White House on "Cuban Twitter"

Friday, April 4, 2014
From yesterday's White House Press Briefing with Press Secretary, Jay Carney:

Q. Can you tell me if the White House was aware prior to 2014 of this social media network that the AID engineered in Cuba?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, let me say a couple of things about that. We’ve seen the story by the AP this morning. The program referred to by the Associated Press was a development program run by the United States Agency for International Development. And that program was completed in 2012.

As you know, USAID is a development agency, not an intelligence agency. Suggestions that this was a covert program are wrong. Congress funds democracy programming for Cuba to help empower Cubans to access more information and to strengthen civil society. These appropriations are public, unlike covert action. The money invested has been debated in Congress. 

In addition, GAO reviewed this program in detail in 2013 and found that it was conducted in accordance with U.S. law and under appropriate oversight controls. In implementing programs in non-permissive environments, of course the government has taken steps to be discreet. That’s how you protect the practitioners and the public. This is not unique to Cuba.

So more details about the program are available at USAID. And I think that veterans of this briefing room know that when I say a program like this is not covert and then I talk about it, that’s how you know it’s not covert -- because I’m talking about it.

So on the question of the White House, our involvement would be the same that it would have been in similar development programs of this type. The President and his administration support efforts to help Cuban citizens communicate more easily with one another and with the outside world. So I’m not aware of individuals here who knew about it; this was part of a development assistance program.

Q. Can you say if Secretary Clinton was aware of it?

MR. CARNEY:  I would refer you to the State Department and Secretary Clinton.

Q. And given the enormous lengths that AID went to to keep this quiet, how can you say it wasn’t covert?

MR. CARNEY:  It was not a covert program. It was debated in Congress; it was reviewed by the GAO. Those kinds of things don’t happen to covert programs. It was a development assistance program about increasing the level of information that the Cuban people have and were able to discuss among themselves. And that’s part of an effort that we undertake not just in Cuba but elsewhere.

So again, when you have a program like that in a non-permissive environment, i.e. a place like Cuba, you’re discreet about how you implement it so that you protect the practitioners, but that does not make it covert.