“Suggestions this was a covert program are wrong,” said White House press secretary Jay Carney.
“Congress funds democracy programming for Cuba to help empower Cubans to access more information and to strengthen civil society. These appropriations are public, unlike covert action. The money invested has been debated in Congress,” he continued. “In addition, [the Government Accountability Office] reviewed this program in detail in 2013 and found that it was conducted in accordance with U.S. law and under appropriate oversight controls.”
The Associated Press reported Thursday that ZunZuneo, a Cuban text-messaging network, was created by the U.S. Agency for International Development and was part of a plan to help young Cubans organize and possibly oppose the government.
The network, which the report described as a “Cuban Twitter,” had thousands of followers at its high point, but those users were unaware it was a U.S. government-backed project or that contractors had gathered personal information on them.
The report said that USAID and its contractors took steps to hide the government’s role in the program, including allegedly setting up front companies and by not telling employees they were working on a program paid for by Washington.
“As you know, USAID is a development agency, not an intelligence agency,” said Carney about the agency’s role in the program.
Carney suggested that there was no attempt to hide the program, but acknowledged that the U.S. had been “discreet” about how they handled the project in Cuba.
“In implementing programs in nonpermissive environments, of course the government has taken steps to be discreet. That's how you protect the practitioners and the public,” he said. “This is not unique to Cuba.”
Carney said that the White House involvement in the Cuban project “would be the same that it would have been in similar development programs of this type.”