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Agency takes new strategy toward Cuba

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  • Cort Greene
    http://alongthemalecon.blogspot.com/2013/03/agency-takes-new-strategy-toward-cuba.html SUNDAY, MARCH 31, 2013 Agency takes new strategy toward Cuba
    Message 1 of 1 , Apr 1, 2013

      SUNDAY, MARCH 31, 2013
      Agency takes new strategy toward Cuba
      Its name is unwieldy and bureaucratic, but its mission is lofty: to become
      the world's leading international news agency.
      The Broadcasting Board of Governors <http://www.bbg.gov/> runs civilian
      international broadcasting for the U.S. government. It has 50 news bureaus
      and offices worldwide and employs 3,696 people, rivaling CNN. And its
      audience is immense: More than 187 million people in 100 nations.
      Cuba watchers know the agency for its Miami-based Radio and TV Mart�
      operations. But the BBG has redesigned its strategy over the past two
      years, boosting efforts to promote Internet freedom and reach Cubans on
      mobile phones and social networking sites.
      The Obama administration began shifting millions of dollars in Internet
      freedom programs from the State Department to the BBG in 2011.
      LugarFormer Sen. Richard Lugar and others had criticized the State
      Department's effectiveness because:

      - It had been slow to spend $50 million in Internet freedom funds set
      aside since 2008, and
      - It seemed worried about "offending China," diplomatic baggage that
      wouldn't burden the BBG. For more on Lugar's complaints, see the
      "China and America: Public Diplomacy in the Age of the Internet."

      The shift in resources allowed the BBG to expand its Internet
      Anti-Censorship Division, or IAC, which has a budget of $11.6 million for
      fiscal 2013.
      The division promotes Internet freedom in a dozen so-called "censored
      countries," including Cuba.
      As part of the Cuba effort, the BBG has paid Washington Software
      of Germantown, Md., nearly $2 million since 2011. Payments have included:

      - $531,576 to expand Internet proxy servers.
      - $500,987 to develop a Short Message Service, or SMS, social network.
      - $451,796 to prevent Cuban government jamming of its electronic
      - $173,074 to send text messages to Cuba via SMS.
      - $96,028 to program computers.
      - $84,000 to design and operate an SMS system.
      - $83,050 to finance an unspecified task order listed under "IT strategy
      and architecture."
      - $60,275 to send email blasts.
      - $2,580 to pay costs related to Internet gateways.

      Total: $1,983,366 (see

      $2 million texting, social networking, anti-jamming projectThe documents
      don't show how many text messages have been sent to Cuba under the program.
      One record shows that the BBG paid Washington Software $14,474 for 361,873
      text messages sent during October 2011.
      Poll�nThat was a busy news month: Ladies in White founder Laura Poll�n died
      on Oct. 14, and Hugo Ch�vez went to Cuba for cancer treatment two days
      But federal records don't show if 361,873 messages - some 11,673 per day -
      was an unusual amount.
      In any case, it works out to 4 cents per message. And if that rate were
      applied to the entire $173,073, it's conceivable that Washington Software
      sent 4,326,825 text messages to Cuba in less than a year.
      Social media and mobile technology have clearly become key methods for
      reaching such target countries as Cuba.
      The Office of Cuba Broadcasting <http://www.bbg.gov/broadcasters/ocb/> operates
      Radio and TV Mart� and requested a budget of $23.5 million for fiscal 2013.
      The BBG's budget

      OCB�s website, Martinoticias.com <http://martinoticias.com/>, now includes
      live streaming audio and video of Radio/TV Marti. The workflow of the site,
      newly migrated to the Clickability platform used by VOA, is able to respond
      immediately to breaking news.
      In the past year, the site added up-to-the-minute information on the
      repression of bloggers in Cuba. Martinoticias.com has also launched
      its own YouTube
      Channel <http://www.youtube.com/user/TVMartiNoticias?feature=watch>, Facebook
      page <https://www.facebook.com/martinoticas>, and Twitter
      Work is under way to expand the number of Internet domain extensions for
      Martinoticias.com to make it more difficult for the Cuban government to
      block access to the website.
      In addition to multiple web domains, OCB uses anti-censorship tools such as
      web-based proxies to reach Internet users in Cuba. These proxy sites enable
      unobstructed delivery of e-mails containing news, information, and
      instructions for circumventing government Internet filters.
      SMS messaging is a promising new solution for communicating with audiences
      in Cuba, as the medium allows OCB to easily �push� information to most
      mobile phone users in a manner that is difficult to filter. OCB is also
      exploring the use of virtual chat rooms tied into SMS messaging efforts.

