Alan Gross: Castro's prisoner
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    The secret Cuba files of Alan Gross

    The secret Cuba files of Alan Gross

    March 23, 2013

    By Tracey Eaton (

    HAVANA TIMES — Alan Gross envisioned setting up satellite Internet

    connections for Cuban Jews in Havana and six other provinces, then

    expanding his effort to include as many as 30,000 Masons at more than

    300 lodges across the country.

    Cuban Jews had "strategic value" in the democracy project because of

    their religious, financial and humanitarian ties to the United States,

    Gross said in an October 2008 memo filed this month in U.S. District Court.

    Jewish synagogues were a "secure springboard through which information

    dissemination will be expanded," Gross wrote in the 27-page memo to his

    former employer, DAI, a federal contractor in Bethesda, Md.

    The memo and other documents filed this month in U.S. District Court

    give new details about the original scope of the multimillion-dollar

    project, which was designed to go far beyond helping Jews connect to the

    Internet as the State Department has repeatedly suggested.

    Gross, 63, and his wife, Judy, are suing DAI for $60 million, saying

    that the contractor failed to prepare Gross for his risky mission,

    resulting in his capture in 2009. DAI has denied the accusation and says

    it isn't to blame for the subcontractor's jailing.

    Cuban authorities arrested Gross in December 2009. He was convicted of

    crimes against the state and sentenced to 15 years in prison.

    His 2008 memo said U.S.-based humanitarian organizations that take

    computers and other supplies to Jews in Cuba could be useful in DAI's

    democracy project. One possible implication is that these groups could

    be used, perhaps unwittingly, to shuttle equipment to Cuba, although

    Gross doesn't explain in detail what he had in mind.

    He writes that Cuban Jews and later Masons could help DAI establish an

    information and communications technologies "foothold."

    These groups are likely targets for successfully establishing a

    low-profile ICT foothold. Both have extended organizational networks and

    communities throughout the island and both are connected and/or have

    strong institutional relationships with US faith-based and humanitarian

    organizations that frequently sponsor Island missions.

    In his proposal to DAI, Gross proposed setting up Internet sites at 12

    Jewish synagogues in the provinces of Havana, Villa Clara, Cienfuegos,

    Guantanamo, Granma, Camagüey and Santiago de Cuba. Some 1,800 men, women

    and youth were members of the synagogues. They were the initial target

    of the democracy project. Gross wrote:

    Members of the primary target group will be able to help train members

    of the secondary target group in the event of a follow on project.

    The secondary – or follow on- target included members of 319 Masonic

    Lodges in Cuba. An infographic Gross submitted to DAI also cites "youth,

    women and Afro-Cubans."

    Gross said in court documents he was coordinating some of his activities

    with the Pan American Development Foundation, or PADF, another

    organization that had received U.S. government funds to try to hasten

    Cuba's transition to democracy.

    Cuban agents wound up infiltrating PADF's operation in Cuba. One of the

    organization's main contacts, José Manuel Collera Vento, former head of

    the Freemasons fraternal organization in Cuba, turned out to be an

    informant for Cuban State Security (See interview with Collera, also

    known as Agent Gerardo).

    José Manuel Collera Vento

    José Manuel Collera Vento

    At the time, Gross headed a small company called JBDC . He worried about

    the Cuban government's counterespionage efforts and was especially

    concerned about the fate of his contacts in Cuba's Jewish community.

    The 2008 memo underscored the need for secrecy:

    All information on this page is considered highly confidential and is

    not to be disclosed or reproduced for distribution without the expressed

    written permission of JBDC, LLC. Failure to comply with this could lead

    to irreparable harm to certain parties on the island.

    In court documents, Gross's lawyer said DAI's biggest concern was

    figuring out who would replace him if he could no longer carry out the


    A one-page memo from DAI to Gross stated:

    Given your concerns regarding your ability to remain on the island,

    please indicate in writing your contingency plan in the case that you

    are unable to continue working on the island for whatever reason. Who

    will take over to see the project to completion?

    Gross replied that if he were to become "persona non grata" on the

    island, his company, JBDC, would pick a new leader. He wrote:

    We have several (3) excellent candidates with whom we have worked for

    more than five years on field information projects. In the event that

    the project director becomes PNG, a JBDC decision will be made

    concerning who will resume field leadership with the confidence that DAI

    will approve. A key aspect in this decision will mainly involve


    The U.S. Agency for International Development had awarded DAI a contract

    worth $28 million to carry out the democracy project in 2008. The

    company asked Gross to join the effort and told him he was project's top


    Gross and others transported satellite Internet gear to Cuba and

    installed it at synagogues in Havana, Camagüey and Santiago de Cuba. He

    never reached his goal of setting up Internet sites in 12 communities in

    seven provinces. Nor is there evidence that he expanded his project to

    include Masons.

    Gross did travel to Cuba to begin the project's second phase, but was

    arrested as he tried to leave the island.

