If the CIA and USAID thought that their bastard offspring, ZunZuneo, the failed “Cuban Twitter”, was going to be just a brief blip on the radar, they can think again. The scandal just widened to two more countries.
First up, Costa Rica:
The Costa Rican newspaper, La Nación, confirmed that the leader of the ZunZuneo operation, an illegal network financed by the US government against Cuba, was Joseph “Joe” Duke McSpedon, and had a base of sorts in the nation without the authorities knowing about the project.
McSpedon was accredited in San José while working for USAID’s Office of Transition Initiatives, a division created after the fall of the Soviet Union to defend US interests in political surroundings which were changing quickly without having to deal with the usual bureaucracy.
The project was planned and the launch of the network was managed in Costa Rica, said the newspaper.
Immigration registries obtained by La Nación showed that McSpedon came to Costa Rica on 42 occasions between 2009 and 2011, on commercial and private flights.
There were also two more people working on the project in San José, contracted by Creative Associates, a Washington consulting firm.
They are Noy Villalobos Echeverría, who stayed in Costa Rica for periods of up to three months, according to immigration documents, and his brother, Mario Bernheim Echeverría, a young programmer who developed the system for sending mass messages to Cuba.
The team in charge of the project began to operate in 2009 from a secret office in San José, according to AP. However, according to La Nación, USAID has had no official representation in Costa Rica since 1996.
The president’s office of Costa Rica called the clandestine USAID operation to provoke social discontent in Cuba a “grave affront” to the land.
“It is necessary to investigate the case, it’s very grave. If it’s true, it’s a grave affront to Costa Rica. It’s a job for the Foreign Ministry. But of course we have to ask for an explanation,” said the minister of Communication, Carlos Roverssi, to La Nación.
The US diplomatic mission in San José refused to talk of the matter and only gave out the official communiqué from USAID, in which it admits its participation in the development of the ZunZuneo social network.
The secret office functioned separately from the US embassy. “It was an unusual operation which raised eyebrows in Washington,” reported AP.
Consulted by the Costa Rican daily, analyst Carlos Murillo opined that the government must solicit information from the United States “to determine if there was any violation in the activities which were realized by the project in the country.”
And that’s not the only place that these three “amigos” from USAID have cropped up in Central America. They’re also well known in Nicaragua:
An employee of the US embassy in Managua participated in the network of anti-Cuba subversion known as ZunZuneo, while Nicaraguan intelligence was mocked, along with TELCOR, the telecommunications regulator of the land, according to local media.
According to the press offices, Mario Bernheim Echeverría, one of the principal programmers of ZunZuneo, was subcontracted by his brother, Noy Villalobos Echeverría, manager of Creative Associates International, under the auspices of USAID.
The daily newspaper, La Prensa de Nicaragua, stated that “it is known that Bernheim currently works for USAID Nicaragua; however; this has not been denied, nor confirmed by this office of co-operation.
“La Prensa obtained the information that this systems programmer was a new employee in the US embassy, for which reason we contacted the embassy spokesman in Managua, Thomas Hamm, but we were directed straight to voice mail,” added the daily.
Joe McSpedon, a US government functionary, met in 2010 with a team of high-tech specialists — Bernheim Echeverría among them — to create this social network intended to undermine the government of Cuba.
Bernheim’s job was to create a text-messaging network for cellphones, which could reach hundreds of thousands of Cubans, with the purpose of inspiring an uprising on the island.
The Nicaraguan brothers, Mario Bernheim Echeverriía and Noy Villalobos Echeverría, were fingered in an AP investigation, which would uncover this covert US government operation, as being the creators of the network, which mocked the control of Nicaraguan authorities.
One of the network’s bases of operation was in Managua, another in San José (Costa Rica) and one other, the USAID head office in Washington, according to the AP, declared its satisfaction in the way the network operated. It failed to achieve its objectives, but it functioned without Nicaragua’s government knowing what was going on.
According to the Nicaraguan newspaper La Trinchera, the Nicaraguan telecommunications regulatory body, TELCOR, “did not have the means to monitor an operation so sophisticated, leading one to think that the Nicaraguan state doesn’t have the ability to provide security to the country against information crimes.”
Well, it seems that at the very least, the Nicaraguan government COULD take action against the Brothers Echeverría, since they are Nicaraguan citizens. Assuming, that is, that Washington won’t be supplying them with airline tickets to Miami, and expedited US citizenship. After all, Latin American scumbags, spooks and terrorists all have a funny way of falling up if they work for Washington…