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    Cuba believed to have intercepted details of U.S. aid to dissidents

    Posted on Sunday, 11.17.13

    Cuba believed to have intercepted details of U.S. aid to dissidents

    The documents were definitely not classified as secret. But they
    contained detailed information about U.S. government programs to help
    Cuban dissidents that Havana has outlawed as a semi-clandestine campaign
    to topple the communist system.

    So when the U.S. Agency for International Development mistakenly used an
    unencrypted line to send the documents to U.S. diplomats in Havana,
    USAID officials were chagrined and some of the authors of the document
    were incredulous.

    “An amazingly stupid thing to do,” said an official of one of the groups
    that generated the documents — minutely detailed applications for a $6
    million USAID program to train emerging leaders of Cuba’s non-government

    His application of more than 200 pages contained a complete history of
    his past work with USAID’s pro-democracy programs in Cuba, the official
    said, some names of possible trainees and venues where they might be

    USAID has played down the impact of the mistake, arguing that the U.S.
    government never classified the pro-democracy programs as secret or even

    “Nothing about USAID’s Cuba program is classified. We simply carry out
    programs in a discreet manner to help ensure the safety of all those
    involved,” said USAID spokesman Karl Duckworth.

    But the agency’s own documents highlight the security concerns
    surrounding the program.

    “Given the nature of the Cuban regime and the political sensitivity of
    the USAID Program, USAID cannot be held responsible for any injury or
    inconvenience suffered by individuals traveling to the island under
    USAID .?.?. funding,” one agency contract states.

    A slide presentation for non-government organizations (NGOs) that have
    been awarded USAID grants advises them to report any “Security Concerns,
    including Government of Cuba harassment and detention.”

    Alan P. Gross, a USAID subcontractor from Maryland, is serving a 15-year
    prison term in Havana for delivering to Cuban Jews three satellite
    telephones, paid for by the U.S. government, so they could have direct
    and uncensored access to the Internet.

    It was therefore shocking when USAID officials told applicants for the
    $6 million in grants in September that their applications had been sent
    to U.S. diplomats in Havana for their review on an unsecure line instead
    of the usual encrypted line.

    Duckworth declined to comment further on the incident. But four
    officials of NGOs that applied for the funds provided details to El
    Nuevo Herald. They asked for anonymity, saying they wanted to stay on
    good terms with USAID.

    The USAID request for proposal SOL-OAA-13-000110, posted publicly on
    July 10, offered a total of $6 million over three years, broken up into
    at least two grants of no more than $3 million and no less than $1 million.

    Its goal was “to strengthen human capacity on the island by providing
    opportunities for civil society leaders to travel outside of Cuba to
    gain technical skills and experiential learning in an array of fields
    important to democracy and civil society development.”

    More than 20 NGOs are believed to have submitted applications by the
    Aug. 9 deadline — competition for the funds is stiff. Their applications
    included proposed budgets, ways of monitoring and evaluations progress,
    organizational charts and past experience in Cuba.

    The applications are not required to include names or contacts, “but you
    usually include some to show that you know people, that your
    organization has some weight,” said one of the NGO officials.

    USAID officials called the applicants in late August to deliver the bad
    news: All their proposals had been sent on an unsecure line to Havana.
    One applicant quoted an agency official as saying, “We think the Cuban
    government may have seen all the proposals.”

    Cuba’s intelligence agencies consider the United States as their No. 1
    enemy, and spy constantly on Washington’s diplomats in Havana,
    monitoring their communications and bugging their homes.

    USAID told the NGOs they could withdraw the proposals if they considered
    the risks to be too high. None the applicants withdrew, with one telling
    El Nuevo Herald there was no sense turning back since Cuban intelligence
    no doubt already had the documents.

    A few weeks later, each of the applicants received rejection letters
    that made no mention of the USAID gaffe but noted that their proposals
    were weak in one way or another, the NGO officials said.

    The $6 million was distributed among USAID’s other ongoing Cuba
    democracy programs, created under the Helms-Burton act of 1996.

    Security around the USAID programs has long been an issue because of the
    fears that Cuban government officials can get their hands on sensitive
    information and use it to disrupt the programs or even throw
    participants in jail — like Gross.

    The Washington-based Freedom House voluntarily surrendered a $1.7
    million Cuba grant in 2011 after complaining that USAID was asking for
    too much information about how the funds were being spent, including the
    identities and travel plans of participants.

    “We take very seriously the need to be accountable for these programs,”
    Freedom House Deputy Director of Programs Daniel Calingaert said at the
    time. But USAID’s requests for information are “not just onerous. They
    really raise the risk of what we do.”

    A U.S federal indictment unsealed in April accused former USAID attorney
    Marta Rita Velazquez of conspiracy to commit espionage on behalf of
    Cuba. She is living with her husband in Sweden, and has not been extradited.

    The indictment said Velazquez introduced convicted Cuban spy Ana Belen
    Montes, a former Pentagon intelligence analyst, to a Cuban intelligence
    official in New York in 1984, when the two women were graduate students
    in Washington.

    Source: “Cuba believed to have intercepted details of U.S. aid to
    dissidents – Cuba –” –