Monday, August 8, 2011

USAID denies FOIA request

The U.S. Agency for International Development has denied my request for copies of proposals submitted by contractors hoping to take part in the Cuba Democracy and Contingency Planning Program, or CDCPP.
Development Alternatives Inc., or DAI, won at least a portion of the multimillion-dollar contract in 2008. The company then hired Alan Gross, a Maryland man who was jailed in Cuba in December 2009.
I requested the proposals on Dec. 30, 2010, under the Freedom of Information Act (download my letter). The FOIA request was among the first I filed after setting up the Cuba Money Project website (my pending FOIA requests are here). It took USAID nearly seven months to answer. The agency's two-page letter states:
We regret to inform you that the cost and technical proposals you have requested are being withheld in their entirety.
...the winning proposal is being withheld because of proprietary information pursuant to exemption (b)(4) of the FOIA, 5 U.S.C. 552 (b)(4). That exemption states, "trade secrets and commercial or financial information obtained from a person [that is] privileged or confidential" should not be released.
USAID is also refusing to release the losing proposal. I have until about Aug. 27 to appeal the agency's decision.

USAID also sent me the 33-page task order which describes the CDCPP. Nelson Valdes of Cuba-L Direct had already made public that document in May 2008. It remains online here.
The document said the contract was worth up to $30 million during the program's first phases. It describes a potential "US government Determined Transition" in Cuba and states:
Today, the situation in Cuba remains very uncertain given the illness of Fidel Castro, his brother Raul’s recent assumption of the Presidency, as well as the increasing activism and civil protests reported on the island.
In order to provide flexibility to respond to the island’s changing situation, USAID is proposing a flexible, opportunity-oriented instrument that would enable USAID to support the current goal of hastening transition to democracy in Cuba, as well as to be able to shift to provide more support towards advancing transition activities if and when the US Government Determined Transition is underway.
The Cuba Democracy and Contingency Planning Program (CDCPP) is planned as a three-year program. It has three goals: to support the Cuban people in hastening transition in Cuba, to advance transition planning recommended in the second report of the Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba (CAFCII), and establish the means for having a rapid and effective USAID response in the event that USAID is asked to provide additional technical and financial resources to assist in hastening and consolidating Cuba’s democratic transition.
The first phase of the three-year project included "breaking the information blockade with technological outreach through phone banks, satellite internet and cell phones."
Cuban authorities accused Alan Gross of setting up satellite Internet connections on the island and sentenced him to a 15-year jail term, which Cuba's Supreme Court recently upheld.
The USAID project also envisioned a "crisis-response capacity" that would ensure that "human, logistical and financial resources" could be sent to Cuba in 72 hours or less.
Officials also planned to eventually set up a USAID mission in Cuba that would provide logistical and operation support. The task order states:
Deployment capacities must include the ability to set up office space, telecommunications, arrange for transportation, identify and hire local staff, make local procurement and other actions required during the first three months.
USAID sought a contractor who would develop a "surge capacity" that would allow the agency to "respond quickly in the event of a USG-Determined Transition or crisis as required." The document states:
The contractor must remain prepared to activate this option, which could be invoked and made operational at any time during the life of the task order legal conditions and other circumstances permitting. The Contractor must anticipate the types of logistical, technical and contractual requirements USAID would need to have in place to expand on-island programming opportunities. The Cuban government in place during a USG-Determined Transition is expected to have requirements for assistance for economic governance and recovery, democracy and political governance, and social sector assistance.
The document also warns that Cuba's centralized government leaves Cubans vulnerable to "widespread corruption" and suggests that steps be taken to "introduce controls, transparency and accountability into government activity, particularly in the areas of procurement..."

3 comments:

Rich Haney said...

USAID's denial of your legitimate request is par for the course when it comes to U. S. relations with Cuba and reflects a pernicious aspect of what might be labeled a fading democracy. A truly great investigative journalist, James Bamford, declassified documents hidden for decades to protect the members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff who made a chilling 7-0 recommendation to the U. S. President to have the U. S. government murder innocent U. S. citizens so the murders could be blamed on Fidel Castro to justify U. S. policy regarding Cuba. I believe Americans have a right to know such things and I believe we also have a right to know the data USAID denied you. Would such data contradict the U. S. government's position that Mr. Gross was a totally innocent tourist on Cuban soil for humanitarian reasons? Maybe, maybe not, but the massive use of classifying (hiding)billions of pages of U. S. documents, much of it obviously designed to protect individuals and not national security, is no way to convince Americans that their government is honest and above board. When it comes to Cuba, guile and deceit (as opposed to honesty and transparency) clearly rules the roost. Uh, let's see...what was the name of those seven Joint Chiefs who strongly advised a President to murder Americans so Castro could be blamed? Did we have a right to know that little tidbit before they died of old age and were buried with honors at Arlington? Do we have a right to know how USAID uses tax dollars in an attempt to overturn a sovereign nation's government so the U. S. can again impose its will as in the days of Batista and the Mafia? Those Joint Chiefs had much to hide and so, I reckon, does USAID. Any chance, Tracey, of soliciting the aid of James Bamford?

Tracey Eaton said...

Thanks for the idea, Rich. I'll try to reach Bamford.

Rich Haney said...

James Bamford, born in 1946, is quite reachable. His book "Body of Secrets" (Random House/Doubleday), beginning on Page 82, has a plethora of de-classified U. S. documents in which Gen. Lyman Lemnitzer, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, took their 7-0 recommendation to the Oval Office urging JFK to commit to the wholesale murders of U. S. citizens, Cuban exiles in Miami, and Cuban refugees on the open seas, etc., so it could be blamed on Castro. Peter Kornbluh (whom you interviewed), Seymour Hersh, and the late Jack Anderson also de-classified chilly U. S. documents regarding Cuba. Anderson, as Wikipedia points out, was sharply targeted for assassination in the Nixon White House by anti-Castro zealots G. Gordon Liddy and Howard Hunt, etc. I agree with Kornbluh and the others that most of the de-classified data protects individuals and not the nation. Gen. Lemnitzer, for example, left the Joint Chiefs to become Supreme Commander of NATO. He died in 1988 a very rich man, one lavished with praise for his "public service."