The U.S. government reportedly created a secret social network similar to Twitter inside Cuba in the hopes of stirring unrest and destabilizing the Castro regime.
The “Cuban Twitter” project, called “ZunZuneo,” was publicly launched in 2010; it lasted more than two years, and had tens of thousands of subscribers. The plan was to circumvent Cuba’s internet filters, build a young audience and then turn them into dissenters, but the question that now arises is: was the scheme legal?
With tens of thousands of users it obviously was not a “secret” network. The secret was that it was funded by the U.S. government. A complex web of shell companies and offshore bank accounts was used to hide the source of the funding.
The project, which included a companion website and a marketing campaign, cost an estimated $1.6 million; publicly, though, the money was meant to be spent for an unspecified project in Pakistan. ZunZuneo disappeared abruptly in 2012.
To hide the money trail, the company was set up in Spain, with the money flowing from the Cayman Islands, a British offshore tax haven.
The goal was to let the service grow for a few years until it reached critical mass of a 150K+ users. At that point, the U.S. would start injecting politics into the discussions and hopefully start a revolution.
Documents show the U.S. government planned to build a subscriber base through “non-controversial content”: news messages on soccer, music, and hurricane updates. Later when the network reached a critical mass of subscribers, perhaps hundreds of thousands, operators would introduce political content aimed at inspiring Cubans to organize “smart mobs” — mass gatherings called at a moment’s notice that might trigger a Cuban Spring, or, as one USAID document put it, “renegotiate the balance of power between the state and society.”
I can’t decide if this idea is genius or dumb. I do like that we are thinking out of the box. Pretty sophisticated long con we had going.