    Will Recant

    Will Recant

    Gross was traveling alone at the time and his company was largely a

    one-man operation.

    However, while pursuing the DAI subcontract in 2008, Gross said a

    "community development associate" would assist him at the start of the

    project. Gross wrote that William Recant:

    …is considered a trusted party by the community. He has an excellent

    understanding of the on-the-ground nuances of political and

    organizational life on the Island, as well as a keen grasp on how to get

    things done there.

    Recant is the assistant executive vice-president of the American Jewish

    Joint Distribution Committee, or JDC, touted as "the world's leading

    Jewish humanitarian assistance organization."

    Editor's note: I left a message with the JDC requesting comment and

    haven't yet heard back from the organization.

    Recant's biography says he: erves as the senior staff person regarding

    all of JDC's non-sectarian and disaster relief programs. In this

    capacity, he coordinates projects relating to the rescue, relief, and

    renewal of Jewish communities worldwide and develops non-sectarian

    programs. Will is also the Desk Director for Latin America and Europe

    Community Development at JDC headquarters in New York, which involves

    him in the effort to relieve the Argentinean community in crisis.

    Excerpts of Gross's 27-page memo are below:

    Revised Technical Response to Request for Proposal No. CDP-01 New Media

    10-08 CDP New Media Initiatives

    1. Project Summary

    JBDC, LLC designed and developed an in-country pilot project called

    "ICTs Para la Isla." This pilot project will train a segment of an

    identified primary target group on the use and maintenance of currently

    available off-the-shelf terrestrial and non-terrestrial information and

    communication technologies (ICTs).

    The primary target group identified for this purpose will benefit from

    the use of these ICTs by gaining greater access to information that is

    presently highly restricted and difficult to obtain.

    The group will further benefit from this pilot project by gaining the

    ability to distribute this information to and communicate with the

    larger organization communities throughout the island.

    The initial target group will also participate in a monitoring and

    evaluation process with which they will become familiarized as part of

    their technical training. Identification of a secondary target group for

    a follow on project will be confirmed prior to the conclusion of the

    first pilot. Members of the primary target group will be able to help

    train members of the secondary target group in the event of a follow on


    2. Country Context

    2.1 General County Context

    For nearly five decades, two principal issues have heavily impacted on

    the island's ability to make informed choices: 1) blocked or very

    limited access to information, and 2) closely monitored and blocked

    communications between pro-democracy groups. This also applies to the

    general public at large. While these groups represent a foundation for a

    future free island, they have not been able to communicate effectively

    with their constituents nor with each other.

    We now have the ability to transmit, access and communicate information

    on a large scale through the use (albeit discreetly) of specific

    off-the-shelf technologies. The free world is able to and does take

    advantage of these technologies. Through effective use of current

    information and communications technologies (ICTs), the potential to

    help bring about and support social change on the island sooner rather

    than later will increase.

    At this specific juncture, change in domestic policies is highly

    anticipated on the island, as is concern about change. Consequently, any

    effort to introduce new technologies must be done with sensitivity.

    2.2 Specifically, as related to Project Activities

    2.2.1 ICTs Para la Isla – Pilot will help to change the status quo when

    it comes to accessing and communicating information. The Pilot will

    build upon JBDC experience in order to help develop systems that will

    hasten a transition to democracy through informed choice. This objective

    will be advanced by diminishing the information and communications

    blockade. More specifically, the Pilot will, on a limited test-basis,

    accomplish the objective of introducing specific devices that will

    enable greater direct access to information and communications and

    improve intra- and intergroup communications channels.

    2.22 The intent is for JBDC to utilize to the fullest extent possible

    its findings from previous island work and hands-on practical ICT

    experience, as well as its international development experience in more

    than 50 countries.

    3. Problem to which the Project is Responding

    Access to the Internet is available on the island, however it is highly

    limited, highly monitored and general use is highly restricted. Hotel

    access for 1 hour of use costs approximately 25 percent of an

    individual's average monthly income on the island. It is conventional

    thought that as of 2004 less than 2 percent of the island's population

    had real information access through the Internet. Most Islanders lack

    the ability to access information that is readily available through the

    Internet from websites that many in the free world take for granted.

    With the advent of legal cellular/mobile telephone use, new

    opportunities exist for multi-modal information dissemination.

    4. Project Strategy

    4.1 Justification of Strategy

    This Pilot activity will lay a practical groundwork that will facilitate

    and enable the better management of larger-scale and more comprehensive

    transition-to-democracy initiatives by building ICT networks. Employing

    multi-modal devices will help mitigate logistics risks (e.g., signal

    blockage). Real-time testing and verifying which technologies work best

    in the field for specific and varying purposes will be instrumental for

    this as well as numerous other future transition activities.

    4.2 Goal

    The successful implementation of this Pilot project will identify

    practical ways to develop and reach a larger pro-democracy constituency.

