March 23, 2013
By Tracey Eaton (alongthemalecon.blogspot.com)
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
Gross did travel to Cuba to begin the project's second phase, but was
arrested as he tried to leave the island.
Gross was traveling alone at the time and his company was largely a
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.
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 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:
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
- "Island" Connection
- 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
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).
Ciudad Havana 111
Pinar del Rio 17
Ville Clara 30
Sacti Spiritus 11
Cien Fuegos 14
Ciego del Avila 8
Las Tuna 6
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
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.?"
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