By Juan O. Tamayo, JTamayo@elNuevoHerald.com
The documents were definitely not classified as secret. But they contained detailed information about U.S. government programs to help Cuban dissidents that Havana has outlawed as a semi-clandestine campaign to topple the communist system.
So when the U.S. Agency for International Development mistakenly used an unencrypted line to send the documents to U.S. diplomats in Havana, USAID officials were chagrined and some of the authors of the document were incredulous.
“An amazingly stupid thing to do,” said an official of one of the groups that generated the documents — minutely detailed applications for a $6 million USAID program to train emerging leaders of Cuba’s non-government sectors.
His application of more than 200 pages contained a complete history of his past work with USAID’s pro-democracy programs in Cuba, the official said, some names of possible trainees and venues where they might be trained.
USAID has played down the impact of the mistake, arguing that the U.S. government never classified the pro-democracy programs as secret or even confidential.
“Nothing about USAID’s Cuba program is classified. We simply carry out programs in a discreet manner to help ensure the safety of all those involved,” said USAID spokesman Karl Duckworth.
But the agency’s own documents highlight the security concerns surrounding the program.
“Given the nature of the Cuban regime and the political sensitivity of the USAID Program, USAID cannot be held responsible for any injury or inconvenience suffered by individuals traveling to the island under USAID . . . funding,” one agency contract states.
A slide presentation for non-government organizations (NGOs) that have been awarded USAID grants advises them to report any “Security Concerns, including Government of Cuba harassment and detention.”
Alan P. Gross, a USAID subcontractor from Maryland, is serving a 15-year prison term in Havana for delivering to Cuban Jews three satellite telephones, paid for by the U.S. government, so they could have direct and uncensored access to the Internet.
It was therefore shocking when USAID officials told applicants for the $6 million in grants in September that their applications had been sent to U.S. diplomats in Havana for their review on an unsecure line instead of the usual encrypted line.