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Congress to probe secret 'Cuban Twitter' as lawmakers claim they were misled

Congress to probe secret 'Cuban Twitter' as lawmakers claim they were misled

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Lawmakers want more details on the fake Twitter-like service that the US government launched in Cuba in hopes of spurring protest and heightening discontent among the country's youth. Rajiv Shah, head of the US Agency for International Development — which was behind the hushed effort — is scheduled to testify before the Senate Appropriations State Department and foreign operations subcommittee on Tuesday. He'll no doubt be peppered with questions about the ZunZuneo program, which the Associated Press revealed and detailed at length in a report Thursday.

With ZunZuneo, the Obama administration hoped to build a large social network that would allow Cubans to communicate freely and outside the country's severely restricted internet. The service ran for two years and attracted some 40,000 Cubans, all without anyone realizing that the US government was responsible for creating it. On Thursday, White House press secretary insisted that the mission wasn't "covert" — a careful distinction that means President Obama may not have been directly aware of ZunZuneo's existence. "I am not aware of individuals here in the White House who were involved," Carney said. Instead, he used the word "discreet" to explain ZunZuneo's secretive nature — "not because it is an intelligence program, but to protect individuals." According to Carney, the program was "debated in Congress" and reviewed by the Government Accountability Office, which apparently "found it was in accordance with US law."

But lawmakers are refuting the idea that they had full knowledge of ZunZuneo. "We were notified in the most oblique way, that nobody could understand it," Senator Patrick Leahy told the AP. Leahy plans to ask Shah why Congress wasn't "specifically" informed about a program funded by taxpayer dollars. He also has another question: "whose bright idea was this anyway?"

It's not yet clear how much lawmakers actually knew about ZunZuneo or whether they were truly misled. They could simply be trying to avoid a direct connection now that the AP has revealed the full scope of a mission built on front companies and offshore bank accounts. Not everyone is livid about ZunZuneo, however. Senator Bob Mendez, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said "the whole purpose of our democracy programs, whether it be in Cuba or other parts of the world, is in part to create a free flow of information in closed societies."