Industry News Jan 25, 2020
According to a statement by two prominent United Nations rights experts on Wednesday, Mr. Bezos, the chief executive of Amazon, received an encrypted video from a WhatsApp account belonging to Prince Mohammed that was loaded with digital spyware. By watching the video, Mr. Bezos enabled surveillance of his cellphone starting in May 2018. Ms. Callamard said that the surveillance was believed to have continued for nine months, until February 2019.
In recent years, technology researchers and human rights groups have documented cases of operators who appear to be working for Saudi Arabia infiltrating the communications devices of well-known Saudi dissidents and manipulating social media in the kingdom to amplify voices praising Prince Mohammed and drown out his critics. But targeting the cellphone of an American citizen who is one of the world’s richest businessmen would be a clear escalation.
The Saudi Embassy in Washington on Wednesday called the idea that the kingdom had hacked Mr. Bezos’ cellphone “absurd” and did not respond to a request for comment about the hacking of Saudi dissidents.
The hacking of Mr. Bezos is particularly sensitive because of his ownership of The Washington Post, which had published coverage critical of the kingdom and had retained Jamal Khashoggi, a dissident Saudi writer, as a regular columnist. Mr. Khashoggi had fled Saudi Arabia for the United States and often criticized Prince Mohammed in his columns.
Six months after the hack of Mr. Bezos’ phone, Mr. Khashoggi was killed by Saudi agents in Istanbul, where he had gone to obtain papers needed to marry his Turkish fiancée. The Central Intelligence Agency has concluded that Prince Mohammed most likely ordered the murder. He and other Saudi officials deny he played a role.
Mr. Bezos did not comment on the hack, but posted a photo of himself on Twitter on Wednesday standing beside Mr. Khashoggi’s Turkish fiancée and with his hand resting on a stone bearing Mr. Khashoggi’s name. The caption read, “#Jamal.”
— Jeff Bezos (@JeffBezos) 22 January 2020
Their statement cited a 2019 forensic analysis of Mr. Bezos’ phone that assessed with “medium to high confidence” that his phone had been infiltrated on May 1, 2018, via an MP4 video file sent from a WhatsApp account used personally by the Saudi crown prince. The report, which was reviewed by The New York Times, indicated that Mr. Bezos continued to receive messages from the crown prince’s WhatsApp account after Mr. Khashoggi’s death.
On Nov. 8, 2018, the report said, Mr. Bezos received a message from the account that included a single photo of a woman who resembled Ms. Sanchez. The photo was captioned, “Arguing with a woman is like reading the software license agreement. In the end you have to ignore everything and click I agree.”
At the time, Mr. Bezos and his wife were discussing a divorce, which would have been apparent to someone reading his text messages.
Mr. Bezos and Prince Mohammed, the report said, exchanged phone numbers at a dinner in Los Angeles in April 2018. The crown prince initiated a messaging conversation with Mr. Bezos that same day over WhatsApp.