First task for U.S. operatives in Cuba: Avoid detection

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U.S. government contractors sometimes struggle to find Cubans who are willing to work with them. Cuban participants worry about the political nature of U.S. government-financed projects, according to a second batch of documents about one contractor’s work in Cuba. (See “USAID in Cuba: Code names and counter surveillance“).
The U.S. Agency for International Development awarded a $15.5 million, three-year contract to Creative Associates International in October 2008. Below are excerpts from the contractor’s monthly reports to USAID. Download the reports.

August 2009
FO5 remains on the island meeting with members of the targeted constituencies and is scheduled to return at the end of the month. He is expected to hold a debriefing in San Jose during the second week of September.
The second consultant returned from the island and carried out a debriefing for staff. The consultant proposed approximately 5 new project ideas with the contacts made during the trip. These ideas will be analyzed and drafted into grants in the coming weeks.
The consultant has returned and a full debriefing was carried out. The contacts established by the consultant in the university/youth sector are being analyzed for possible follow up.
The grantee will coordinate a workshop to be held in September in Jamaica to discuss the targeted population. Representatives from the target population will also attend the workshop.
An action plan has been created as a result of the strategic planning session held in July with the grantee. A leadership module has also been created which will be practically applied to the existing curriculum. Materials assistance continues to be delivered and two travelers are currently on the island for this purpose.
Grant activities continue to be implemented successfully. The technology has proven effective and target numbers have been exceeded. New interactive methodologies are currently being tested to examine the tool’s potential and reach. Troubleshooting by the grantee of technical issues is ongoing.
This grant has been rejected at the request of the grantee upon deciding that it was not in their best interest to partner with a USG-funded program. CREA (Creative Associates International) staff identified another partner who may carry out the project. An e-grant will be prepared and submitted for the approval the week of August 31.
The NGO temporarily rejected partnering with a USG-funded program. However, after further conversations, the NGO has decided to reconsider its decision and will provide a final response to us the week of August 31.
Program staff is evaluating potential grantees from Peru, El Salvador, Chile, Guatemala and Colombia.
CREA procurement manager traveled to Cuba to deliver material assistance and gain insights to the local procurement process.
Vetting NGOs continues to be a challenge. Staff continues to hone vetting efforts towards a core set of NGOs while continuing to identify new partners. Reservations are related to USG funding and the political nature of the program. CREA and OTI CR (Office of Transition Initiatives Costa Rica) are in discussions about how to best approach NGOs to mitigate the risk of losing partners in the future.

September 2009
The Cuban government has announced that it will block VOIP services such as Skype, Yahoo and Google for international calls. This could present a potential security issue for the program because we rely on these tools to communicate with consultants and others on the ground. The Security Manager has performed tests and the services are still functioning normally. We will continue to monitor the situation in the short term.
This month, a second NGO (SJO023) decided it was not in their best interest to participate in our program. Reservations are related to USG funding and the political nature of the program. CREA and the OTI CR continue discussions about how to best approach NGOs to mitigate the risk of losing partners in the future.

June 2010
Despite pressure from US groups with strong interests in removing travel restrictions to the island (including prominent members of the opposition in the island) and eliminating the trade embargo, it seems a normalization of relations with the US will not occur in the near future.
…the matter of (redacted) is still on the table and continues to hinder any step forward. (This likely refers to the jailing of American development worker Alan Gross).
Travelers returned safely and were able to establish contacts in the targeted sectors. A full debriefing and report is expected the first week in July.
A civic organization expert traveled in June to work on strengthening the three groups assisted under this grant. The objective for this trip is to focus group activities to those that seek socio-political impact, increased their independence and autonomy. A full report is expected upon the consultant’s return.
All six travelers arrived and commenced surveying. Upon the travelers’ return and subsequent report, OTI/CREA will participate in the analysis of the information and determine the final product’s content. A final draft with survey results and research is expected upon completion of the activity.
Due to security concerns, a key consultant was not able to travel and transfer their trust relationship with a local beneficiary to the new team. This hindered the relationship the team was able to establish with that particular group. The other target group was engaged and willing to carry out activities. For this reason, the next stage for this initiative will focus on assisting this second group.
A new group was identified as a result of the grant that has great potential to replicate alternate media activities in a different province. The new idea is underway and expected in July.
The PSM has conducted several briefings and continues to prepare soon-to-depart travelers to minimize risks and ensure traveler safety. (I don’t know what PSM stands for. Project Safety Manager? Personnel Security Manager?).
Research and training in case scenarios is underway in preparation for a security meeting to be held in headquarters in July.
Security and liability concerns related to travel to Cuba have delayed implementation for SJO022, SJO047 and SJO056. Staff is working with our NGO partners to work out adjustments where feasible.

