Sunday, November 30, 2014

Ex-CIA agent pursues "new model of journalism"

For clients "seeking to alter their tactical or strategic operational environments"
A former CIA agent's Virginia company has earned nearly $1 million in contracts with the Broadcasting Board of Governors, or BBG, since November 2011, records show.
That would put the firm, Applied Memetics, in the top spot in earnings in the category of "independent artists, writers and performers." (See "18 million to unnamed foreign contractors").
Dan Gabriel, a former covert action officer who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, is the founding partner and CEO of Applied Memetics in Arlington, Va. I wrote about Gabriel in November 2012 (See "Ex-CIA agent leads new team of journalists in Cuba") and in December 2012 (See "More work for ex-CIA agent").
Gabriel has impressive credentials. His LinkedIn profile states:
Mr. Gabriel helped pioneer the use of social media in war-fighting and political conflict, and he was an early advocate for incorporating social media metrics into predictive intelligence and risk analysis. He is a subject matter expert and original researcher of interactive digital media strategies, social network analysis, international media research, text analytics, latent semantic indexing, strategic planning techniques, operational and organizational design, and complex system dynamics.
His company helps train journalists in Cuba and other countries. The company's products include Web Stringers, which states:
Our work explores a new model of journalism that is based around a global story – in this case, the struggle for human rights and democracy around the world. Our goal is to build a better user experience of these stories by adding context to content, using the latest digital tools of the day. Over time, we hope to add greater clarity, deeper understanding, and more sustained engagement to the conversations surrounding global events. As such, our content is transcribed and translated into English for broadcast to a global audience.
Web Stringers highlights videos produced in the field. You can watch a selection of the site's Cuba videos at a YouTube channel called Havana Spring.

$18 million to unnamed foreign contractors

BBG contracts (1983-2014)
The Broadcasting Board of Governors has shelled out at least $69 million to artists, writers and performers since 1983 and more than a quarter of the payments have been to undisclosed foreign entities, records show.
Total payments came to $69,259,200. That included:
  • $50,820,751, or 73 percent, to named contractors
  • $9,460,500, or 14 percent, to undisclosed foreign awardees
  • $8,977,949, or 13 percent, to undisclosed foreign contractors
The figures are based on data that the BBG has reported to the Federal Procurement Data System, or FPDS. It's not uncommon for federal agencies to misreport or underreport data, so these numbers can't be considered flawless, but the numbers do provide some insight into BBG spending.
The BBG oversees the Office of Cuba Broadcasting, which runs Radio & TV Martí in Miami.
To come up with the totals, I analyzed 17,868 transactions carried out from 1983, when Radio Martí was founded, through today.
I looked only for payments to independent artists, writers and performers, which includes a range of professionals, including producers, recording technicians, speakers, journalists and others.
The payments to unnamed foreign awardees and contractors totaled $18,438,449.
The top five named vendors linked to Radio & TV Martí appear to be:
The full list of payments to more than 1,400 individuals and companies is below. These aren't annual salaries. They are the total payments received since 1983.

VendorNo. contractsAmount
OGULNIK, JOHN A12$363,173
LUK, FRANCES40$269,613
CHEUNG, PING H.32$257,829
MALIK, MANSOOR A17$245,960
GHORZANG, RONA28$211,250

Venture capital approach to Internet freedom

Internet freedom
State Department contractors have until Dec. 5 to apply for grants for Internet freedom programs aimed at any region or country, including Cuba.
The State Department's Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor will choose the winners. Projects should be designed for "long-term sustainability," fitting with what the bureau describes as its "venture-capital style approach to Internet freedom."
Individual grants will range from $500,000 to $2.5 million. Some $18 million is up for grabs.
Details are below:



Funding Opportunity Title: DRL Internet freedom Annual Program Statement
Funding Opportunity Number: DRLA-DRLAQM-13-099
CFDA Number: 19.345
Federal Agency Contact: Global Programs Office: Internet Freedom

I. Funding Opportunity Description

The Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor (DRL) announces the availability of funding for programs that support Internet freedom. DRL’s goal is to promote fundamental freedoms, human rights, and the free flow of information online through integrated support for anti-censorship and secure communications technology, advocacy, digital safety, and research. DRL invites organizations interested in potential funding to submit statements of interest (SOI) outlining program concepts that reflect this goal.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Inspectors rip Office of Cuba Broadcasting

