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    Critics Question Sources for AP Report on Cuba Democracy Program

    Critics Question Sources for AP Report on Cuba Democracy Program
    Say sources had political agenda to undermine U.S. policy
    BY: Daniel Wiser
    August 11, 2014 5:00 am

    Critics are raising questions about the Associated Press’s recent report
    on a U.S. program to foster civil society in Cuba and have accused the
    news organization of cooperating with sources who have a political
    agenda against U.S. policy toward the island.

    The AP recently reported on the program that sent Spanish-speaking youth
    to Cuba to help build health and civil society associations, which the
    news organization described as a “clandestine operation” with the goal
    of “ginning up rebellion.” Human rights groups involved in the program
    criticized the report and said it mischaracterized the nature of the
    civil society projects.

    Defenders of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID)
    program say the AP has been less than forthright about the sources for
    its reporting. They also allege that the AP obtained information and
    documents from longstanding critics of U.S. policy toward Cuba’s
    communist government.

    The anti-Castro website Capitol Hill Cubans alleged that the key source
    for the AP’s reporting on both the civil society program and a separate
    project, an attempt to develop a Twitter-like social media service for
    Cubans, was Fulton Armstrong. Armstrong is a former Senate Foreign
    Relations Committee (SFRC) staffer and senior intelligence analyst for
    Latin America.

    Armstrong told the Washington Free Beacon in an email that although the
    AP contacted him, he was not the main source of information and
    documents. “The AP’s reports are pretty obviously based on documentary
    evidence provided by insiders concerned about the regime-change
    programs,” he said, adding that he was never fully briefed on what he
    called USAID’s “clandestine, covert operations.”

    “Because the SFRC had investigated these scandalously run secret
    programs during my tenure on the Committee staff, and because my boss
    (Chairman [John] Kerry) was concerned enough to put a hold on the
    programs for a while, I was logically among the dozens of people to be
    called by the AP reporters,” he said.

    Armstrong has long raised the ire of U.S. officials and activists
    advocating a tough line against the Castro regime. Foreign policy
    officials in the George W. Bush administration attempted to reassign
    Armstrong from Latin American intelligence after arguing that he was
    “soft” on threats from Cuba, according to a 2003 report by the New York

    He wrote in a 2011 op-ed that “it’s time to clean up the regime-change
    programs” and focus on securing the release of Alan Gross, a former
    USAID subcontractor who has been imprisoned for almost five years in
    Cuba. Gross worked to provide Internet access to small Cuban
    communities, but authorities arrested him on charges of attempting to
    destabilize the government.

    Armstrong also served as Deputy National Intelligence Officer for Latin
    America when a widely criticized Pentagon report about Cuba was drafted.
    The 1997 report from the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) determined
    that Cuba’s military “poses a negligible conventional threat to the U.S.
    or surrounding countries.”

    The original drafter of the report was Ana Montes. Montes was later
    revealedto be a top Cuban spy in the U.S. government and is currently
    serving a 25-year prison sentence.

    Armstrong said one of his responsibilities as a senior intelligence
    officer at the time was to “shepherd it through interagency coordination.”

    “The draft was very weak and was heavily rewritten by representatives of
    all 15 agencies at the table,” he said. “All 15 agencies endorsed the
    rewritten paper without reservation.”

    He added that he was “deeply shocked by her arrest” and that “not one of
    the dozens of [intelligence community] professionals with whom Montes
    interacted suspected she was a spy.”

    Critics of Cuba’s government note that it continues to be a
    U.S.-designatedsponsor of terrorism and authoritarian regimes, and that
    it attempted an arms shipment to North Korea last year that violated
    U.S. and international sanctions.

    An AP spokeswoman declined to comment on what information its reporters
    received from Armstrong or other sources. “We don’t discuss our
    sourcing,” said senior media relations manager Erin Madigan White in an

    Jose Cardenas, a former senior USAID administrator in the George W. Bush
    administration who helped oversee the Cuba program, said in an interview
    that the AP “jumped to too many conclusions” and “misinterpreted”
    internal documents about the program. Although some security protocols
    were necessary to not arouse the suspicion of Cuban authorities, the
    projects were more about developing relations between young Cubans
    rather than instigating a rebellion, he said.

    The AP’s source is “acting on a political agenda,” Cardenas claimed.

    “It raises serious questions about the veracity and integrity of their
    whole story,” he said.

    The AP published a blog post on Thursday that provided some background
    on its reporting. It said reporter Desmond Butler’s “source gave him a
    new batch of documents” for the article, and noted that one of the
    investigative reporters used a secure phone and encrypted emails
    “because communications in Venezuela, like Cuba, are not considered secure.”

    The AP also described how one of its reporters repeatedly attempted to
    contact the main organizer of a group of Venezuelans who traveled to
    Cuba for the program, including filming the woman as she refused to talk
    outside her house and slammed her door. A Venezuelan human rights group
    involved in the program denounced the AP’s reporting on Thursday and
    accused it of harassing one of its members.

    The reporters who covered the story won a $500 prize for keeping “the AP
    out front on American secret activities in Cuba,” according to the AP.

    Source: Critics question sources for AP report on Cuba Democracy Program
    | Washington Free Beacon –