February 2011
A video posted anonymously to the internet in which high ranking Cuban intelligence officers discussed the challenges presented by the internet and detailed their strategy to fight blogs like Generación Y and Octavo Cerco. Although it is difficult to determine if the video was released by the Cuban government or leaked by someone else, it is clear that the intelligence community on the island is concerned with U.S. government efforts to promote the use of social networks, such as Facebook or Twitter, to incite insurrection. Speakers in the video, apparently filmed at a conference of Interior Ministry officials, identified the internet as the new battleground between Cuba and the United States. Notably, the officer conducting the presentation mentioned Costa Rica as one of the main “focus points of insurrection” and support for dissidents on the island. The lecturer specifically mentioned the efforts of Creative Associates in Cuba and its presence in Costa Rica.
The grantee completed the first design phase of a tool to allow information sharing through interactive technology platforms. Testing of a networking platform began this month, along with a design to launch a fully functional web-based tool in March to pilot test with selected users.
The sixth phase of the project was launched with a fully functional multidirectional platform and with a clear growth rate in activity and targeted audience users. To support the project, a long-term sustainable strategy is under development in coordination with the grantee and OTI/CREA. (I suspect this project is ZunZuneo, the so-called Cuban Twitter).
The grantee continues to face communication issues with a group of beneficiaries on the island. Various attempts to contact beneficiaries via email, Skype and telephone calls were unsuccessful. Following the changes to the grant made in January, the grantee and beneficiaries must coordinate on plans for small victories to achieve implementation success. Pending communication with the beneficiaries to develop their activities, a no-cost extension may be necessary to allow the grantee to coordinate with the beneficiaries to develop their activities. However, if the grantee is unable to communicate with the beneficiaries by the grant end-date, OTI/CREA will consider canceling this initiative.

October 2011
Cuba alleged earlier this month that Radio/TV Martí is violating international laws through a mass SMS-text messaging service, branding the communications program as a ‘massive operation’ in the U.S. government ‘cyberwar’ against the country’s Communist Regime. Radio/TV Martí asserts that the SMS-based information campaign is ‘within the guidelines for use of cellphones,’ and ‘certainly not intended to disrupt anything’ in response to Cuba’s complaints that the system’s capability to send up to 24,000 messages per week to cell phones on the island may overburden Cuba’s cellular network and fully disrupt service for the one million reported users. Radio/TV Martí maintains that the text message system is used to deliver the same kinds of information already broadcast to Cuba through other media channels, and that the effort is open and transparent.
Cuban State Security responded to the allegations against the Broadcast Board of Governors, Radio/TV Martí and a Maryland-based contractor, Washington Software, Inc. by recommending that all mass SMS texts coming into the island be blocked. Internal Security sources suggested that the Regime has studied mass SMS technology extensively, and could send the same type of mass SMS to North American cell phones, but would not ‘violate international norms.’ To date, there have been no reports of SMS outages or service disruptions.
A cash disbursement has been issued to the beneficiaries under this grant to support logistics and coordination and prepare the grant’s main activity.
A second cash disbursement for SJO096 will be issued to cover upcoming activities.
A new cash disbursement will be issued for SJO099 to support several activities included in the grant plans.

2 thoughts on “First task for U.S. operatives in Cuba: Avoid detection”

  1. Dear Eaton:
    In Cuba the work you do is very much appreciated.
    I would like to ask you to tell me if you have calculated the approximate amounts that the U.S. has spent since 1959 to date to develop subversion in Cuba.
    I am talking about a total calculation.
    Thank you
    David Urra

    Reply
    • Hello David – Thank you for your comment. I haven’t tried to calculate the amount since 1959. I’ll bet it’s in the billions of dollars if you take into account programs by all U.S. government agencies and the military. Tracey

      Reply

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