The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) has admitted accidentally sending sensitive information about Cuban dissidents through an unencrypted line to Cuba – but the implications of that mistake are unclear.
USAID officially has played down the impact of the issue – claiming that the U.S. government never classified the pro-democracy program as secret or even confidential. Some of the authors of the documents told the Miami Herald that if found by the Cuban government, Havana would have full knowledge of applications for a $6 million USAID program to train emerging leaders of Cuba’s non-government sectors.
The documents themselves reveal a full history of USAID’s pro-democracy efforts in Cuba along with the names of the trainees and locations where the training might take place.
But while it’s unclear if Cuba actually intercepted the information – Cuban officials have not commented on the matter – some experts say the move was foolish at best, politically volatile at worst.
“An amazingly stupid thing to do,” one unnamed official told the Miami Herald of using an unencrypted line.
The pro-democracy efforts, while typically well-known to many in both countries, are not outlined in USAID’s mission statement about Cuba but hazily mentioned under the ideas of “strengthening leadership skills and providing opportunities for community organizing” and helping to facilitate “information flow to, from and within the island,” according to the USAID website.
USAID currently provides $23.4 million in programs in Cuba, including for the Foundation for Human Rights in Cuba and the pro-democracy group Grupo de Apoyo a la Democracia.
Officially, USAID shrugged off the mistake while emphasizing the difficulties and dangers that groups working with them take on when traveling and working in Cuba.
“Given the nature of the Cuban regime and the political sensitivity of the USAID Program, USAID cannot be held responsible for any injury or inconvenience suffered by individuals traveling to the island under USAID . . . funding,” one agency contract states, the Miami Herald reported.
Overhanging the entire affair is the case of Alan Gross, the 64-year U.S. contractor currently held in a Cuban prison.
Gross traveled to Cuba on behalf of a Maryland company that won a contract from USAID to expand Internet access and the flow of information on the Communist-ruled island.
He was arrested in Cuba in December 2009 with satellite communications equipment in his possession. Havana said he was illegally aiding dissidents and inciting subversion.
In August 2012, Cuba's highest court upheld the 15-year jail sentence imposed on the American.
Efe contributed to this report.