Saudi Arabia recruited Twitter workers to spy on users, feds say

Saudi Arabia recruited Twitter workers to spy on users, feds say”

Washington, DC (CNN Business) Federal prosecutors accused two former Twitter employees of spying on behalf of Saudi Arabia on Wednesday.

The lawsuit comes as US-Saudi relations continue to suffer strains over the brutal, Riyadh-sanctioned murder past year of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who wrote for, among others, The Washington Post. They passed internal Twitter data on users "of interest to [Al Asaker] and the Saudi Royal Family". A third individual-Ahmed al Mutairi, another Saudi citizen and the head of a Saudi social media company-acted as an intermediary for Bader Al Asaker, a man who is often referred to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman's "invisible hand".

Wednesday's announcement comes a day after another former Twitter employee, Ahmad Abouammo, a USA citizen, was arrested for spying on users to obtain Saudi secrets for the government of the country's capital, Riyadh, The Washington Post reported. "Social media companies must understand the sensitivity of this information and restrict access to the smallest possible number of employees".

Mr Khashoggi was murdered during a visit to the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.

One of the former Twitter employees charged with spying is Ahmad Abouammo, a USA citizen who was arrested earlier this week.

Alzabarah had contact with Almutairi between February 2015 to May 2015, and Almutairi regarded him as "the only Saudi Arabian who worked at Twitter", according to the complaint. We have tools in place to protect their privacy and their ability to do their vital work.

Ali Alzabarah, a Saudi national, and Ahmad Abouammo, a United States citizen, allegedly used their access at the social media giant to gather sensitive and nonpublic information on dissidents of the Saudi regime, the Justice Department said in a criminal complaint.

Abouammo, 41, an American, and Saudi national Alzabarah, 35, were recruited in 2014-2015 to use their positions in Twitter to gain access to private information related to the accounts of critics of Riyadh, the indictment says.

In the complaint, the Federal Bureau of Investigation alleges that during the interview, Abouammo lied about the watch and provided a falsified, backdated receipt that showed a $100,000 payment from the Saudi official, which he said was provided in exchange for media consulting services.

The Saudi embassy did not immediately respond to a request for comment. He was placed on administrative leave, his work-owned laptop was seized, and he was escorted out of the office.

The next day, he flew to Saudi Arabia with his wife and daughter, allegedly emailing Twitter his resignation while on the flight.

A warrant for his and Almutairi's arrests were issued as part of the complaint.

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