Thursday, April 3, 2014

UPDATE: ZunZuneo and the USAID

As they say inside the beltway, this story has "legs."

Since I first posted what is below the video last Thursday afternoon there has been quite a flurry of commentary and follow up pieces both from the AP and others.  This Tuesday morning, I was awoken by a tweet from the tireless Roque Planas with the news that Alan Gross has begun a hunger strike in prison in Cuba partially in response to (and protest against) the recent ZunZuneo revelations.

An excellent roundup of the entire developing story (with links to key coverage from around the web) was posted on the Reuters blog "The Great Debate" by Emily Parker, the intrepid tech reporter, former tech advisor to Secretary Clinton, and author of the recent book Now I Know Who My Comrades Are on Internet activists in China, Cuba, and Russia.

I highly recommend that readers read her article and then follow her links to other key coverage by Zeynep Tufekci at Politico, Jon Lee Anderson at The New Yorker, Phil "el guru" Peters at The Cuban Triangle, Juan Tamayo at The Miami Herald, an interesting push back article at the USAID blog entitled "Eight Facts About ZunZuneo," and of course two articles in the Cuban official press, "The Dirty Flight of a ZunZun" at Juventud Rebelde and "ZunZuneo: The Sound of Subversion" at Granma.  

Stay tuned - I'm sure there's more to come...

Above is an short video from the AP that summarizes its breaking story about ZunZuneo, a Twitter-like messaging service secretly set up through the USAID.

The article was researched and co-written by an intrepid, 6-person AP team, including Desmond Butler, Jack Gillum, Monika Mathur (all in DC), Alberto Arce (in Tegucigalpa), and Andrea Rodríguez and Peter Orsi (in Havana).

The fullest version of the AP story that I could locate online is both at AP itself and at the Guardian.  The Guardian also follows up with a White house story that parses the distinction between "covert" and "discrete" programs, claiming that ZunZuneo was the later not the former.

The longer version of the original story includes this priceless paragraph:
"The operaton had run into an unsolvable problem.  USAID was paying tens of thousands of dollars in text messaging fees to Cuba's communist telecommunications monopoly routed through a secret bank account and front companies.  It was not a situation that it could either afford of justify - and if exposed it would be embarrassing, or worse."

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