Tuesday, February 8, 2011

A Minint production

Was the apparent Cuban Interior Ministry video of a briefing on USAID strategies and operations in Cuba really leaked? Was it purloined and brought to light by an intrepid and disloyal insider, as Yoani Sanchez assumes?
Or was it a Minint production from the beginning, produced by the segurosos themselves with every intention of releasing it, and with a TV producer’s thirst for ratings?
I think it’s the latter.
If it were a simple recording of a briefing for internal purposes, it’s not clear to me why it would be edited as it was. There is nothing in the briefing that is remotely inconvenient to the Cuban government; nothing that compromises an operation or breaks an important secret. To the contrary, much of the video conveys messages that Havana would probably want to present to international audiences. The cachet of a “leak” from the heart of a communist security apparatus ensures that those messages fly farther and wider than would words on paper.
To me, the video appears to be the Cuban government’s opening argument as it prepares to bring the matter of USAID contractor Alan Gross to its conclusion – in its own courts, before international public opinion, and perhaps in dialogue with the Obama Administration.
The blog Café Fuerte has performed an immense public service by transcribing the briefing, which it says was done last June. The transcript is here (pdf). The blog Penultimos Dias has apparently identified the briefer, one Eduardo Fontes Suarez.
It doesn’t matter whether the video is a leak or a media placement, it’s out there now. (At Babalu, the always perceptive Humberto Fontova thinks it’s a deliberate media placement. Paris-based blogger Zoe Valdes thinks so too, and explains at greater length.)
If you read the transcript, what Cuban government messages can you derive? I think they are these:
  • To Latin American governments and publics, and beyond: “Obama is no different than Bush; same economic sanctions against Cuba, same attempts to bring down our Revolution.”
  • To friendly governments: “You might want to check what USAID is up to in your country.”
  • To international public opinion: “We have young people who are smart, tech-savvy, and as committed as any historico to defending Cuba.”

  • To USAID and its contractors and President Obama: “We’ve got your number.”
On the latter point, pages three through seven of the transcript are salient.
The briefer alleges that this was not about cell phones and laptops: the Obama Administration was attempting to set up very powerful Wi-Fi hot spots throughout Havana that would give selected Cubans access to high-speed Internet – VOIP, video, you name it. (There’s ambiguity on this point, because he also seems to talk about an open-access network.) The system, as noted here one year ago, is called BGANS. The briefer notes that these communications networks would be beyond the Cuban government’s supervision and monitoring capabilities. He alleges that the U.S. planned to recruit Cubans to maintain and operate the networks. He also notes that intelligence operatives could make use of these networks, although he does not allege that Cuban citizens who received the equipment were connected in any way to intelligence activities. He notes that there are operations under way against some U.S. activities, but he won’t discuss them.
Thanks to the transcript, it is now easy to dig out the details yourself.
At any rate, we now have Minint’s view of the USAID programs in Cuba.
We will soon have Mr. Gross’ view, and perhaps those of witnesses at trial.
Since these are not covert or classified programs, and since Cuba may well use them to convince foreign governments otherwise, it would be interesting for the U.S. government to discuss them in some detail, beyond assertions about helping the Jewish community. If you don’t tell your own story, someone else will tell it for you, the PR maxim goes. That’s what’s happening now.


Anonymous said...

"Smart, tech-savvy"... are you crazy? This guy is stupid.

Anonymous said...

Dear Mr. Peters,

If it is a MININT plant, how do you account for the fact that it describes the satellite communication plan as something that the Cuban government is unable to stop?

Why should the MININT dissaminate such an unfavorable account of its defensive possibilities against enemy satellite communications?


Anonymous said...

whether its a plant or not, does that affect what the cuban govt is saying, does it diminish the message? maladroit attempt or sophisticated leak, move beyond the media and look at the message -- is it valid or not?
is the govt wrong when it says obama is simply continuing america's stated policy of destruction of the regime? nothing i've seen indicates otherwise. the other points, just as valid

John McAuliff said...

If the video is legitimate (and not disinformation), its psychological framework of resistance to enduring and constant threat suggests the profound challenge of trust building, intrinsically hard to do with the economic warfare of the embargo in place.

It also appears (pp 11-12) that Cuban officials did not recognize the difference between short term "leadership" scholarships offered by USINT in 2009 and those that simply provided a year of Community College education in substantive disciplines which they seemed to be asking for at least rhetorically, e.g. for agriculture.

The authors of the fascinating English translation make a mistake on p 5 when they say DAI means the "US Defense Intelligence Agency".

DIA is not involved. DAI is Development Alternatives Incorporated, a classic beltway bandit whose leadership are largely former USAID staff who obtain juicy contracts from their previous employer, including the notorious one that funded Alan Gross.

John McAuliff
Fund for Reconciliation and Development