AP reporter Desmond Butler obtained five reports on USAID contractor Alan Gross’ travels to Cuba, four written by Gross himself, and wrote a long investigative piece on Gross’ operations in Cuba. Your tax dollars at work in a kind of operation that is the last thing you would expect to be carried out by USAID.
Update: A few comments on the AP article, in no particular order.
I remember when the U.S. government solicited bids for projects to provide high-tech or low-tech communications devices and systems to Cubans, back in 2006. It is not pleasant to see that the result is the arrest of an American citizen. But it is interesting to see what came out the other end, and astonishing that no one explained to the hapless Mr. Gross that he was going to Cuba, not to Mayberry, Tennessee to contend only with Andy and Goober.
If Mr. Gross reports that he saw Cuban authorities “sniffing” for signals near where he was working, it raises the question of whether they refrained from arresting him so they could watch him operate over the course of a few trips.
As readers have pointed out, it has always been hard to understand what Mr. Gross means when he says he was “duped” and “used,” and now it’s harder still. With these trip reports it is clear that he knew the risks.
He also spread the risks. His modus operandi seems to have been to hook up with a Jewish group traveling to Cuba, present himself as a member of a humanitarian group, enlist some members to carry some equipment, and gather it all up once everyone cleared Customs. In so doing he put those Americans in danger, and if he used the name of a real humanitarian group, he abused that group as well.
This is dirty pool. If USAID and its operatives are going to put Americans at risk when they are traveling to Cuba for religious fellowship or humanitarian projects, it owes them a chance to weigh the risks before it uses them for cover.
AP reports that USAID’s policy is that “if asked,” its operatives should state that they are carrying out a U.S. government program. That’s not good enough.
If USAID is going to continue operations like this, can it have a policy where it takes its own risks, and where it prohibits its operatives from using the name of private American organizations, presenting themselves with fake identities, and abusing the trust of private American citizens?
USAID doesn’t like the word “covert.” Good for AP for digging out the National Security Act’s definition:
The U.S. National Security Act defines “covert” as government activities aimed at influencing conditions abroad “where it is intended that the role of the United States Government will not be apparent or acknowledged publicly.”
AP follows up on its Sunday story with an examination of USAID’s use of clandestine operations in democracy programs.
Here’s a note on all this from Geoff Thale of the Washington Office on Latin America who points out that in the end, Gross did not end up harming Cuban national security and the Cuban government would do well to release him on humanitarian grounds.
I still wonder how this all began. How was it decided that Cuba’s Jewish community needed better Internet access, as opposed to other assistance? And how was it decided that this was the best way to provide it?
Finally, the information in the AP report seems to coincide with the information in the sentencia of the Cuban court.