While the North American media continues to call the imprisonment of Alan Gross “proof of Cuba’s human rights violations,” the truth is beginning to break into the news. 

In March 2011, Gross was sentenced to 15 years for seeking to “undermine the integrity and independence” of Cuba.

While claiming to be a member of a Jewish humanitarian group, Gross was actually engaged in espionage activities inside the country.

One of the most significant news reports is an Associated Press article by Desmond Butler, revealing the U.S. aid contractor’s role in the so-called “democracy movement” which seeks to overthrow socialism on the island.

As Butler writes, “piece by piece, in backpacks and carry on bags …. Alan Gross made sure laptops, smartphones, hard drives and networking equipment were secreted into Cuba. The most sensitive item, according to official trip reports, was the last one: a specialized mobile phone chip that experts say is often used by the Pentagon and the CIA to make satellite signals virtually impossible to track.”

The operation was funded by the Agency for International Development (USAID), a conduit for the promotion of U.S. policy goals for over four decades.

At his trial, Gross said that he was a “trusting fool”. But his trip reports, according to Butler, show that he knew his activities were illegal.

Gross worked for JBDC Inc., which sets up Internet access in countries such as Iraq and Afghanistan. JBDC had been hired by Development Associates International Inc. (DAI), which had a contract with USAID to supply phone banks, satellite Internet and cell phones to “dissidents” in Cuba.

USAID officials reviewed Gross’ trip reports and received regular briefings, according to DAI. The reports were made available to Associated Press by an anonymous person familiar with the case.

Five such trip reports from 2009, ending with the arrest of Gross in December of that year, provide a fascinating glimpse into the actions of this amateur U.S. agent. Gross enlisted the help of others to bring in electronic equipment one piece at a time, in carry-on luggage.

On his final trip, he brought a “subscriber identity module” (SIM) card designed to keep satellite phone transmissions from being detected. This government-only SIM card is distributed frequently to the Defense Department, the CIA, and the State Department, which oversees USAID.

Given USAID’s historic record of subverting governments which are “unfriendly” to U.S. imperialism, Cuba considers all USAID activities to be illegal, including the distribution of high-tech communications equipment. Gross himself noted in a trip report that use of Internet satellite phones would be “problematic if exposed.”     

“Democracy promotion” programs, funded under a 1996 U.S. law calling for regime change in Cuba, are operated by the CIA as part of plans to destabilize the country. USAID got a big boost in funding under the Bush administration, including tens of millions of dollars to supply communications technology to Cubans who are in effect paid U.S. agents.

Gross was paid a half million dollars as a USAID subcontractor, anonymous officials told Associated Press. The U.S. claims that his work was not “subversive” because he was setting up connections for Cuba’s Jewish community, not for dissidents. But Jewish leaders say they were unaware of his links to the U.S. government, and that they already have internet connections.

Much of the equipment Gross brought is legal in Cuba, but the volume of the goods could have tipped authorities to his role. The “total equipment” listed on his fourth trip included 12 iPods, 11 BlackBerry Curve smartphones, three MacBooks, six 500 gigabyte external drives, three Internet satellite phones known as BGANs, three routers, three controllers, 18 wireless access points, 13 memory sticks, three phones to make calls over the Internet, and networking switches. Some pieces, such as the networking and satellite equipment, are explicitly forbidden in Cuba.

Gross claimed to have established wireless networks in three communities, with about 325 users, greatly improving communications to and from the U.S.

“Of course, this is covert work,” said Robert Pastor, former president Jimmy Carter’s national security adviser for Latin America and now director of the Center for Democracy and Election Management at American University in Washington. “It’s about regime change.”

March 1, 2012