White House denies covert Twitter-style Cuba operation

WASHINGTON (AFP) - The White House on Thursday denied that the US aid agency had mounted a secret social media project designed to provoke unrest against Cuba's communist leaders.

The denial followed a report that USAID, normally confined to humanitarian projects, tried to build a Twitter-style network to attract Cuban subscribers, which would eventually be used to distribute political content.

White House spokesman Jay Carney said that the program was a "development assistance" program designed to allow Cubans facing government restrictions on information access to civil society.

He said the program, first reported by the Associated Press, was conducted within US law, and had not been a secret since it was debated in Congress.

"When you have a program like that in a non permissive environment, i.e. a place like Cuba, you are discreet (in) how you implement it so you protect the practitioners," he said.

"But that does not make it covert. USAID is a development agency, not an intelligence agency. Suggestions that this was a covert program are wrong." Carney said that Congress had appropriated funds to promote democracy in Cuba in an open fashion and that the program had been vetted by the Government Accountability Office, a federal watchdog body.

The AP report said that the network aimed to build subscribers at first with non controversial content on weather and sports before moving onto political messaging when the service expanded.

The confrontation between the United States and Cuba is one of the world's last Cold War-era disputes and Washington has maintained an embargo on the communist country since 1962.

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