A critical report
Inspectors visiting the Office of Cuba Broadcasting found low morale, a lack of transparency in decision making, administrative weaknesses, security lapses and one instance of property theft.
An Inspector General's report casts a negative light on the agency's leaders, including Director Carlos A. Garcia-Perez, who took charge four years ago this month.
The 34-page report also provides interesting details about the agency's efforts in Cuba. It says the OCB has "engaged in an aggressive campaign to distribute weekly its television programming content via broadcast, Internet, and even hand-to-hand, via digital video disks (DVD) and flash drives."
The report, dated July 2014 and marked "sensitive but unclassified," says OCB:

  • Delivers to Cuba every week 1,000 DVDs containing TV Martí programming.
  • Distributes paper flash drives equipped with a tiny electronic interface that allows the sharing of data.
  • Sends a biweekly newsletter called El Pitirre to more than 75,000 email addresses in Cuba.
  • Operates Piramideo, an SMS-based social network that operates outside Cuban government control.

The report says OCB managers envision redirecting many of their resources from Miami to Havana if the Cuban government allows them to operate on the island at some point in the future.
Pages dealing with the security problems are heavily redacted.
Redacted page from report

Excerpts of the report are below:

Key Findings
  • The Office of Cuba Broadcasting has focused its programming on subjects, such as news, sports, and entertainment that are generally censored by the Cuban Government. Besides radio (shortwave and mediumwave) and television platforms, the entity has made its digital platforms more robust, going beyond the news Web site by making available and distributing its programming in Cuba through innovative programs.
  • The Office of Cuba Broadcasting is implementing successfully the Broadcasting Board of Governors’ 5-year strategic plan for 2012 through 2016, Impact through Innovation and Integration, and its own programming goals.
  • Employee morale is a concern. Office of Cuba Broadcasting staff expressed that the current management does not communicate effectively and the decision-making processes lack transparency. Many employees expressed fear of reprisal by management if they raise concerns.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Top 100 BBG vendors

Here are the Broadcasting Board of Governors' top 100 contractors based on data the agency reported to the Federal Data Procurement System between Oct. 15, 1999, and Nov. 26, 2014.

To come up with this list,  I sorted through 72,482 BBG transactions listed on the FDPS website and pulled out all transactions worth $100,000 or above.
That totaled 1,007 transactions worth $715,631,939. I went through those contracts and pulled out the top 100 vendors.

These numbers are only as good as what the BBG reports to the Federal Data Procurement System. There is underreporting of data throughout the federal government.
And some reporting appears to be incomplete. The purported vendor ranked No. 37, for instance, is shown as "blank." That means $2,616,700 in contracts were reported without a company name.
No. 26  simply reads "No data from D and B." In government lingo, that means the information was sensitive or unavailable. So taxpayers have no idea what happened to that piece of the pie, worth $4,565,603.
Even so, this Top 100 list gives you a glimpse of BBG's biggest vendors over the past 15 years.

Canyon Communications snags big Cuba contract

Jeff Kline. Photo: The Good Samaritan Inc.
The U.S. government has awarded a no-bid $1.4 million contract to a company that will produce "TV and radio programs designed specifically for audiences in Cuba."
The contract went to Canyon Communications, founded by Jeff Kline. The Office of Cuba Broadcasting said it awarded the contract without a competitive bid because Canyon Communications was uniquely qualified for the job.
Based on the needs of the Office of Cuba Broadcasting (OCB), Canyon Communications is the only known source with the demonstrated ability to produce programming specifically designed for a Cuban audience.
In the opinion and to the knowledge of the government evaluator, the contractor is uniquely qualified to deliver this programming due to their extensive experience in this area, including successful performance under a previous OCB contract last year, which was awarded based on the contractor’s unsolicited proposal.
Jeff Kline
Kline is a longtime government contractor who has worked for the Health and Human Services Department, the Labor Department and other agencies. Lately, he's been doing projects for the Broadcasting Board of Governors, or BBG, which oversees the Office of Cuba Broadcasting, including Radio & TV Martí in Miami.
In October, I wrote about a radio programming contest that Kline ran in Cuba without telling participants that it was funded by the U.S. government. The contest was aborted and no one was awarded any prizes after Cuban authorities arrested development worker Alan Gross in December 2009. (See "Taxpayer Contest Aborted").
Earlier, in May 2014, I wrote that that Kline had traveled to Cuba to test cell phones and other wireless devices for a State Department contractor. (See "The Other Alan Gross").
In February 2014, I wrote about his contract to produce self-help videos in Cuba. (See “The incredible disappearing $450,000 contract”).
Kline's company, Canyon Communications, signed the $1,450,063 BBG contract on Sept. 30, 2014. His company has won a total of $1,799,503 in BBG contracts since 2013. That makes him the BBG's 56th winningest vendor since 1999.
(Another one of his companies, the Pinyon Foundation, won an additional $450,000 in 2013 - see record. Canyon Communications appears to have carried out that contract, documents show. That would bring the company's total contracts to $2,249,503, which would boost Kline's rank on the top 100 list to 44. See Top 100 here).

