The idea was to build up a large social network through targeted text message blasts, allowing Cubans to communicate with one another free of charge and beyond the reach of the country’s tightly regulated internet, while enabling US officials to feed them information from the outside world. Using a list of phone numbers obtained from a worker at Cubacel, Cuba’s state-owned telecommunications company, USAID and its team of contractors began by blasting out texts about “non-controversial content” like soccer and music. Once ZunZuneo’s network reached a critical mass, they would begin sending out more politically-charged texts, in the hopes that they would spark demonstrations against the regime of Raul Castro and “renegotiate the balance of power between state and society,” as one USAID document reads.
“THERE WILL BE ABSOLUTELY NO MENTION OF UNITED STATES GOVERNMENT INVOLVEMENT.”
ZunZuneo abruptly disappeared in mid-2012, when USAID says the project ran out of funding, but at its peak it had more than 40,000 subscribers — mostly young Cubans whom officials considered the most likely to pursue political change. The agency used a network of shell companies under a Cayman Islands bank account to cover its tracks and evade Cuban intelligence, and used fake banner ads to make it seem like a legitimate business. USAID also used targeted text message polls to gather intelligence on ZunZuneo users.
US secretly funded social media network in #Cuba to stir political unrest
— WTOC Ben Williamson (@benlwilliamson) April 3, 2014