WASHINGTON (AP) — The Obama administration is looking into whether a "Cuban Twitter" program secretly backed by the U.S. government contained messages that were political in nature, despite assertions from the administration that the effort was intended only to increase the flow of information in a country that heavily restricts Internet access.
State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Wednesday it would be "troubling" if political messages were sent under the program. She said the program's sponsor, the U.S. Agency for International Development, was trying to determine whether any of the messages that were sent were in fact political, as well as the timing of the messages, and whether they were drafts or were actually sent.
An Associated Press investigation has revealed that the U.S. government built the now-defunct communications network to undermine the communist government and that draft messages were produced that were overtly political.
Documents obtained by the AP show that the early messages poked fun at the Castro government and were created by a political satirist working for the social media project. Those messages conflict with the U.S. government's earlier assertions that its program didn't promulgate political content.
Cuba's state-run telecommunications firm said Wednesday it had launched an investigation into how hundreds of thousands of customer cellphone numbers ended up in the USAID program. The AP's investigation found that those phone numbers were used to start a subscriber base for the project, ultimately known as ZunZuneo, for the sound made by a Cuban hummingbird.
Congressional hearings into the creation of the program this week focused on whether it was appropriate for USAID to launch such an intelligence-like operation — and not the CIA or other spy agencies.
The AP investigation showed program evaded Cuba's digital restrictions by creating a text-messaging service that could be used to organize political demonstrations. It drew tens of thousands of subscribers who were unaware it was backed by Washington, which went to great lengths to conceal its involvement.