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Help wanted: Satellite radio broadcaster for Cuba

Photo: NASA
The Broadcasting Board of Governors, which oversees Radio Martí, is looking for a satellite radio broadcaster. The request for proposals states:
The objective in leasing these broadcast services is to leverage the signal quality of Satellite Radio to reach the Agency’s audience in Cuba. The time required by the Office of Cuba broadcasting (OCB), also located in Miami, FL for having its Radio Marti programming to be rebroadcast from a Satellite Radio station is a two hour block between the hours of 9:00pm – 11:00pm ( Monday – Friday).
The full text of the request for proposal is below:

Office: Director, Office of Contracts
Location: Office of Contracts (CON)

Solicitation Number:
Notice Type:
Combined Synopsis/Solicitation
Added: Nov 14, 2014 4:58 pm


(ii) Solicitation No. BBG50-R-15-0003 is issued as a Request For Proposal (RFP) and a contract will be awarded using the contracting by negotiation procedures in FAR Part 15.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Court rejects sex harassment case

A woman who sued a USAID contractor for sexual harassment in Venezuela lost her case on appeal, court documents show.
Heather Rome had worked for Development Alternatives Inc., the same company that sent American development worker Alan Gross to Cuba.
Rome was based in Caracas, where DAI was carrying out a project aimed at undermining the government of Hugo Chavez. In 2011, she accused the head of DAI's Venezuela project, Eduardo Fernandez, of misogynistic conduct, according to her lawsuit, filed on Oct. 18, 2011.
Rome said Fernandez harassed and screamed at female subordinates and complained that their office was "as inefficient as a brothel."
Rome said in a court brief:
Examples of Fernandez’s more belligerent and childish behavior catalogued by DAI’s HR Director included:
  • Fernandez uses inappropriate words and gestures when he speaks about females - this is done in the presence of other females and the client
  • Fernandez refers to females as “pussies”
  • Fernandez makes gestures indicating female “boobs” when he refers to certain female visitors
  • Fernandez told the office staff “if DAI girls learn to keep the pill between their legs then we would not have to pay for maternity insurance”
  • Fernandez creates a very hostile work environment when he screamed and shouted at the staff, almost on a daily basis

Report: Cuba does not promote drug trade

Seized drugs in Cuba. Photo: BBC
I came across this report today while catching up on some reading. The State Department's Bureau for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs released the report in March 2014.

International Narcotics Control Strategy Report


A. Introduction

Despite its location between some of the largest exporters of illegal drugs in the hemisphere and the U.S. market, Cuba is not a major consumer, producer, or transit point of illicit narcotics. Cuba’s intensive security presence and bilateral interdiction efforts have effectively reduced the available supply of narcotics on the island and prevented traffickers from establishing a foothold. The Cuban Border Guard (TGF) maintains an active presence along Cuba’s coastal perimeter and conducts maritime counternarcotics operations and patrols. As such, traffickers typically attempt to avoid Cuban and U.S. counternarcotics patrol vessels and aircraft by skirting Cuba’s territorial waters.
Cuba’s domestic drug production and consumption remain low due to active policing, harsh sentencing, very low consumer disposable income and limited opportunities to produce illegal drugs, either synthetic or organic. Cuba’s counternarcotics efforts have prevented illegal narcotics trafficking from having a significant impact on the island.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Cuban journalists, professors to visit U.S.

