USAID's "Eight Facts about ZunZuneo" questions key details in the AP story. The agency flatly denies, for instance, that a Spanish shell company was involved and that funds were earmarked for Pakistan to hide the money trail.
"Eight Facts" makes some convincing arguments and the AP ought to respond and set the record straight.
But one statement in "Eight Facts" struck me as a preposterous lie. USAID spokesman Matt Herrick wrote:
We welcome tough journalism – and we embrace it. It makes our programs better.I don't think USAID welcomes tough journalism at all. Other than acknowledging receipt, the agency hasn't even responded to a half dozen Freedom of Information Act requests that I filed in 2011.
I asked for information about Cuba programs run by six organizations, including Creative Associates International, the contractor behind ZunZuneo; and DAI, the company that sent Alan Gross to Cuba.
The FOIAs I filed sought information linked to more than $30 million in Cuba programs. If USAID is so open to "tough journalism," why hasn't the agency responded?
|Drawing from confidential Alan Gross memo|
When I filed the FOIAs in 2011, I was looking for information about not only DAI and Creative, but the Pan American Development Foundation, Plantados, Grupo de Apoyo a la Democracia and Cuba Online.
I wanted details of Cuba programs worth $30,706,050. (See partial breakdown). That included:
- $7,520,708 for Grupo de Apoyo
- $7 million for Creative
- $6,857,817 for DAI
- $6,616,188 for the Pan American Development Foundation;
- $2,174,074 for Cuba Online;
- $537,263 for Plantados.
ZunZuneo represents a tiny fraction of what USAID and the State Department have done in Cuba since the mid-1990s. There have been countless projects, even some with supposed links to the CIA (See "Agent: U.S. funds diverted," about a secret foundation called Genesis, aimed at cultivating Cuban leaders who would take charge after the socialist government's collapse).
With all due respect to USAID, "Eight Facts" is also a bit disingenuous. The statement tries to give the impression that there is extensive public disclosure and such projects as ZunZuneo should come as no surprise, saying:
The programs have long been the subject of Congressional notifications, unclassified briefings, public budget requests, and public hearings. All of the Congressional Budget Justifications published from 2008 through 2013, which are public and online, explicitly state that a key goal of USAID’s Cuba program is to break the “information blockade” or promote “information sharing” amongst Cubans and that assistance will include the use or promotion of new “technologies” and/or “new media” to achieve its goals.
|Mike Masnick. Credit: Wired.com|
That may be true, but doesn't really answer the major questions about the program, and whether or not it was appropriate, or how it would appear when -- inevitably -- it was revealed as a US front."Eight Facts" continues:
In 2012, the Government Accountability Office—the U.S. government’s investigative arm—spent months looking at every aspect of USAID’s Cuba programs. GAO’s team of analysts had unrestricted access to project documents, extended telephone conversations with Mobile Accord (ZunZuneo) and even traveled to Cuba. The GAO identified no concerns in the report about the legality of USAID’s programs, including ZunZuneo, and offered USAID zero recommendations for improvements.USAID repeatedly points to the GAO report as evidence that the agency's Cuba programs are effective. But that's a half-truth.
The GAO report focused on "management and financial accounting as opposed to measuring impact and effectiveness in Cuba," wrote Phil Peters, creator of the Cuban Triangle blog.
Indeed, the GAO report was limited in scope. Among its goals were to:
- Identify “the types and amounts of assistance that USAID and State have provided, as well as characteristics of their partners, subpartners, and program beneficiaries
- Review “USAID’s and State’s efforts to implement the program in accordance with U.S. laws and regulations and to address program risks
- Examine “USAID’s and State’s monitoring of the use of program funds.”
The report said USAID had hired an outside contractor to review the Cuba programs and found “questionable charges and weaknesses in partners’ financial management, procurement standards, and internal controls.”
USAID wrote in a memo to GAO:
...we are proud of the continuous progress that USAID has achieved since your previous reports...
Financial oversight measures have led to the identification of $6.8 million in questioned costs. Of those amounts, $5.1 million in questioned costs have been adequately resolved; and $1.7 million in questioned cases are in the process of being resolved. Overall, there was approximately $50,000 in refunded amounts to USAID.
|Secrets and more secrets|
Taxpayers are left to trust USAID, which steadfastly refuses to release details of its "discreet" programs in Cuba.
True, the agency paid millions of dollars to an outside auditor that examined its Cuba programs. But when I filed a FOIA request for information, I received only 10 heavily redacted pages that omit most findings, recommendations and other key information, including the identity of the aid recipients named in the audit. See "USAID audit cost taxpayers nearly $150,000 per page?"
USAID is about as transparent as mud.
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