A 60-year-old American Jewish social worker may have gotten caught in the crossfire between the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and the Cuban government.
Alan P. Gross, a former volunteer organizer in the presidential campaign for the current President Barack Obama, is being held in Cuba on suspicion of spying for the United States after having been arrested last month by Cuban authorities. U.S. government officials confirmed in a report published by the New York Times that Gross traveled to Cuba under an American program that provides funding and technical support to faith-based nonprofit organizations, linked to USAID.
A resident of a Washington D.C. suburb, Gross was allegedly in Cuba to provide communications equipment to Jewish nonprofit organizations there. One problem, however, is that he appears to have lacked a proper visa.
Nonetheless, U.S. officials insisted that he is not a spy, nor were his activities “subversive” in any way. The Havana government, however, has labeled his work as a threat to national security, although to date, he has not been formally charged by the Cuban government. The U.S. has received very little information from Havana as to the specific allegations against him.
According to a statement issued by Development Alternatives Inc., an organization which operates as a contractor for USAID, Gross's work in Cuba "was focused on facilitating communications among people in a nonviolent, non-dissident religious organization.”
An international development specialist, Gross has traveled to some 50 countries around the world, including Afghanistan, Armenia, Iraq and Kuwait. He had also been to Cuba before, to bring satellite and other communications equipment to three Jewish community organizations. One source who requested anonymity said that the current trip had been intended to allow Gross to observe how the previously delivered equipment was being utilized.
Although there was no evidence to indicate that the program with which Gross was associated had any links to covert operations, the incident has prompted the chairman of the powerful Senate Foreign Relations Committee, U.S. Senator John Kerry, to call for a comprehensive review of USAID programs. Unnamed officials told the New York Times they suspected Cuba wanted to expose the agency's undercover programs. The officials said funding for the agency's 'semi-covert' programs in Cuba has skyrocketed from $5 million to $45 million over the past decade, and said these programs had a history of mismanagement.
USAID in the Middle East has also been funded to the tune of millions of dollars, all of it funnelld as aid to the Palestinian Authority. In the early part of 2009, a USAID-funded project to place non-Hebrew road signs in English and Arabic throughout Judea and Samaria was announced by the PA, for example -- the first of its kind since Jordan lost control of the region after attacking Israel in June 1967.
The agency also helps the PA build schools where Arab children learn incitement against Jews, and where they are taught that the State of Israel does not exist, investigative journalist David Bedein reported in November 2009.