Friday, April 04, 2014

Defining Covert Operations in Latin America

This ongoing Cuba Twitter story is depressing. White House spokesperson Jay Carney said the operation was not covert.

“It was not a covert program. It was debated in Congress. It was reviewed by the [Government Accountability Office]. Those sorts of things do not happen to covert programs,” White House spokesman Jay Carney said.


“Suggestions that this was a covert program are wrong,” Carney said. “You're discreet about how you implement it so you can protect the practitioners, but that does not make it covert.”

Carney said officials "of course" have to be discreet when the government implements programs in “non-permissive environments.”

USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah said on MSNBC’s “Andrea Mitchell Reports” Thursday that the program was “not covert” and said the AP’s story had “a number of significant inaccuracies.”

A GAO report from 2013, he said, examined the agency’s project in Cuba and said it was consistent with the law.

This is an entirely new definition of "covert" that magically transforms past covert operations into some less objectionable category, "discreet" perhaps. It is worth pointing out that the CIA does not use Carney's definition.

Generally speaking, covert actions are activities that the CIA might undertake in other countries to accomplish a US foreign policy objective without the hand of the US government becoming known or apparent to the outside world (p. 259).

So where did the congressional debate take place? As far as I can tell, there is debate about general principles of foreign policy but nothing about secret programs, which of course would immediately become public. There may well be congressional committee briefings (and the CIA suggests such briefings took place in the past as well) but that is not what Carney is suggesting. These are secret operations where the role of the U.S. is supposed to remain hidden.

I did a quick check in the Library of Congress to see if the word "Twitter" or "Zunzuneo" was mentioned in debate and nothing came up. If this was "debated" it was done so in a very generalized manner about Cuban regime change that very likely never touched on the operation itself. Or at least there is currently no evidence to suggest otherwise. So this program isn't so much different than others in the past.

On Carney's last point, here is the GAO report from 2013, which does not mention the program at all. What you see is a lot of money with very little oversight. GAO admits that reporting has been problematic. What is all this money being used for? Secret stuff with large payments going who knows where. (Side note: how do I get on that gravy train? They throw money around like nobody's business).

In sum, this is "covert" by the commonly accepted definition of the word, which is that it is secret and intended to hide U.S. involvement. From a normative perspective, we need to resist such efforts to sanitize language. In that regard, the Obama administration is simply copying the Bush administration, which among other things tried to pretend torture wasn't torture.

So don't accept the word "discreet." It's just bogus.


Anonymous,  12:00 AM  

I read somewhere that if the damn embargo is lifted, in time the internet in Cuba will mushroom. Knuckle headed US government.

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