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HEALTH/SCI/TECH MIDDLE EAST

Report: Saudi Crown Prince Hacked Jeff Bezos’ Phone

Jeff Bezos at Amazon Spheres Grand Opening in Seattle in January 2018.
Jeff Bezos at Amazon Spheres Grand Opening in Seattle in January 2018. (Photo: Seattle City Council)

Within hours of a video file being sent by WhatsApp to Bezos “a massive and unauthorized exfiltration of data from Bezos’s phone began, continuing and escalating for months.”

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman (MBS) hacked Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos’ cell phone through a 2018 WhatsApp conversation, according UN investigators and an analysis by cybersecurity experts hired by Bezos. The Crown Prince’s ability to hack what a cyber expert called a “massive amount of data” from the richest man in the world has raised alarm about whether he took similar action against the numerous other powerful politicians and business leaders with whom the prince holds close ties.

 

A report from the Financial Times citing sources from Bezos’ investigation said that MBS’ malware-infected WhatsApp message enabled hackers to access “dozens of gigabytes” of the Amazon CEO’s private data. Anthony J Ferrante, a cyber expert at the business advisory firm FTI Consulting, told Financial Times that within hours of a video file being sent by WhatsApp to Bezos “a massive and unauthorized exfiltration of data from Bezos’s phone began, continuing and escalating for months”.

In the same three-week tour in 2018 that MBS met Bezos and gained his cell phone number, the Saudi Prince met with Apple CEO Tim Cook, entrepreneur Peter Thiel, Google cofounders Sergy Brin and Larry Page, and many other tech luminaries.

Western elites have regularly praised the Crown Prince as a reformer despite his ties to the execution of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi, his ruthless bombing of Yemeni civilians, and his ongoing imprisonment of women’s rights activists. Global consulting firm McKinsey helped the Saudi monarchy crackdown on dissidents, and U.S. lawmakers, many of whom receive funds and hold stock in the arms industry, have worked to continue supplying weapons that fuel the humanitarian crisis in Yemen.

Previous Accusations Of Saudi Hacking

Bezos is the owner of the Washington Post, whose columnist Jamal Khashoggi was murdered in October 2018 in an assassination linked to MBS months after Bezos met the Crown Prince. Bezos cut ties with the prince after Khashoggi’s execution, but later hinted at ties between America Media Inc., the National Enquirer’s parent company, and the Saudi monarchy after the Enquirer published photos showing Bezos’ extramarital affair with Laura Sanchez last year.

Bezos’ security consultant later alleged in a Daily Beast article that Saudi Arabia took data from Bezos’s phone, claiming “it’s clear that MBS considers the Washington Post to be a major enemy.”

Some observers have pointed out Israeli cybersecurity firm NSO Group’s potential involvement in the newest hacking allegation. NSO Group has a record of selling software that hacks phones using WhatsApp has been linked to the assassination of Khashoggi, as per Business Insider.

“A lawsuit filed by the Montreal-based Saudi dissident Omar Abdulaziz accused NSO back in December 2018 of helping Saudi Arabia’s government spy on his communications with Khashoggi. NSO denied any allegations that its software helped lead to Khashoggi’s death,” reported Business Insider on Wednesday.

“Almost a year later, WhatsApp’s parent company, Facebook, sued the Israeli company,” BI continued. “It alleged in October that NSO Group had exploited vulnerabilities in WhatsApp’s video-calling system to send malware to the devices of more than 1,400 users to allow governments and intelligence organizations to spy on them.”

Saudi Arabia’s U.S. embassy denied the new allegations on Twitter saying, “Recent media reports that suggest the Kingdom is behind a hacking of Mr. Jeff Bezos’ phone are absurd. We call for an investigation on these claims so that we can have all the facts out.” UN investigators have also called for a full international investigation.

A Kushner Hack?

Bezos’ WhatsApp hack raises concerns that White House Senior Adviser Jared Kushner could also be compromised by the Saudi government, as he has maintained a close relationship with the Saudi Crown Prince and he allegedly messages him directly over WhatsApp. According to the Intercept, MBS boasted to the Emirati prince that he had Kushner “in his pocket.”

In February 2019, a report titled “Whistleblowers Raise Grave Concerns with Trump Administration’s Efforts to Transfer Sensitive Nuclear Technology to Saudi Arabia,” House Democrats detailed a push by top Trump officials, including Kushner, to give Saudi Arabia technology to build nuclear power plants. In the report, the whistleblowers stated: “Strong private commercial interests have been pressing aggressively for the transfer of highly sensitive nuclear technology to Saudi Arabia.”

During his period with top-security clearance, the President’s son-in-law had access to the nation’s most sensitive information. Like President Trump, Kushner did not put his assets in a blind trust, and he retains extensive real estate properties and substantial ownership of Kushner companies. Kushner Companies sought investment from Qatar in the family’s heavily indebted 666 Fifth Avenue property, which was instead rescued by Brookfield Properties. Around the same time, Brookfield also bought a bankrupt nuclear power company which had previously sought bids for nuclear development in Saudi Arabia. The Qataris denied Kushner’s request weeks before the Saudi and UAE blockade on the nation.

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Peter Castagno

Peter Castagno is a staff writer and assistant editor at Citizen Truth.

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