Wednesday, January 30, 2013

An Alan Gross reader

In recent weeks a number of new documents have come to light in the case of jailed USAID contractor Alan Gross, mainly thanks to reporter/blogger Tracey Eaton.  Tracey has written a Q&A with lots of basic information on the case; it’s a very good primer for those not inclined to read all the documents below. 

The documents, summarized by Tracey here, are:

---A memo summarizing an August 2008 meeting between USAID officials and Gross’ employer DAI as DAI was embarking on its Cuba project; the memo is written by DAI.

---An October 2009 modification of the contract between DAI and Alan Gross’ company.

---A September 2009 memo by Alan Gross on his Cuba project, which he called “Para la Isla.”

---DAI’s January 2013 motion in court seeking dismissal of Gross’ lawsuit against the company.

Tracey also has a post on USAID’s Office of Transition Initiatives, which ran Cuba programs through an office in Costa Rica, now closed.

In addition to all this information, there’s the February 2012 Associated Press story based in part on trip reports submitted by Gross, and my summary of the Cuban court’s sentencia, which is the Cuban government’s rendition of the facts and legal issues in the case.

There’s also the August 2008 USAID contract with DAI, which has a long preamble describing the Bush Administration’s Cuba Democracy and Contingency Planning Program, which derives from that Administration’s Cuba transition commissions.

Finally, everything on this blog about the case is here.

In sum, the new documents have added interesting detail, but no big new departure, to what we know about this story. 

A few comments on the new documents:

·         In the past I have written, based on a U.S. official’s account to me, that Gross was paid $585,000 for his work.  That is not so.  His contracts totaled $590,608, of which he was paid $258,274, Tracey reports, and it is likely that he received another $65,000 before his last trip to Cuba.  The rest was to be paid in later installments.

·         The AP story reported that Gross planned to use a special SIM card in the BGAN satellite Internet equipment that he installed in synagogues in Cuba.  The card, not commercially available, would mask the location of the equipment so it could evade detection by Cuban agencies.  (A normal SIM card would reveal the unit’s GPS location.)  AP’s report generated some controversy, but Gross’ own memo settles the question; he did plan to use such a “discreet” SIM card.

·         Gross’ memo refers to the Jewish community as the “current target group” and in his discussion of “follow-on components” to his program he refers to a “new target group.”  This new group is not identified.  The Cuban court alleged that he discussed providing BGAN equipment to Masonic Lodges in Cuba.

·         The Obama Administration’s practice has been to describe Gross as a humanitarian and not to connect his work for the U.S. government to broader political objectives, much less regime-change objectives.  Secretary Clinton, for example, called him “an American who was passing out information and helping elderly Cubans communicate through the Internet.”  DAI’s motion, in a section titled “The Origin of This Case in U.S. Government Policy Toward Cuba” (p.15), states: “This case arises out of the Cuba Democracy and Contingency Planning Program (the ‘Cuba Program’), a foreign policy program of the U.S. Government.  The Cuba Program seeks to foster changes in the leadership of the Cuban government and to hasten a peaceful transition to democracy in Cuba.”

·         Gross’ memo refers to paid “local support staff” that assisted in his project.  I wonder if one of those was Jose Manuel Collera, who had contact with Gross and others in the USAID program, according to the Cuban court document, and whom the Cuban government revealed in 2011 to be one of its own undercover state security agents.  (According to that document, another USAID contractor phoned Collera immediately when Gross was arrested.)

·         DAI’s memo on its August 2008 meeting with USAID shows the Bush Administration to be in a big hurry to get the program under way in the five months then remaining in the President’s term: “This Administration expects immediate results from this program, definitely before mid Janauary.”  The memo also explains that USAID chose not to classify its Cuba program activities “because USAID wanted to send the message that this is a transparent process. Also, a classified project imposes significant security, documentation burdens, and delays.”

  • Throughout these documents, there is awareness on everyone’s part of the risk that Mr. Gross’ program would be detected by Cuban intelligence.  For example, DAI’s memo indicates a “point of emphasis” in USAID’s briefing on the program: that “creativity” is needed “in the face of opposition from the Cuban state – one anchored in the past and resistant to change – while protecting the security of participants and change agents.”  There is a legal argument about responsibility and alleged negligence, and there’s a political argument as to whether the risks should have been assumed in the first place, but there’s no doubt that all knew of the risks.  Mr. Gross, according to the cable from U.S. diplomats in Havana reporting on their virst visit to him, said that “Government of Cuba officials knew ‘everything’ before he was taken into custody and had asked for details of all his activities, i.e., the projects and companies he had worked for in the 54 countries he had travelled to during his 30-year career.  He asked the Consul General if there were other Americans in the same situation, i.e., other American citizens entering Cuba on the same type of program who had been detained.”

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