The White House on Thursday denied that the U.S. government built a covert social media network in Cuba designed to push citizens there toward dissent.
The Associated Press reported Thursday morning that the Obama administration created a "Cuban Twitter" meant to foment grass-roots opposition to Cuba's communist government. The project, launched in 2009 and funded through shell companies and foreign banks, lasted more than two years, the AP said.
But White House press secretary Jay Carney said the program, run by the U.S. Agency for International Development, was never a secret and was subject to oversight by Congress and other arms of the federal government.
"Suggestions this was a covert program are wrong," Mr. Carney told reporters. "It was not a covert program. It was debated in Congress. It was reviewed by the [Government Accountability Office]. Those kinds of things don't happen to covert programs."
He confirmed that the program wrapped up in 2012.
The AP reported that Cubans using the program were unaware it was created by the U.S. government. The users also were unaware American contractors were collecting their personal data.
While the White House stressed that Congress debated the program and its funding, some top lawmakers raised concerns about the effort.
"There is the risk to young, unsuspecting Cuban cellphone users who had no idea this was a U.S. government-funded activity," said Sen. Patrick Leahy, Vermont Democrat and chairman of the Senate Appropriation Committee's State Department and foreign operations subcommittee. "There is a clandestine nature of the program that was not disclosed to the appropriations subcommittee with oversight responsibility."
While Mr. Carney denied the program was covert in nature, he made clear the federal government avoided talking about it publicly or disclosing details.
"When you have a program like that in a non-permissive environment, i.e., a place like Cuba, you're discrete about how you implement it so you protect the practitioners. But that does not make it covert," he said.
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