From a story in today’s New York Times:
A Twitter-like social media site created and financed by the United States Agency for International Development for use in Cuba was an attempt to promote open communications among citizens on the island nation, not a covert attempt to overthrow the government, the agency’s top official told members of Congress during a hearing on Tuesday.
Now this from a post yesterday on the NYT’s Bits Blog. Bear in mind that Hillary Clinton was secretary of state for most or all of the time this “Cuban Twitter” program was running.
Mrs. Clinton said that social media, and Twitter in particular, played a major role in the toppling of the Mubarak government in Egypt. But she said she was disappointed that many of the people who used social media tools during the uprising then shunned organized politics.
And this from a 2010 essay in Foreign Affairs by Google executive chairman Eric Schmidt and Google Ideas chief Jared Cohen.
The advent and power of connection technologies — tools that connect people to vast amounts of information and to one another — will make the twenty-first century all about surprises. Governments will be caught off-guard when large numbers of their citizens, armed with virtually nothing but cell phones, take part in mini-rebellions that challenge their authority.
Cohen served on the Policy Planning Staff at State from 2006 to 2010, during which time the “Cuban Twitter” program started. As his Wikipedia bio notes,
In the midst of the June 2009 protests in Iran, Cohen sought to support the opposition in Iran. He contacted Twitter, requesting that the company not perform planned maintenance that would have temporarily shut down service in Iran, because the protestors were using Twitter to maintain contact with the outside world. According to The New Yorker Ryan Lizza, “The move violated Obama’s rule of non-interference, and White House officials were furious.” In an interview with Clinton, she “did not betray any disagreement with the President over Iran policy,” but “cited Cohen’s move with pride.”
I understand that Dr. Shah has a job to do, but given that context, it is disingenuous to assert that U.S. efforts to promote open communications in Cuba and other hostile dictatorships like Iran are not about regime change. They’ll keep saying it because that’s what politics and diplomacy demand, and I will keep calling bullshit. Of course, what really matters is how other governments and populations perceive it, but I don’t think they’re any more credulous than I.