"Mock ad banners will give it the appearance of a commercial enterprise," one written proposal obtained by the AP said. Behind the scenes, ZunZuneo's computers were also storing and analyzing subscribers' messages and other demographic information, including gender, age, "receptiveness" and "political tendencies." USAID believed the demographics on dissent could help it target its other Cuba programs and "maximize our possibilities to extend our reach."
The fact that USAID programs were used for regime change caused Senator Patrick Leahy to warn about the erosion of USAID's credibility abroad. For many, of course, this is nothing new. USAID has been closely associated to U.S. political goals in the guise of development projects since its inception. That's why Evo Morales kicked them out last year. The history is full of documented instances of USAID involved in spying, personal data collection, funding opposition NGOs and other forms of intervention in internal affairs.
On Democracy Now! Peter Kornbluh who directs the Cuba Documentation Project of the National Security Archive calls the USAID "the new CIA" and details how USAID funds covert operations in Cuba and across the globe.
We could expect these type of programs in Cuba. Since the revolution, U.S. efforts to subvert the government on the island and assassinate Fidel Castro range have been illegal, unethical and often frankly ludicrous.
But Cuba is not the only place where these programs exist. USAID programs in Mexico should also be examined far more closely. For example, a USAID project on freedom of expression passes directly through Freedom House, a well known regime-change organization also funded by the US government for "promotion of democracy".
The Freedom House program in Mexico uses many of the same covert methods discovered in the Cuban twitter scam. It carefully covers up its ties to U.S. political aims. It also does not mention that it is a U.S. government funded program, despite the fact that according to Freedom House's own financial statement for 2013, 87% of its budget comes directly from the federal government.
The open-door policy of the Calderon government has indeed opened the door to make it far easier for U.S. programs like the fake twitter and Freedom House to make inroads in Mexico. The amount of information that U.S. government agencies have on each and every one of us goes beyond imagination.
The Peña Nieto government shook up the bilateral relationship by demanding more controls on US agency operations within Mexico. But that was more a power play than a genuine concern for national sovereignty or human rights. Now it's the Congress that should step up and carry out a full review of US aid in the country to determine if the Cuban twitter is, indeed, just the tip of the iceberg.