"Cuban Twitter" Modeled After U.S. Programs in Afghanistan and Pakistan

Saturday, April 26, 2014
Will U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) express the same "outrage" toward these programs?

Or is Leahy's outrage reserved only for Internet freedom programs that offend Cuba's dictatorship?

From The New York Times:

The United States built Twitter-like social media programs in Afghanistan and Pakistan that were models for a program in Cuba aimed at encouraging open political discussion in the countries, Obama administration officials said Friday.

But like the program in Cuba, which was widely ridiculed when it became public this month, the services in Pakistan and Afghanistan shut down after they ran out of money because the administration could not make them self-sustaining.

In all three cases, U.S. officials appeared to lack a long-term strategy for the programs beyond providing money to start them.

Administration officials also said Friday that there had been similar programs in dozens of other countries, including a "Yes Youth Can" project in Kenya that was still active. Some programs operate openly with the knowledge of foreign governments, but others have not been publicly disclosed.

The Kenya project, like the Cuba program, is the work of the Agency for International Development. The projects in Afghanistan and Pakistan were run by the State Department. All such programs have come under greater scrutiny since the administration acknowledged the existence of the Twitter-like program in Cuba, which ran from 2008 to 2012, when it abruptly ended, apparently because a $1.3 million contract to start up the text-messaging system ran out of money.

The Associated Press, which first published a detailed article about the Cuba program, reported that it was set up to encourage political dissent on the island. But administration officials, while acknowledging that they were discreet about the program when it existed, said it was set up to provide Cubans with a platform to share ideas and exchange information.

Administration officials provided no information about the purpose and scope of the Afghan program, which had not been previously disclosed. In contrast, in 2009, Hillary Rodham Clinton, then secretary of state, announced the Pakistani program during a meeting with students in Lahore, Pakistan. The State Department worked with Pakistani telecommunications companies to create the network.

Called "Humari Awaz" or "Our Voices," the program was run out of the office of Ambassador Richard C. Holbrooke, President Barack Obama's special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, who died in 2010.

At its peak, State Department officials said, the program cost about $1 million and connected more than 1 million people who sent more than 350 million messages.