USAID pushes back against the Cuba Twitter accusations. The very first response is problematic.
1) The story says the “program’s legality is unclear” and implies the program was “covert.”FACT: USAID works in places where we are not always welcome. To minimize the risk to our staff and partners and ensure our work can proceed safely, we must take certain precautions and maintain a discreet profile. But discreet does not equal covert.
The programs have long been the subject of Congressional notifications, unclassified briefings, public budget requests, and public hearings. All of the Congressional Budget Justifications published from 2008 through 2013, which are public and online, explicitly state that a key goal of USAID’s Cuba program is to break the “information blockade” or promote “information sharing” amongst Cubans and that assistance will include the use or promotion of new “technologies” and/or “new media” to achieve its goals.
In 2012, the Government Accountability Office—the U.S. government’s investigative arm—spent months looking at every aspect of USAID’s Cuba programs. GAO’s team of analysts had unrestricted access to project documents, extended telephone conversations with Mobile Accord (ZunZuneo) and even traveled to Cuba. The GAO identified no concerns in the report about the legality of USAID’s programs, including ZunZuneo, and offered USAID zero recommendations for improvements.
Here is my post on defining "covert" operations. Where were the public hearings and debate on this specific program? I've seen no evidence that any ever happened (and where is the GAO report on this if they did a ton of investigation?). Vague references to "information sharing" is not the same thing. You got a blanket authorization, then created an entirely secret program. Whether you think it is good or bad, it is covert. This whole "discreet" thing is troublesome since it is a very conscious effort to sanitize the covert. If you like covert, say so and don't hide behind language.
Unfortunately, USAID also does not offer any rebuttal to the accusations that the program was counterproductive and doomed to failure because ultimately you can't keep U.S. involvement secret for long and it undermines the entire effort.
FYI, the Cuban response is even dumber. The government notes how awful it is that ZunZueno might have encouraged Cubans to get together politically. Horrors! At least they're honest, I guess.
h/t Boz on Twitter