesman for USAID told the BBC that the agency was “proud of its work in Cuba” and that programs such as ZunZuneo “help people everywhere to exercise their rights and connect them with the outside world”. The Cuban government did not issue a response to the revelations.

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