As part of the deal to improve relations with Cuba, that government released Alan Gross from its prison and sent him back. Gross has been portrayed as a naive and innocent individual, a do-gooder trying to help ordinary Cubans and who, while engaged in perfectly innocuous activities on the island, was caught in the net of an oppressive government and unjustly held. That has been the dominant media narrative about Gross. At the State of the Union address, he was one of the president’s guests of honor and was given a shout-out during the speech.
John Stoehr writes that the truth about Gross was easy enough for the media to find out and report, and it does not square with how he is being portrayed.
He wasn’t “simply” helping ordinary Cubans. He wasn’t “taken hostage” and he was not “innocent” of breaking Cuban law. I don’t mean to falsely equate Obama’s and Rubio’s statements. One points to the failed policies of the past while the other points to a more pragmatic, hopeful and unknowable future. But the facts behind Gross’s escapades have been largely known since at least 2012 thanks to the dogged reporting of the Associated Press’s Desmond Butler. At the time of his release, any cub reporter could have searched newspaper archives to learn more about Gross. That his presence at the State of the Union address did not raise an eyebrow in Washington, that he was recognized as a kind of hero in the fight for democracy and justice around the world, speaks volumes to the impotence of our national media and the lengths to which President Obama is willing to go to end the still lingering absurdities of the Cold War.
In 2009, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) paid Alan Gross, through a third party, almost $600,000 to go to the island nation to install military-grade internet equipment in Jewish synagogues that could not be detected by the government in Havana.
In Cuba, Gross was part of a USAID program that was funded by the 1996 Helms-Burton Act, which codified the Kennedy-era Cuban Embargo into law and explicitly called for overthrow of the Castro regime. According to the Government Accountability Office, the United States government has spent more than $200 million since 1996 on so-called “pro-democracy programs” meant to destabilize the Cuban government from the inside.
Gross wasn’t only paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to subvert the Cuban government; he understood that by installing banned internet networks, he was breaking Cuban law (Havana tightly controls access to the internet).
When an AP reporter asked USAID how it could come to be that when he was caught Gross was in possession of things like a subscriber identity module (SIM) card available only to military and intelligence agencies, an official shrugged and said “We are a development agency, not an intelligence agency.”
That is not true. USAID is suspected around the world for sometimes serving as a front organization, embedding covert activities within its aid programs, in effect acting as a branch of the CIA. This was discussed in Sri Lanka way back when I was in college. As Peter Kornbluh says:
This is one of the saddest elements of this whole story, is the way the Obama administration has deceptively misrepresented these USAID programs. USAID, perhaps, is the new CIA here. And this all has a whiff of Iran-Contra kind of elements, in which, you may remember, Amy, you better than anybody, you know, back in the mid-1980s, when the CIA was banned from supporting the Contras in Central America by Congress and passed the operations to the National Security Council so that they could be conducted from there. And here we may have a situation where covert operations have simply been passed to USAID, where there isn’t very much scrutiny.
Stoehr’s full piece is worth reading because he goes into much more detail about USAID’s role in this.