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Gross family, DAI negotiate to settle $60 million lawsuit.

Lawyers for jailed development worker Alan Gross and DAI, a Maryland contractor, are in negotiations aimed at settling the Gross family's $60 million lawsuit against the company.

Cuban authorities arrested Gross in late 2009 and accused him of crimes against the state after he set up satellite Internet connections in Havana and two other cities.

Gross, 63, and his wife Judy sued DAI and the U.S. government in November, saying they sent him to Cuba "without even the most basic education, training or warnings, which ultimately resulted in his detention in Cuba."

DAI, based in Bethesda, Md., denies the accusation and says it had "little authority" over Gross while he carried out the perilous democracy project.

Gross envisioned setting up satellite Internet connections for Cuban Jews in seven provinces, then expanding his effort to include as many as 30,000 Masons at more than 300 lodges across the country, his statement said.

Cuban Jews had "strategic value" in the democracy project because of their religious, financial and humanitarian ties to the U.S., Gross said in an October 2008 memo to DAI.

Synagogues were a "secure springboard via which information dissemination will be expanded," Gross wrote in the 27-page memo.

The memo and other documents filed in April in U.S. District Court give new details about the original scope of the multimilliondollar project, which was designed to go far beyond helping Jews connect online, as the State Department has repeatedly suggested.

DAI has asked Judge James E. Boasberg to dismiss the case. Lawyers involved in the case must submit their arguments to court by May 16 unless the case is settled before then.

Gross said in a sworn statement filed in March that DAI held secret meetings without him and refused to tell him what other subcontractors were working on the company's Cuba project. DAI lawyers counter that Gross knew the risks of working in Cuba and cannot blame the company for his jailing. The U.S. government was calling the shots, they say.

Gross's lawyers say DAI is simply trying to evade its responsibility.

MEMO: NGOs 'USEFUL' IN DEMOCRACY PROJECT

In a motion filed in U.S. District Court, they wrote, "... DAI professes deep concern over Plaintiff Alan Gross's incarceration in Cuba, while simultaneously seeking to avoid any responsibility for the fact that it put him there."

Adding to the drama, Gross said DAI employee Jack McCarthy called his wife after his arrest and said someone from the company would be stopping by to retrieve his laptop.

"Within one week of Alan's initial detention," Judy Gross said in a sworn statement, "Mr. McCarthy contacted me by telephone and said that DAI would need to take Alan's personal laptop from our home to 'wipe' certain information from it for Alan's 'protection.'

"DAI representatives subsequently obtained the laptop from me. Within a week after that, Mr. McCarthy advised me to come to DAI to retrieve the laptop, which I did. My attorneys and I have not yet been able to determine with any certainty what information DAI deleted from Alan's laptop or what other modifications DAI may have performed."

The U.S. Agency for International Development had awarded DAI a $28 million contract to carry out the democracy project in 2008. DAI asked Gross to join the effort and told him he was the project's top subcontractor.

Gross and others transported satellite Internet gear to Cuba and installed it at synagogues in Havana, Camaguey and Santiago de Cuba.

Gross's 2008 memo said U.S.-based humanitarian organizations that take computers and other supplies to Jews in Cuba could be useful in DAI's democracy project. One possible implication is that these groups could be used, perhaps unwittingly, to shuttle equipment to Cuba, although Gross doesn't explain in detail what he had in mind.

He wrote that Cuban Jews and later Masons could help DAI establish an information and communications technologies "foothold."

"These groups are likely targets for succesfully establishing a low-profile ICT foothold," Gross wrote. "Both have extended organizational networks and communities throughout the island and both are connected or have strong institutional relationships with U.S. faith-based and humanitarian organizations that frequently sponsor island missions."

PLAN TARGETED SYNAGOGUES, MASONIC LODGES

In his proposal to DAI, Gross proposed setting up Internet sites at 12 Jewish centers in the provinces of Havana, Villa Clara, Cienfuegos, Guantanamo, Granma, Camaguey and Santiago de Cuba.

Some 1,800 men, women and youth--far more than the island's entire Jewish population--were synagogue members and thus the initial target of the democracy project.

"Members of the primary target group will be able to help train members of the secondary target group in the event of a follow on project," Gross wrote.

The secondary target included members of 319 Masonic lodges in Cuba. An infographic Gross submitted to DAI also cites "youth, women and Afro-Cubans."

Gross said in court documents he was coordinating some of his activities with the Pan American Development Foundation--another organization that had received U.S. government funds to try to hasten Cuba's transition to democracy.

Cuban agents wound up infiltrating PADF's operation in Cuba. One of the organization's main contacts, Jose Manuel Collera Vento, former head of the Freemasons fraternal organization in Cuba, turned out to be an informant for Cuban state security.

At the time, Gross headed a small company called JBDC. He worried about the Cuban government's counterespionage efforts and was especially concerned about the fate of his contacts in Cuba's Jewish community.

His 2008 memo underscored the need for secrecy: "All information on this page is considered highly confidential and is not to be disclosed or reproduced for distribution without the expressed written permission of JBDC, LLC. Failure to comply with this could lead to irreparable harm to certain parties on the island."

DAI WORRIED ABOUT REPLACING GROSS

In court documents, Gross's lawyer said DAI's biggest concern was figuring out who would replace him if he could no longer carry out the project.

A one-page memo from DAI to Gross stated, "Given your concerns regarding your ability to remain on the island, please indicate in writing your contingency plan in the case that you are unable to continue working on the island for whatever reason. Who will take over to see the project to completion?"

Gross replied that if he were to become persona non grata in Cuba, his company, JBDC, would pick a new leader.

"We have several (3) excellent candidates with whom we have worked for more than five years on field information projects," Gross wrote. "In the event that the project director becomes PNG, a JBDC decision will be made concerning who will resume field leadership with the confidence that DAI will approve. A key aspect in this decision will mainly involve availability."

Gross never reached his goal of setting up Internet sites in 12 communities in seven provinces. Nor is there evidence he expanded his project to include Masons. Gross did travel to Cuba to begin the project's second phase, but was arrested as he tried to leave the island.

Tracey Eaton, former Havana bureau chief of the Dallas Morning News, now lives in St. Augustine, Fla., and writes regularly for CubaNews.

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Title Annotation:Development Alternatives Inc.; Alan Gross
Author:Eaton, Tracey
Publication:CubaNews
Geographic Code:5CUBA
Date:Apr 1, 2013
Words:1255
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