The US Dept of Justice has charged two former Twitter employees with spying for Saudi Arabia.
One of the former employees, Ahmad Abouammo, is a U.S. citizen.
The other, Ali Alzabarah, is a Saudi citizen accused of accessing personal information on more than 6,000 accounts in 2015 on behalf of the Saudis.
Alzabarah accessed accounts of a number of prominent government critics including that of Omar Abdulaziz, a prominent journalist with more than 1 million followers who was close to late Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi. Khashoggi, a US resident, was killed by the Saudi government last year.
The US justice department also alleged that the employees – whose jobs did not require access to Twitter users’ private information – were rewarded with a designer watch and tens of thousands of dollars funneled into secret bank accounts.
The data included email addresses and IP addresses associated with the accounts as well as devices and browsers used—providing tracking of the account users’ movements. In some cases, the accounts included images that could have been construed as security threats—including images of improvised explosive devices—and Twitter removed the posts after emergency takedown requests from the Saudi government. In others, the accounts were merely critical of Mohammed bin Salman or the government.
After being placed on leave by Twitter, Alzabarah sent a letter of resignation while aboard a flight back to Saudi Arabia. Once he arrived there, he took a job with a charity led by Al Asaker called MiSK—a charity created by Mohammed bin Salman.
Associated Press » Saudis recruited Twitter workers to spy on critics