The U.S. global development agency is preparing internal rules that would effectively end risky undercover work in hostile countries, such as the once-secret “Cuban Twitter” program it orchestrated, The Associated Press has learned.
The new policy follows an AP investigation this year into work by the U.S. Agency for International Development, which established a Twitter-like social network in Cuba and secretly sought to recruit a new generation of dissidents there while hiding ties to the U.S. government.
The AP found USAID and its contractor concealed their involvement in the Cuban programs, setting up a front company, routing money through Cayman Islands bank transactions and fashioning elaborate cover stories. That subterfuge put at risk the agency’s cooperation with foreign governments to deliver aid to the world’s poor; last month, it pledged more than $140 million to fight Ebola in West Africa.
USAID’s proposed policy closely mirrors a Senate bill this summer, according to government officials familiar with the discussions who were not authorized to talk about the matter publicly. That bill would prohibit USAID from spending money on democracy programs in countries that reject the agency’s assistance, where staff wasn’t directly hired and where USAID would have to go to “excessive lengths to protect program beneficiaries and participants.”