The Hummingbird Tweet: An Espionage Tale
For two years, starting in 2010, the United States Agency for International Development ran a social networking service -- similar to Twitter -- for the Cuban people. Its long-term objective was to forment popular revolt against the government and de-stabilize the country.
They called it "ZunZuneo" (Cuban slang for a hummingbird's "tweet") and launched it under absolute secrecy about who was really running it. “There will be absolutely no mention of United States government involvement,” according to a 2010 memo from one of the companies supposedly running the service. “This is absolutely crucial for the long-term success of the service and to ensure the success of the mission."
The "mission" was to reach a critical mass of Cuban users by offering tweets on sports, entertainment and light news over the service and signing recipients up through word of mouth -- you call a phone number and your phone is hooked up. With that critical mass in place, the tweets would start getting more political: inspiring Cuban citizens to organize “smart mobs” — mass gatherings called at a moment’s notice to spark a kind of a "Cuban Spring" or, as one USAID document put it, “renegotiate the balance of power between the state and society.”
At one point there were 40,000 Cubans getting ZunZuneo tweets but the project was abandoned in 2012 when the initial funding ran out and the people who own the real Twitter refused to take it on.
The story, an investigative report by the Associated Press, is probably not surprising to many people in this country. After the NSA revelations, what could possibly surprise us? And besides, it would not be the first time that USAID was found doing the nefarious work of the CIA and State Department of undermining democratic governments. But it is an embarrassing revelation about how our government is using the Internet and about how "hot" the Cold War still remains.
There are also some serious legal issues.
One of the main organizers of the project -- Joe McSpedon of the USAID -- met with officials from a variety of fronting "sponsor companies" to launch the project in 2009-2010.
From the start, the program's objective was clear: to de-stablize the government of Cuba, and destabilizing governments is something the United States is proficient at. There are few areas of the world whose history doesn't include an attempt, often successful, by United States to overthrow a government. In fact, in Venezuela, Ukraine and various parts of Africa, South America and the "Middle East", such efforts are currently ongoing. In most of these cases, the propaganda-preparing and deceit-dispensing USAID plays a central role.