Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Security clearance: Discreetly secret

Discretion required
Administrative assistants in the Cuban Affairs Office in Washington, D.C., have many duties. They handle incoming phone calls and greet visitors. They keep the office director's schedule, make travel arrangements and prepare briefing books.
Their government security clearance is not "discreet."
It's "secret." (See job description).
Secrecy surrounds many of the U.S. government's democracy projects in Cuba, including ZunZuneo, the so-called Cuban Twitter.
Alan Gross
DAI, the contractor that hired Alan Gross to set up Internet hotspots in Cuba, maintained a "suite" inside its corporate headquarters in Bethesda, Md., where secret matters were discussed. But they evidently didn't let Gross inside the suite without an escort.
In November 2012, Gross sued DAI and the federal government, saying they failed to prepare him for risky and dangerous work in Cuba. A court document filed in his case stated:
Upon information and belief, Defendant United States provided DAI access to confidential information to enable DAI to perform these and other functions. Pursuant to the Prime Contract, in order to be considered for a classified task order like the one at issue here, DAI maintained a “Facility Clearance” at the “secret” level. Compl. ¶ 40 (citing Prime Contract at 37, 38). 
As with the Prime Contract, Defendant United States gave DAI access to classified information in connection with the Cuba Task Order. Under the Cuba Task Order, DAI’s performance was considered “classified” in accordance with USAID’s advanced directives, and was possible only due to the “secret” level security clearance DAI obtained pursuant to the Prime Contract. Compl. ¶ 46 (citing Task Order at C.2.M).
Alan Gross didn't have a secret security clearance for his Cuba work. He said in a statement:
I never was provided with any U.S. Government security clearance in connection with the ICT Project, and thus I never had independent access to this DAI suite or to any of the information in the possession of DAI and USAID about the Cuba Project, the ICT Project, or any potential risks. (See "Alan Gross tells all").
Jeremy Bigwood
Jeremy Bigwood has been fighting for more than a decade to force the U.S. Agency for International Development to open up its files on its programs in such countries as Cuba, Venezuela and Bolivia. I interviewed Bigwood last year in Washington. (See "Fistful of dollars falls short").
Bigwood says ZunZuneo was a project of USAID's Office of Transition Initiatives, or OTI, and Creative Associates International, or CAI.
In an article called "Why USAID's Cuban Twitter Program Was Secret," Bigwood wrote:
The high level of security clearance required to do business with OTI also indicates that the agency’s activities are secret. There are several levels of security clearances, ranging from “Controlled Unclassified,” “Public Trust Position,” “Confidential,” “Secret ,” “Top Secret,” and “Top Secret Compartmentalized.” In this case, even CAI personnel need “secret” level clearances for access to facilities or information. The fact that security clearances at the “secret” level are necessary appears to indicate a secret operation. (See document).
Phil Peters, creator of the Cuban Triangle blog, said such projects as ZunZuneo are regarded as "covert" under U.S. law. He wrote:
These were, in other words, “activities of the United States Government to influence political, economic, or military conditions abroad, where it is intended that the role of the United States government will not be apparent or acknowledged publicly.” That is “covert action” as defined in U.S. law (National Security Act of 1947).

Monday, April 14, 2014

Document: Prosecutor "willing to work with" ex-hijacker

Prosecutor wanted to "resolve the issue"
Federal prosecutors in 1997 were prepared to recommend that ex-hijacker William Potts receive credit for time served in Cuba if he turned himself in to U.S. authorities, a diplomatic note shows. The document states:
In the case of Mr. Potts, the Interests Section has been advised by the Office of U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida that there is an outstanding warrant for his arrest on the charge of air piracy. The Office of the U.S. Attorney says that it is willing to work with Mr. Potts to resolve the issue and to recommend that he be given credit for prison time he has served in Cuba. (See documents).
Federal sentencing guidelines in the United States call for a minimum mandatory of 20 years for air piracy. If prosecutors give Potts credit for 13 years, he could get a 7-year term. Other factors - whether he cooperates with authorities, for instance - could improve his chances of going free sooner.
Potts is being held at the Main Jail in Fort Lauderdale. His trial is set for April 28. He said he hopes that American authorities will not give him additional jail time. He has been in custody since surrendering to U.S. officials in November.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Victims' families: Don't trade for Alan Gross

Below is a statement from relatives of the four Brothers to the Rescue pilots killed in the 1996 shoot-down of their aircraft
We the families of the three American citizens and one American resident shot down over international waters by the Cuban government on February 24, 1996, strongly oppose any exchange of Gerardo Hernandez for Alan Gross, Cuba's hostage.

Hernandez is currently serving two life sentences in US prison. One of these is for conspiracy to commit murder in the Feb. 24, 1996, shoot down murders of Carlos Costa, Armando Alejandre, Jr., Mario de la Peña and Pablo Morales. Hernandez’s sentences were affirmed by the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, and the US Supreme Court declined to review them. He has received all benefits available from the US justice system.

Secrets "R" Us

Source: Federal audits and other documents
The non-profit International Republican Institute, or IRI, has managed more than $15 million in Cuba-related projects since 1996.
In October 2011, I filed a Freedom of Information Act request for information about a tiny chunk of that - a $750,000 program called "Breaking the Information Blockade."
Two years later, the State Department sent me a batch of heavily censored documents.
The July 14, 2006, executive summary of IRI's project proposal is redacted. The next page gives some background, describing the "information blockade" in place in Cuba since the early 1960s. The documents reads, in part:
Dissidents in Cuba who work to break the information blockade are limited by the repressive tactics of the Castro regime and its sympathizers, as well as by the Cuban government's restrictions on travel in and out of Cuba. Thus, most successful efforts at breaking the information blockade have required the support of the Cuban exile community, foreign governments and international NGOs.