Twitter employees charged with spying for Saudi Arabia

Exterior of glass-walled office building with Twitter logo on a column

On Tuesday, former Twitter employee Ahmad Abouammo, a USA citizen, was arrested in Seattle for allegedly spying on the accounts of three users, one whose posts discussed insider information on Saudi leadership, on behalf of the government in Riyadh, according to the criminal complaint obtained by Fox News.

The FBI said Ahmad AbouAmmo, then the head of Twitter partnerships for the Middle East and North Africa, and Ahmed Almutairi, a Saudi national doing public relations for the KSA, are charged with illegally acting as an agent of a foreign government, and the destruction, adjustment or falsification of records in federal investigations. Abdulaziz later became close to Jamal Khashoggi who was murdered by Saudi agents in Istanbul past year.

Saud al-Qahtani, the royal court's media czar and a close confidant of Prince Mohammed, has long elicited fear in the kingdom, earning nicknames such as "troll master", "Mr Hashtag" and "lord of the flies" for managing an electronic army to intimidate critics of the kingdom. Almutairi is alleged to have met Alzabarah and connected him to Saudi officials, and is also charged with failing to disclose his work for a foreign government. They passed internal Twitter data on users "of interest to [Al Asaker] and the Saudi Royal Family". While Ahmad Abouammo was arrested from Seattle in Washington, Ali Alzabarah and Ahmed Almutairi are still in Saudi Arabia, the US Justice Department said.

The accounts he accessed included at least 33 users for which Saudi Arabian law enforcement had submitted emergency disclosure requests to Twitter.

Even after leaving the company, Abouammo allegedly contacted friends at Twitter to facilitate Saudi government requests, such as for account verification and to shutter accounts that had violated the terms of service.

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For spying on certain users, generally critics of Saudi Arabia, the men were promised tens of thousands of dollars a day and designer watches, according to court documents.

San Francisco - Saudi Arabia's government recruited two Twitter employees to get personal account information on some of their critics, prosecutors with the U.S. Department of Justice said Wednesday. In its investigation, the Central Intelligence Agency concluded that the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman had personally ordered Khashoggi's murder. Asaker paid Abouammo a minimum of $300,000 (plus a $20,000 Hublot watch) for his espionage work, while Alzabarah reportedly became the director of bin Salman's private office.

Twitter thanked the DoJ and the FBI for supporting the investigation.

"We recognize the lengths bad actors will go to try and undermine our service", Twitter said in a statement.

The indictment points an unusually public finger at Saudi Arabia, a USA ally that maintains warm ties with President Donald Trump despite its bad human rights record.

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