Charges of spying for Saudi Arabia have been brought against two former employees of Twitter in the United States. Personal information about Twitter users including some of the established and known critics of the Saudi government were sought by the Saudi agents according ot the charges that were unsealed on Wednesday in San Francisco.
Ali Alzabarah, from Saudi Arabia and Ahmad Abouammo, a US citizen, were the two people charged in the court documents. Also accused of spying was third person who is also a Saudi citizen named Ahmed Almutairi.
This is the first instance that any Saudi citizen has been charged of spying inside the United States according to a report published in The New York Times.
Ahmad Abouammo was remanded in custody after he appeared in a Seattle court on Wednesday and would be kept under detention till another hearing due on Friday. The individual has also been charged with making false statements to the FBI and of falsifying documents. Criminal charges of a presenting the FBI with a falsified, back-dated invoice charging an unnamed Saudi official $100,000 for “consulting services” have also brought against him.
According to reports citing the court filings, Abouammo was employed as a media partnership manager for Twitter and he left that job in 2015.
Accusations of accessing the personal data of more than 6,000 Twitter users in 2015, after he was given appointment as a Saudi agent have been brought against another individual named Alzabarah who is a former Twitter engineer. A note found in a Saudi official’s email account contained information about one of the Twitter accounts that he had allegedly accessed. According to reports, this fact discloses the depth of information details about the user that he had managed to access.
“This one is a professional. He’s a Saudi that uses encryption… We tracked him and found that 12 days ago he signed in once without encryption from IP [redacted] at 18:40 UTC on 05/25/2015. This one does not use a cell phone at all, just a browser. He’s online right using Firefox form [sic] a windows machine,” read the email note according to the court paper containing the complaint against the accused individual.
Investigators said that Alzabarah had fled to Saudi Arabia with his wife and daughter after he was confronted about the issue by his supervisors and was then placed on administrative leave.
The role of an intermediary between the two Twitter employees and Saudi officials was played by the third person – Almutairi, according to the charges filed in court.
It is believed that both Alzabarah and Almutairi are currently in Saudi Arabia.
Hundreds of thousands of dollars had allegedly been paid by the Saudi government to the two men. A luxury Hublot watch, worth about $20,000 was also given to one man.
The company recognized “the lengths bad actors will go to” to try to undermine its service, Twitter said in a statement. “We understand the incredible risks faced by many who use Twitter to share their perspectives with the world and to hold those in power accountable. We have tools in place to protect their privacy and their ability to do their vital work,” the statement added.
(Adapted from BBC.com)