US plan to destabilize Cuba ‘very foolish policy’

(By Deutsche Welle) The AP news agency has reported that the US tried to undermine Cuba’s government with a social media website called ZunZuneo. Expert William LeoGrande tells DW that US credibility in the region has been damaged.

The US Agency for International Development (USAID) clandestinely developed ZunZuneo, which was similar to Twitter, in order to incite flash mobs at sensitive political moments in an effort to force democratic change in Havana. At its height, ZunZuneo had 40,000 users in Cuba, who were unaware of the US government’s involvement. Realizing that the US role would eventually be discovered, those involved in the operation sought to find independent financing for ZunZuneo. Unable to secure a private sector sponsor, they shut the social media site down in 2012 when government financing dried up.

DW: US-Cuban relations have warmed since Barack Obama became US president and Fidel Castro handed over power to his brother Raul. The White House has eased the US embargo on Cuba and Havana has introduced some economic reforms. Will the revelation that Washington tried to use social media to destabilize Havana jeopardize the US-Cuban d├ętente?

LeoGrande: The improvement in relations has been an on-and-off thing. Relations between the United States and Cuba during the Bush administration were just terrible, so they couldn’t really have gotten much worse.

President Obama came into office saying he wanted a new beginning in his relationship with Cuba, but the changes he’s made have been mostly people-to-people changes rather than engaging directly with the Cuban government very much. So, for example, he lifted all the restrictions on Cuban-American travel and Cuban-American remittances to their families on the island. He liberalized people-to-people travel so people in the Untied States can more easily go and visit Cuba. At the government-to-government level, however, there’s only been relatively small advances on issues of mutual interests, like Coast Guard cooperation [and] oil spill mitigation and prevention.

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AP accuses Justice Department of ‘unprecedented intrusion’

(By Deutsche Welle) The US Department of Justice secretly seized two months of telephone records from the Associated Press (AP) in 2012. This comes amid a crackdown by the Obama administration on whistleblowers and leaks.

AP President and Chief Executive Officer Gary Pruitt has accused the Justice Department of infringing on the freedom of the press, after the department revealed that it had seized records from more than 20 separate AP phone lines.

“There can be no possible justification for such an overbroad collection of telephone communications of the Associated Press and its reporters,” Pruitt wrote in a letter addressed to Attorney General Eric Holder on Monday (13.05.2013).

“These records potentially reveal communications with confidential sources across all of the newsgathering activities undertaken by the AP during a two-month period, provide a road map to the AP’s newsgathering operations and disclose information about AP’s activities and operations that the government has no conceivable right to know,” Pruitt went on to say.

The records seized by the Justice Department cover the period of April and May 2012, listing outgoing calls from the work and personal phone numbers of AP reporters. AP offices in New York, Washington, D.C., and Hartford, Connecticut were affected by the records seizures.

It’s unclear whether the government also obtained records of incoming calls and how many journalists were affected, according to the AP. More than 100 journalists work in the offices where records were targeted.

Pruitt said the Justice Department informed the AP of the seizures in a letter received on Friday. But the notification came after the subpoena had already been issued and the phone records seized. That means the AP had no chance to challenge the Justice Department’s move.

“To be secretly seizing two months of phone records for reporters and editors at the AP is just a serious interference with First Amendment, freedom of the press, and constitutional rights that are enshrined in our constitution,” Jesselyn Radack, the national security and human rights director at the Government Accountability Project, told DW.

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