The US government’s attempt to utilize social media in an effort to subvert the Cuban government dramatizes how and why such efforts are not only doomed to failure, but also why they have nothing whatsoever to do with the cause of liberty. Last month, the Associated Press exposed the provenance of ZunZuneo, a Cuban version of Twitter that was covertly originated, run, and financed by the US Agency for International Development (USAID), a US government agency that supposedly engages in "humanitarian" work around the world – but which has a long history of functioning as a key cog in Washington’s regime-change machine.
The plan was to create a platform using non-controversial non-political content – at first – to lure in a substantial audience, and gradually introduce political messages which would create "smart mobs" that would – unknowingly – do Washington’s bidding. The key word here is unknowingly – deception was the methodology of these social media "entrepreneurs," who hid the origins of the service using a series of front companies registered in the Cayman Islands. A USAID document cited by AP defined the project as aiming to "renegotiate the balance of power between the state and society." In reality, however, the aim was to renegotiate the balance of power between the Cuban government and Washington, giving the latter an advantage in its efforts to manipulate the Cuban people and eventually install a regime more favorable to the US.
That, at least, was the ostensible goal. But if we look at what really happened with this "cockamamie" project – as Sen. Patrick Leahy dubbed it – even this is called into question.
The idea was to set up a text messaging system that would enable Cubans to communicate with one another cheaply. In order to disguise the source of the messages, Creative Associates, described in the AP piece as a "Washington, D.C., for-profit company that has earned hundreds of millions of dollars in U.S. contracts," would set up "mirrors" around the world to mask the source. They went to great lengths to disguise the effort as a commercial enterprise, using phony ads to convey that impression and staying away – at least initially – from overtly political messages.
Another company, Mobile Accord, was brought on board to deal with the technical aspects of the project: they began assembling a vast database that, unknown to the thousands of Cuban subscribers, included the "political tendencies" of users as well as their basic information: age, gender, location, "receptiveness," etc.
Yet the founders of the project saw that it was just a matter of time before ZunZuneo was outed as a platform sponsored by the US government. Their solution was to set up a front company that would go "independent," with a CEO at its head who knew nothing of its origins. However, the project would still somehow retain its political character as an element in Washington’s regime-change strategy.
With 40,000 subscribers and growing popularity on the island, ZunZuneo looked like a success – except it wasn’t:
"By early 2011, Creative Associates grew exasperated with Mobile Accord’s failure to make ZunZuneo self-sustaining and independent of the US government. The operation had run into an unsolvable problem. USAID was paying tens of thousands of dollars in text messaging fees to Cuba’s communist telecommunications monopoly routed through a secret bank account and front companies. It was not a situation that it could either afford or justify — and if exposed it would be embarrassing, or worse.
"In a searing evaluation, Creative Associates said Mobile Accord had ignored sustainability because ‘it has felt comfortable receiving USG financing to move the venture forward.’"
Mobile Accord, just like any other government contractor, was in it for the money – and beyond that, forget it. Just like the "green energy" companies funded by Washington in this country, ZunZuneo was a creature wholly dependent on government for its very existence – and was concerned only with how to keep the free taxpayer dollars flowing. The ultimate irony of the US government subsidizing Cubacel – an extension of the very government they were supposedly dedicated to overthrowing – only underscores the rat-on-a-treadmill aspect of this absurd project, which was doomed to failure from the very beginning.
ZunZuneo began scaling down its operations as the USAID money began to run out, capping the number of subscribers and then limiting the number of messages sent out. And then, suddenly, ZunZuneo just disappeared, leaving its subscribers in the dark – and the government contractors who had run it richer.
Which was, indeed, the whole point.
America’s foreign policy of relentless aggression, utilizing both "hard" and "soft" power, has led to the creation of an entire industry engaged in the business of regime change. These "private" companies and consultants are hired to carry out Washington’s wishes on the world stage: they create front organizations, carry out covert action schemes, and act as a conduit for US government propaganda worldwide – and, by virtue of their political connections, they make a handsome profit doing it. This is crony capitalism with a foreign policy slant.
However, in the case of ZunZuneo the problem of going "independent" contradicted the very nature of the project: as long as the contractors were getting government money, the project continued. But the minute the money spigot was turned off, ZunZuneo was no more.
This limns the fate of so many of Washington’s other regime change projects, e.g. the Nicaraguan contras, who lacked support within the country and were totally dependent on Washington for financial and military aid. As soon as the funding was cut off, the "movement" withered on the vine.
Aside from the danger of being blocked by the Cuban authorities there was also the potential embarrassment of ZunZuneo being unmasked as a covert operation of the very same government that is spying on its own citizens over the Internet, tracking their emails, their location, their financial affairs, and storing it all in a vast database that dwarfs anything the Cubans could ever dream of attempting.
Aside from endangering Cubans, who could easily be caught up in such a scheme – and suffer the consequences in a Cuban jail – such covert operations endanger Americans foolish enough to work for Uncle Sam abroad. USAID operates around the world, bringing much needed aid to countries struck by natural disasters: if there’s a hurricane in Haiti, there goes USAID, flying in doctors and material aid. To operate ZunZuneo and other covert propaganda operations under USAID stupidly endangers the thousands of USAID workers currently on duty overseas. At a recent congressional hearing, Sen. Leahy said "We’re already getting emails from USAID employees all over the world saying, ‘How could they do this and put us in danger?’"
The regime change "industry" is entirely a creature of government, which means, first of all, that its agenda has nothing to do with achieving liberty and everything to do with toeing the US government line, whatever it may be at the moment. Secondly, it means that, given its very nature, it is concerned with making money – that is, sucking on the government teat. When that runs dry, it folds up its tent and steals off into the night.
In short, the "democracy promotion" programs sponsored by Washington are a scam – a financial scam pulled off by dozens of shady operators who have sprung up in order to feed off the streams of unaccounted for money pouring out of Washington. While the Obama administration is claiming this particular program wasn’t covert, and was known and approved by Congress, no one in that body seems to have been aware of precisely what was going on – or how much money was going into it. The funding for it was listed under a USAID program servicing Pakistan.
This episode shows that the US government, far from being the champion of liberty in a decidedly un-free world, is actually the main danger to liberty on earth. It systematically betrays those it seeks to "liberate," ruthlessly and cruelly manipulating those who dream of freedom from tyrannical regimes – and then abandoning them at the critical moment, just as they left thousands of ZunZuneo subscribers hanging after luring them in with promises of "free" text messaging.
From Cuba to Crimea, Washington is engaged in a global shell game, luring sincere freedom-loving people into its various front organizations, and using them as pawns in order to pursue its own agenda – one that has little if anything to do with the natural aspirations of oppressed peoples. And they won’t even do it under their own banner – as bloodstained and ragged with abuse as it is. So distrusted and hated are they that they have to sneak around setting up "false flag" operations: they don’t dare do it in their own name.
And that should tell you something.
NOTES IN THE MARGIN
You can check out my Twitter feed by going here. But please note that my tweets are sometimes deliberately provocative, often made in jest, and largely consist of me thinking out loud.
I’ve written a couple of books, which you might want to peruse. Here is the link for buying the second edition of my 1993 book, Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement, with an Introduction by Prof. George W. Carey, a Foreword by Patrick J. Buchanan, and critical essays by Scott Richert and David Gordon (ISI Books, 2008).
You can buy An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard (Prometheus Books, 2000), my biography of the great libertarian thinker, here.