Thursday, January 14, 2010

Questions about detained DAI subcontractor

The subcontractor is named, but little else is clear

La Alborada - January 13

It has taken a long time, but finally the subcontractor has been named. He is Alan P. Gross, head of Joint Business Development Center (JBDC) in the Chevy Chase suburb of Washington, D.C.

The New York Times and the Washington Post both covered the news yesterday in reports not from wire services but by respective teams of assigned staff writers, each including a team member in Mexico City. The Times gave as its primary source unnamed "American officials"; the Post cited "former colleagues and other sources." It sounds like the State Department gave selected information to the two chosen newspapers, but not for attribution, and did so in Mexico City --not in New York and Washington-- for whatever reasons.

The reports suggested the understanding that readers should reach. That is, essentially, that Gross is a social worker who likes to help people in other countries, and would certainly not be a government agent. The Times transmitted the unofficial official story this way: "American officials say that Mr. Gross had gone to Cuba as part of a United States government program and was providing encouragement and financial assistance to religious nonprofit groups...[the unnamed officials] flatly dispute any allegations that he is a spy."

The Times cited also unnamed people who know Gross: "Mr. Gross has visited Cuba several times, delivering computer and satellite equipment to three Jewish community groups, according to people with knowledge of his work...The people who know about his work, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to comment on the matter, said Mr. Gross was sent to research how the groups were making use of the equipment he had previously distributed to them."

This information contradicts the version of the American officials. While the officials talked about "encouragement and financial assistance," people "with knowledge of his work" said that Gross was sent to research how groups were making use of the computer and satellite equipment he had previously delivered. And the latter statement, of course, contradicts earlier assertions from the contracting company, DAI, that Gross was in Havana handing out equipment to underserved Cubans. As we point out below, all of this is contradicted in turn by the Post's account.

The Times did cite someone by name, a friend, who offered that "The Alan I know is someone who is concerned only about helping improve the human condition, not meddling in people’s politics." But another unidentified source, an unnamed "aide to a Democratic Senator," opined that "This is the kind of thing we do all over the world when we are trying to reach people their governments don’t want us to reach. It’s na├»ve to think that if we asked Cuba for permission, we’d get it."

The Post, for its part, cited its own unidentified sources to the effect that Gross was "working on a U.S. government project to help the island's Jewish community access the Internet." Matching the Times, it also cited an acquaintance's opinion that Gross was innocent: "It was probably pure naiveness, innocence -- not seeing anything wrong with what he was doing...He's definitely not a shrewd, calculating person. He's someone who genuinely gets into situations because he thinks he can help."

The Post's unnamed "sources familiar with Gross' work" explained that "he was helping Cubans download music, access Wikipedia and read the Encyclopaedia Britannica, which was provided on flash drives. The project is also aimed at helping members of the small Cuban Jewish community communicate among themselves and with Jews overseas," activities different from those mentioned by all of the other sources cited. The president of the contracting corporation, Development Alternatives, said that Gross "was trying to facilitate communications in 'a nonviolent, non-dissident religious organization."

Given the kaleidoscopic series of opinions, we looked on Internet for information on Gross' corporation. A direct link to the company was inactive, but on a page in cache, dated November 24, 2009, the company had this to say about itself:

The World Is Your Marketplace!

JBDC provides practical 21st century solutions to business, government, associations, and humanitarian aid organizations, globally. JBDC brings three decades of experience from completing successful results-oriented projects in more than 50 countries, with expertise in:

1. Economic and Community Development
2. New Media Technical Implementation Strategies
3. Rural Internet Access and Intranet Development
4. Global Managed VSAT Services
5. Business and ICT Development Services
6. Trade Facilitation

JBDC is described elsewhere as "a 501(c)(3) non-profit corporation that fosters economic strength and independence of emerging free-market business communities," and, more specifically, in these terms:

JBDC brings 21st century solutions to business, associations, government and aid organizations in emerging markets, globally.

JBDC is dedicated to designing, funding and implementing programs to advance economic and business development locally and globally. In recent years JBDC has supported Internet connectivity in locations where there was little or no access. In the past two years JBDC has installed more than 60 satellite terminals, bringing Internet access, email, VoIP, fax and the like to remote locations in Iraq, Afghanistan, Armenia, and Kuwait.

The site also lists the following areas of operation for JDBC: "Africa, Caribbean, Latin America, Middle East, Fr. Soviet Union." The areas of work are listed on another site as "Iraq, Afghanistan, Central and Eastern Europe, Former Soviet Union, Middle East".

The latter site, with information dated 2005, provides the following data, which highlight the underlying tension between JDBC's status as a tax-exempt non-profit organization helping people to communicate and its market-driven and business-oriented mission:

Chief Executive Profile
Mr. Gross is founder and executive director of JBDC. He has worked in nearly 60 countries in areas of economic and business development, trade and investment, market development, institutional monitoring and evaluation, and organizational development.

Mission
Advance the business, economic and independent development of emerging communities as they progress toward free-market economies and enterprise systems. Foster the development of private enterprise in emerging markets by using reliable, results-oriented business practices.

Programs
These are to be accomplished by infusing human, technical and financial capital in "next phase" businesses. JBDC sponsors MicroNet, providing broadband internet access for microenterprises in remote locations, globally. JBDC collaborates with private industry to address development issues with 21st century solutions.

Accomplishments for Fiscal Year Ending December 31, 2005
1. Established new VSAT installations in Afghanistan, Armenia, Iraq and Kuwait.
2. Continues to support MicroNet activities and USAID-funded IQCs, such as RAISE PLUS and AMAP.
3. Continued support for humanitarian activities in Cuba, Palestine and Israel.

Objectives for Fiscal Year Beginning January 1, 2006
1. Secure new funding as appropriate to accomplish mission.
2. Expand operations in new target countries.
3. Manage ongoing activities worldwide.

For calendar year 2004, the company reported revenue of $405,419 in Program Services (Contributions and Government Grants were zero). Apparently, its micro-clients were able to come up with almost half a million dollars collectively to pay for the company's services that year.

In sum, we now know the name of the subcontractor, but not what his company really does, although the company itself says that it focuses on creating access to Internet through its own satellite network. Mr. Gross is described as a social worker, but his small charitable company, ranging worldwide, advances expert market-driven "solutions." Information published by the Times and the Post is contradictory internally to the respective reports and between them, as well as compared to what the company that contracted him says. "American officials" were a source for both newspaper stories, but declined to identify themselves.

Surely, there is more to this story.

We still have not heard from Cuba. New and contradictory information from that country, but from named officials, can be expected.

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