Two former Twitter employees and a third man from Saudi Arabia face US charges of spying on the kingdom by digging up private user data and giving it to Saudi officials in exchange for a payment, according to a complaint from the US Department of Justice. UU.
Ali Alzabarah and Ahmad Abouammo, who used to work for Twitter, and Ahmed Almutairi, who later worked for the Saudi royal family, face charges of working for the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia without registering as foreign agents, according to the complaint filed against them on Wednesday.
The accusation points an unusually public finger at Saudi Arabia, an ally of the United States that maintains warm ties with the president of the United States, Donald Trump, despite his irregular human rights record.
Many Republican and Democratic lawmakers already deeply criticize Riyadh's conduct in the war in Yemen and the assassination in 2018 in a Saudi consulate of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who was based in the United States and wrote for the Washington Post.
Despite the pressure, Trump has backed the kingdom and its de facto ruler, Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, who appears in the complaint as a member of the royal family-1, according to the Washington Post, which initially reported the charges.
The charges also put Silicon Valley companies in the spotlight once again on how they protect the intimate details they collect about their users, including employees without legitimate reasons to access the information.
According to the complaint, Abouammo repeatedly accessed the Twitter account of a leading critic of the Saudi royal family in early 2015. At one point, he could see the email address and phone number associated with the account.
He also accessed the account of a second Saudi critic to obtain personally identifiable information.
Twitter discovered Alzabarah's unauthorized access to private data and placed it on an administrative license at the end of 2015, but not before it had taken advantage of data from more than 6,000 accounts, including 33 for which Saudi authorities had sent requests for application of the law to Twitter, according to the complaint.
"This information could have been used to identify and locate the Twitter users who published these publications," the United States Department of Justice said in a press release.
Almutairi, on the other hand, is accused of acting as an intermediary between the Saudi government and Twitter employees.
Abouammo, who is a US citizen, was arrested in Seattle, Washington, while the other two are presumed to be in Saudi Arabia, the department said. Abouammo was ordered to remain behind bars pending a detention hearing on Friday.
Payment for information
The two former Twitter employees received cash and other rewards, such as an expensive watch, in exchange for the information they shared, according to the complaint.
Later, Abouammo said the watch was worth $ 35,000 in communications with potential buyers on Craigslist.org.
They appeared to have been cultivated by a senior Saudi official, identified by the Washington Post as Bader al-Asaker, the close advisor to Prince Mohammad who now heads the private office of the crown prince and the MiSK charity.
Most contacts occurred in 2014 and 2015, when the crown prince was coming to power, according to the United States complaint.
One man posted a photo of himself with the crown prince during his visit to Washington in May 2015, while another flew to Washington from San Francisco during the same time, according to the Justice Department complaint.
The Saudi embassy did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Twitter said he was grateful to the FBI and the United States Department of Justice. "We recognize how bad actors will go to try to undermine our service," he said.
“Our company limits access to confidential account information to a limited group of trained and examined employees. We understand the incredible risks that many people who use Twitter face to share their perspectives with the world and hold those in power accountable. "
Twitter did not comment on how he realized the activities of the two men or if he alerted the police.