Sunday, February 12, 2012

USAID's m.o. in Cuba (Updated)

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.


Curt said...

Looks like Cuba has a solid case against Gross. It is amazing how the mainstream media twists the situation around by making Gross look like an innocent humanitarian who was only trying to help the Jewish community. If the U.S wants Gross freed then they should release the Cuban 5. However the U.S government is secretly glad that Gross is in jail. It gives them an excuse not to improve relations with Cuba.

Anonymous said...

if accurate, Gross's claims he was a dupe is not credible. he seems to have reported knowing exactly what he was doing and the illegalities of it. cuba showed restraint by not moving against the others Gross was using. A rare occasion where the cuba side is treated with respect and credibility in the mainstream media.

Anonymous said...

All this phony high dudgeon. Were you all born yesterday?

Williams said...

they should release the Cuban 5. However the U.S government is secretly glad that Gross is in jail. It gives them an excuse not to improve relations with Cuba.

Anonymous said...

Mucho ruido y pocas nueces!

Time to find a fair solution through a prisoner exchange and move on to deal with other issues that are important in the relations between both governments.


Antonio said...

I actually kinda feel sorry for Gross, as much as he seems to have gained awareness over time as far as the materials he was taking to Cuba. He really stood no chance against a Stasi trained intelligence apparatus.

Anonymous said...

and if gross was bringing in terrorist equipment, which has happened in the past, just too bad the intelligence service in cuba wasn't as effective. really quite an astonishing comment, that the guilty should be felt sorry for because they were caught. man, if that doesn't say volumes about how effective cuba has been propagandized, nothing does. Gross didn't 'seem' to be aware, he was absolutely sure what he was doing from the start. why do you think cuba needs such an effective intelligence apparatus -- maybe after 50 years of being under siege, terrorist acts, hostility and aggression. just maybe. i guess you don't feel sorry for the 9/11 terrorists only because they weren't caught in time?

John McAuliff said...

Who leaked to the AP? Someone in the US government who wanted to establish that there is a substantive basis for bilateral negotiation if there is political will, perhaps that includes both Alan Gross and the Five?

From the AP story:

On his final trip, he brought in a "discreet" SIM card -- or subscriber identity module card -- intended to keep satellite phone transmissions from being pinpointed within 250 miles (400 kilometers), if they were detected at all.
The type of SIM card used by Gross is not available on the open market and is distributed only to governments, according to an official at a satellite telephone company familiar with the technology and a former U.S. intelligence official who has used such a chip. The officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the technology, said the chips are provided most frequently to the Defense Department and the CIA, but also can be obtained by the State Department, which oversees USAID.

John McAuliff
Fund for Reconciliation and Development