Raúl Garcés Corra. Photo: Mesa Redonda
Nine Cuban journalists and scholars plan to visit California State University, Fullerton, for 10 days starting on Dec. 3.
The visitors plan to get a first-hand look at digital journalism. They'll talk to American journalists and professors. They'll examine the rise of social media in journalism. Some will even do some reporting, a Cal-State source says.
Cal-State scholars, for their part, are interested in assessing changes in Cuban journalism, among other things.
The December visit is a first step toward a full-scale university exchange.
The visitors include:

Cristina Escobar Dominguez
  • Raúl Garcés Corra, dean of faculty of communication at the University of Havana.
  • Deborah Torres Ponjuán, vice dean for information technology and development at the University of Havana.
  • Beatriz Pérez Alonso, a University of Havana communication professor and former chief editor of Cubahora digital magazine.
  • Maribel Acosta Damas, head of the journalism department at the University of Havana.
  • Miguel Ernesto Gomez Masjuan, a journalist, blogger, screenwriter and faculty member at the University of Havana.
  • Liliam Marrero Santana, a professor in the New Technologies Department at the José Martí International Institute of Journalism.
  • Fidel A. Rodríguez Fernández, also a professor in the New Technologies Department at the José Martí International Institute of Journalism.
  • Sergio Alejandro Gomez, international editor of Granma newspaper.
  • Cristina Escobar Dominguez, a reporter, commentator and broadcaster who anchors a talk show about journalism in Cuba.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Alan Gross loses appeal

Document filed today
Yet another setback for Alan Gross: He lost his appeal in his suit against the U.S. government.
The court's 3-0 decision, filed today, is below:

United States Court of Appeals

Argued September 19, 2014 Decided November 14, 2014
No. 13-5168

Appeal from the United States District Court
for the District of Columbia
(No. 1:12-cv-01860)

Barry I. Buchman argued the cause for appellants. With him on the briefs were Scott D. Gilbert, Natalie A. Baughman, and Emily P. Grim. Alan Burch, Assistant U.S. Attorney, argued the cause for appellee. On the brief were Ronald C. Machen Jr., U.S. Attorney, and R. Craig Lawrence and Michelle Lo, Assistant U.S. Attorneys.
Before: HENDERSON, ROGERS and KAVANAUGH, Circuit Judges.
Opinion for the Court filed by Circuit Judge ROGERS.

ROGERS, Circuit Judge: The Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity (Libertad) Act of 1996, Pub. L. No. 104–114, 110 Stat. 785 (1996) (codified at 22 U.S.C. § 6021 et seq.), aimed “to assist the Cuban people in regaining their freedom and prosperity, as well as in joining the community of democratic countries that are flourishing in the Western Hemisphere.” Id. § 3, 22 U.S.C. § 6022(1). The Act authorized the President “to furnish assistance and provide other support for individuals and independent nongovernment organizations to support democracy-building efforts for Cuba.” Id. § 109, 22 U.S.C. § 6039. In that regard, the United States Agency for International Development (“USAID”) entered a contract with a private consulting firm, Development Alternatives, Inc. (“DAI”), to provide humanitarian support to groups within Cuba. DAI, in turn, contracted with Alan Gross to train the Jewish community in Cuba to use and maintain information and communication technologies, such as mobile phones, wireless technologies, and personal computers. As his fifth trip to Cuba was drawing to a close in December 2009, Mr. Gross was detained and interrogated by Cuban authorities. In 2011, he was convicted for his participation in “a subversive project of the U.S. government that aimed to destroy the Revolution through the use of communications systems out of the control of [Cuban] authorities” and sentenced to fifteen years’ imprisonment. Compl. ¶ 115 (alteration in original).

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

First TEDx talk set for Havana

Andres Levin
A TEDx event is planned for Nov. 15 in Havana. A blurb on the TED website says:
We're bringing together Cuban leaders in the Arts, Sustainability, Mechanics and Entrepreneurship along with their international and US counterparts
TED is a nonprofit aimed at "spreading ideas, usually in the form of short, powerful talks (18 minutes or less). TED began in 1984 as a conference where Technology, Entertainment and Design converged, and today covers almost all topics — from science to business to global issues — in more than 100 languages."
The event in Cuba is an independently run event. The organizer is listed as Andrés Levin. His profile describes him as a "producer, composer, film maker, musician, philanthropist, creative director, and Grammy winner."
The LA Times called him "the master chef of urban fusion."
The Miami Herald said:
Andres Levin is one of the best and most versatile producers in the Latin alternative world. He's got so much going on you can't tell where one style begins and another rhythm ends.
The Chicago Tribune said:
He's a brilliant producer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist.
Levin's website said he's passionate about: