A Maryland software company that plans to send thousands of text messages to Cuban cell phone users every week received a separate U.S. government contract in July to manage an “email blasting subscription service” for the Broadcasting Board of Governors, or BBG.
That contract was worth $24,275 and was scheduled to end no later than Nov. 30, 2011. The contract description does not give any details about the “email blasting” service.
The BBG oversees TV and Radio Martí, which were designed to send news broadcasts into Cuba, where the socialist government exercises heavy control over the media.
Washington Software, based in Germantown, Md., has 11 employees and reports annual revenue of $560,000. Federal documents list it as an “Asian Pacific American owned business.”
The company website does not list the names of any of the employees.
Five Washington Software employees are registered on LinkedIn. Company president Michael Chung’s LinkedIn profile includes the following information:
I have been part of the IT community for many years as a technical person and a business owner. My specialty is in IT application security, software development process, project management, requirements analysis, and system design. My goal is to build secure applications that save time and money for different organizations.
- IT Consultant at Impaq International
- President at Washington Software, Inc. (Self-employed)
- Consultant at Abt Associates
- Data Modeler Consultant at Stelco
- Smalltalk Consultant at Guardian
- Smalltalk Mentor at Verizon
- Smalltalk Consultant at Tellabs
- Computer Consultant at Chicago Solutions Group
- Smalltalk Consultant at AllState
- Smalltalk Consultant at CCH
- Research Assistant, Department of Aviation at University of Illinois
- Programmer, University Systems at The Ohio State University
- Chinese University of Hong Kong
- La Salle College
- The Ohio State University
Other employees listed on LinkedIn, Google Plus and Spoke include sales manager Tom Franks, Andrew Leung and David Lam, a former computer science teaching assistant at the University of Texas at Dallas.
The company’s registered agent is Wai Pong Leung, of Silver Spring, Md., according to Maryland state corporate records.
The company’s Twitter handle is WSIncorporated and has been on Twitter since August 2010.
As of tonight, its 23 followers included several Cuban democracy advocates and at least one defender of the socialist revolution, Yohandry Fontana.
CubaDebate, Granma and other state-run publications in Cuba criticized the planned texting campaign as a weapon in a “cyber-war” that the U.S. is purportedly waging against the socialist government.
Martí News countered that the U.S. government is only trying to help give Cubans access to information that is difficult to access in their country. The website said:
There is nothing more humane and proper than to provide and receive information. But the Cuban government very much fears that the people will get it and calls it a crime to access or divulge it, and it spends millions of dollars trying to interfere with any information that does not come from its own propaganda apparatus.
The Cuban government has forgotten, or wants to forget that Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states: “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek their opinions, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers, by any means of expression.”
Martí News said such efforts were made legal by the Radio Broadcasting to Cuba Act. Then-President Ronald Reagan signed the act on Oct. 4, 1983. He said the act:
responds to an important foreign policy initiative of my administration: to break Fidel Castro’s monopoly on news and information within Cuba. For the first time in the 25 years of Communist domination of Cuba, the Cuban people will be able to hear the truth, and to hear it in detail, about Cuban domestic and foreign policy. The Cuban people will be in a better position to make Cuba’s leaders accountable for their conduct in foreign policy, economic management, and human rights.
… I am satisfied this legislation will permit the new Cuba service to broadcast programs that promote freedom in Cuba, while maintaining the historic high standards of the Voice of America for accuracy and reliability. This kind of broadcasting is 25 years overdue.
The text messages will not be sent to users indiscriminately, like spam, according to a project description. Instead, messages will go only to subscribers.
Cubans who want to receive the text messages will each have user names and passwords, and the contractor will be required to carefully guard the distribution list.
The U.S. government asks that the contractor be capable of sending message blasts of 1,800 to 3,600 messages per hour.
Radio/TV Martí uses such messages to deliver news and information to Cuba, the same kind that the stations already broadcast to the island, station director Carlos García-Perez told reporter Juan Tamayo of El Nuevo Herald.
We try to get our information into Cuba through whatever means are possible, and text messaging is increasingly available in Cuba.
State-run news organizations in Cuba insisted the plans are illegal. García-Perez denied that, telling Tamayo:
I don’t know what they are talking about. We work openly, publicly, transparently. We have nothing to hide.