      of Cuba Broadcasting budget request: $23.5 millionIt's difficult to argue
      with efforts to expand access to information in Cuba. But some critics may
      raise some questions about the BBG's operations. Among them:

      - Should American taxpayers finance what may become the world's largest
      international news agency?
      - How does the BBG provide balanced and independent coverage while
      carrying out its stated intent of promoting U.S. foreign policy goals?
      - Should private NGOs and civic organizations - and not the U.S.
      government - take the lead role in helping Cubans break through the
      information blockade in their country?
      - In case of civil unrest in Cuba, what role will the BBG play? Will it
      inform? Or will it incite? Will it play an operational role in helping to
      organize a U.S.-backed opposition?
      - Is it possible that the BBG might use material collected - email
      addresses, mobile phone numbers and social networking data - to organize
      political activities or protests in a foreign country?
      - Does the agency make effective use of its budget, which was $751
      million in fiscal 2012?
      - Could publicly available software, social networking platforms or
      Internet tools accomplish any of the BBG's goals more cheaply and more
      - How many Cubans have access to BBG broadcasts?

      No doubt, the infusion of Internet freedom funds has boosted the BBG's
      technological capabilities. The agency now claims to operate "one of the
      most advanced Information Technology infrastructures in the entire Federal
      The BBG works with a number of organizations, including:

      - The U.S. Agency for International Development <http://www.usaid.gov/>
      - Radio Free Asia's Open Technology Fund <https://www.opentechfund.org/>
      - The State Department
      - The SAFER Warfighter Communications
      which is part of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, also known
      as DARPA <http://www.darpa.mil/>.

      A BBG fact sheet<https://docs.google.com/file/d/0B6Mo1c2bIFLWaXYweThhenIyUjQ/edit?usp=sharing>
      its Internet anti-censorship team:

      Is also reaching out to other groups interested in Internet freedom such as
      Google,Freedom House <http://www.freedomhouse.org/> and the National
      Endowment for Democracy�s Center for International Media

      The BBG calls its anti-censorship program "an extraordinary success story
      for global Internet freedom." The agency states:

      There have been increases in the number of web users in censored countries
      who now have nearly unrestricted access to content, and the BBG has
      expanded the range of useful tools with which to access our content. The
      main beneficiaries of the program are not only the citizens of China and
      Iran, but a dozen countries around the world, including Vietnam, Burma,
      Uzbekistan, Cuba and Somalia. Various country-specific tools are used that
      take into account the technical sophistication of the regimes� filtering
      mechanisms with the browsing habits of the citizens.

      For more details on the agency's IT efforts, see "Driving Transformation:
      2012 Technology, Services & Innovation Annual Performance
      The BBG has requested $720 million for fiscal 2013 for its programs around
      the globe. Its goals include becoming "the world�s leading international
      news agency by 2016" and reaching "key audiences in support of free, open,
      democratic societies."
      The sprawling agency has nearly 3,700 employees, including some 1,500
      journalists around the world. That is more than either the Fox News Channel
      or MSNBC. (See Pew Research Center's 2013 "State of the News
      report for statistics).
      CNN has said it has about 4,000 employees, slightly higher than the BBG's
      As part of its mission, the BBG says it promotes "U.S. foreign policy
      priorities" while remaining "fully independent editorially."
      A January 2013 Inspector General's
      BBG staffers, saying they carry out "journalism of the highest caliber" and
      have "a widespread devotion to supporting democracy and freedom."
      The report was mostly negative, however, and described the BBG board as
      "dysfunctional." It stated:

      The Board�s dysfunction stems from a flawed legislative structure and acute
      internal dissension. Board meetings are dominated by one member whose
      tactics and personal attacks on colleagues and staff have created an
      unprofessional and unproductive atmosphere.

      Inspector General's report is marked
      H. AsheThe report was marked "sensitive but unclassified." It blamed the
      board's "current paralysis" on a single member and said "the reputations of
      other Board members should not be damaged because of his tactics."
      The report said the member had an "insulting and intimidating manner,"
      which created needless tension and "hampers productive exchange."
      Inspectors didn't name the offending member, only describing him as a
      former mayor. The only ex-mayor on the board is Victor H.
      former mayor of Knoxville. He
      Washington Post that the report was �unwarranted, unfair and factually
      The American Federation of Government Employees Local 1812defended
      called the Inspector General's report a "hatchet job," and asked lawmakers
      to investigate why it was done.

      Note: This article was shared with the Center for Democracy in the Americas
      as part of a six-month collaborative project with non-profit group. See
      more about our collaboration

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