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Congress To Hold Hearing On ‘Cuban Twitter’

Congress announced that it will hold hearings next week following revelations that a U.S. government agency secretly created a "Cuban Twitter" communications network, while Cuban officials condemned the program and asked the U.S. to cease "illegal" and "covert" operations on the island.

USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah is scheduled to testify Tuesday before a Senate subcommittee chaired by Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., who called the project "dumb, dumb, dumb" on MSNBC Thursday.

Cuban users of the social network, called ZunZuneo, were not aware that the more than two-year program was created by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).

On Thursday State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf told reporters the program was neither "secret" nor "covert" under the U.S. government's definitions of those terms, calling it "democracy promotion."

Cuban-American Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., who chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, defended the initiative. "The whole purpose of our democracy programs, whether it be in Cuba or other parts of the world, is in part to create a free flow of information in closed societies," Menendez said.

US Used Social Media to Sow Dissent in Cuba 2:25

Some experts say that if the purpose of the program was to undermine the communist regime - it essentially backfired.

Still, Cuban officials lashed out at the program. Josefina Vidal, director of U.S. affairs at Cuba's Foreign Ministry, said it "shows once again that the United States government has not renounced its plans of subversion against Cuba."

In Cuba, 32-year-old blogger Carlos Alberto Perez, said on his blog that "it offends me. What they did is intrusive."

Others seemed indifferent. A young man holding an older cell phone told NBC News "it makes no difference because there's no freedom of expression here to begin with."

Another young woman, working on a laptop on a campus green, said the news did not surprise her. "Everybody spies on everybody."

- NBC News' Sandra Lilley, Mary Murray, The Associated Press and Reuters