    It will help insure the transfer and conveyance of information by

    initially establishing Internet connectivity at more than 1 location on

    the island.

    The following graphic illustratively shows how improved information

    flows can be used. Based on previous work done on the Island and through

    ongoing professional relationships, JBDC will work initially with and

    through the Island Community and later with the Masons. These groups are

    likely targets for successfully establishing a low-profile ICT foothold.

    Both have extended organizational networks and communities throughout

    the island and both are connected and/or have strong institutional

    relationships with US faith-based and humanitarian organizations that

    frequently sponsor Island missions.

    4.3 Primary Target Beneficiaries1

    The primary target beneficiaries affiliate with a specific faith-based

    group comprised of 1,800 women, men and youth. This group is organized

    into 12 communities throughout the Island:

    Adath Israel




    Centro Sefaradi

    Chevet Achim



    El Patronato

    Sancti Spiritus

    Santa Clara

    Santiago de Cuba

    There is strategic value in identifying this specific group because:

    Possible Internet access sites have already been identified.

    The size of the group is manageable in the context of project


    The group has direct and indirect links to other communities on the

    island with significant populations.

    It is linked to other faith-based groups nationwide.

    It receives meaningful financial and other support from

    non-governmental sources in the US.

    It is currently and legally developing a youth computer lab with

    non-governmental outside support that could become a very helpful

    information distribution portal; while this facility is considering

    highly likely to serve as a future Internet portal, it has too much

    visibility. However, its participants can serve as important technical

    resources that will help keep the Pilot up and running following initial


    The group could be given technical assistance to develop – among

    other initiatives – a 12-community intranet through which written

    educational and faith-based material can be cost-efficiently

    distributed. As the 12-community intranet is developed, information

    (text, sound, and video formats) can be downloaded from 1 Internet site,

    then distributed via the community's intranet.

    Numerous missions from around the US visit the Island annually and

    bring many critically needed commodities, such as medicines, computers,

    books, etc. Many such faith-based congregations and organizations

    sponsor island missions, such as:

    - "Island" Health Network

    - "AJJDC"

    - "Island" Connection

    - Solidarity

    - The "Island"

    - American Mission

    - BB Center for Public Policy "Island" Relief Project

    - Individual US congregations

    This target group is thought to be a secure springboard through which

    information dissemination will be expanded. It is also a community to

    which JBDC has longstanding relationships in a very broad but

    low-profile context.

    Secondary Target Beneficiaries to be confirmed for a Pilot "Phase II"

    Approximately 30,000 Masons are organized through 319 Masonic Lodges

    nationwide. As of 2004, these lodges were situated as follows: (Editor's

    note: This document contains misspellings of city names and scattered

    other punctuation errors. The mistakes are left intact to preserve the

    document's original form).

    Matonces 28

    Campo 29

    Ciudad Havana 111

    Santiago 19

    Pinar del Rio 17

    Ville Clara 30

    Sacti Spiritus 11

    Cien Fuegos 14

    Ciego del Avila 8

    Camaguey 14

    Las Tuna 6

    Holguin 14

    Granma 10

    Guantanamo 7

    Isla de la Joventud 1

    Although not as closely managed as is the organization of primary target

    group on the island, the Masons also represent an organized mechanism

    through which information can be disseminated. Identifying possible

    Internet access sites will be accomplished during the first mission.

    JBDC will identify a specific segment of this secondary target group

    prior to the conclusion of the Pilot in the event of a follow-on.

    Key personnel lists Gross and William Recant, Community Development

    Associate. The document states Recant is:

    an intermittent consultant/employee who has directed more than 50

    faith-based, humanitarian and community development missions to the

    island. Throughout his career he has initiated, implemented and managed

    many humanitarian and community revitalization programs in more than 30

    countries, such as in the Former Soviet Union, Ethiopia, China, Rwanda,

    and in particular on the island.

    He has significant credibility within the target group and well beyond

    he is considered a trusted party by the community. He has an excellent

    understanding of the on-the-ground nuances of political and

    organizational life on the Island, as well as a keen grasp on how to get

    things done there. Dr. Recant holds both a Master's Degree and Ph.D. in

    Political Science.

    Relevant Past Performance

    Specific information concerning island activities is contractually

    restricted. What can be shared, however, is that JBDC has implemented an

    on-island assessment that discovered ways in which direct text

    communications could be established between the US and Islanders.

    The primary objective of this project was to explore what opportunities

    existed to use relatively inexpensive communications technologies that

    could be used to convey information by voice and data. JBDC discreetly

    field tested access and use of cellular text messaging from the island

    and investigated prospects for the use of other internet-related

    technologies. Strategic information obtained from this effort will be

    updated during the first field visit.

    1 Both Primary and Secondary target groups have viable communities

    appropriate for this purpose. However, all equipment logistics from the

    US to the Island will be more secure with the Primary target group.?"