An eye-catching A.P. story, published Thursday, revealed that, in 2010, the United States Agency for International Development (U.S.A.I.D.) covertly deployed a social-media program in Cuba in the hope of bringing about a Cuban Spring. The network, called ZunZuneo, was offered to Cubans via the country’s mobile-phone network as a free text service, and attracted forty thousand subscribers before mysteriously ending operations in 2012. The contractors who ran the program are said to have concealed its U.S.-government origins via an offshore system of front companies and foreign servers, and to have collected data on subscribers’ “political tendencies” and “receptiveness,” among other useful information. The White House press secretary, Jay Carney, declared that ZunZuneo was a “neither covert nor an intelligence program,” preferring instead to call it a “discreet” form of humanitarian assistance to Cubans who lived in a “non-permissive environment.” This kind of bald-faced disingenuousness is risible. Whatever it is labelled, there seems to be little doubt that ZunZuneo functioned as a secret intelligence operation aimed ultimately at subversion. The A.P. reported that one of the aims of the program was to help foster a resistance that could stage “smart mobs” to protest Castro’s rule. That U.S.A.I.D. is now being used for such purposes is not in itself a surprising thing, nor even necessarily a breach of its charter. U.S.A.I.D. was conceived during the Kennedy Administration as a civic-action bolster to the C.I.A.’s underground activities abroad, and in the intervening years some U.S.A.I.D. programs have kept one foot in the shadows. Alan Gross, a U.S.A.I.D. subcontractor who brought in network-communications equipment for political dissidents, has been in jail in Cuba since 2009.
Why can't our corporate welfare be spent on building real, useful infrastructure here at home? If we're giving out money, why do we insist on giving it to belligerent idiots and foreign policy charlatans?