State: 'Cuban Twitter' never reached secretary's desk

 

The "Cuban Twitter" program revealed Thursday did not reach the desk of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, a department spokeswoman said. 

The program, which was reportedly created in Cuba as an effort to undermine its communist government, also ended before current Secretary of State John Kerry assumed office. 

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"It is my understanding that this did not reach the secretary's office, either the previous secretary of State," spokeswoman Marie Harf said during a briefing Thursday. "Obviously this ended before Secretary Kerry came in. He also was unaware of this program. It went through the normal [U.S. Agency for International Development] chain in terms of approval as well."

Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) on Thursday questioned what advice was given to Clinton on the program, funded while she led the State Department, in 2009.

Leahy said it surprised him that the now-defunct program happened under her watch, calling it "dumb." Leahy, who is chairman of the Appropriation subcommittee in charge of the funding, said he was never notified about it. 

"I think she did a great job as secretary of State," he said. "I'm just wondering what kind of advice she was given on something like this."

The State Department defended the program and said Congress was notified of it. USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah is scheduled to testify before Congress next week and will likely face questions about it. 

"I'm not going to speak for the senator," Harf said. "But again, we submitted a congressional notification in 2008 outlining what we were doing in Cuba. I can't speak to why he knows certain things or doesn't know certain things."

The agency helped fund the program, which aimed to build a large subscriber base in Cuba on a platform similar to Twitter. The Associated Press reported the aim was to eventually introduce political content that could trigger revolution in the country, or "renegotiate the balance of power between the state and society."

"Random meeting notes that were provided to you of one brainstorming session in no way indicate what the overall purpose was of this $1.2 million project," Harf said in regard to portions of the AP report.

Subscribers in Cuba never knew it was funded through the U.S. government and documents show the company behind it took pains to mask U.S. involvement. 

Harf, like others in the administration, said it is "dangerous to mischaracterize these programs as covert, as classified, as secret, because this was not."

She said those terms have specific definitions. And painting the program that way, she said, feeds into conspiracy theories about the United States.  

"In many places around the world, there are many misperceptions out there and conspiracy theories about what the United States is or isn't doing,” she said. “So we don't want that kind of misperception to play into what we know are just falsehoods being perpetrated in other parts of the world."