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UN Ties Phone Hacking of Bezos to Washington Post's Coverage of Saudi Arabia
Written by <a href="index.php?option=com_comprofiler&task=userProfile&user=53049"><span class="small">Marc Fisher, The Washington Post</span></a>   
Wednesday, 22 January 2020 14:06

Fisher writes: "United Nations human rights investigators have concluded that an account belonging to Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman sent an infected video to Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, triggering a massive extraction of data from the billionaire's cell phone."

Jeff Bezos and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in 2016. (photo: Bandar Algaloud/Getty)
Jeff Bezos and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in 2016. (photo: Bandar Algaloud/Getty)


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UN Ties Phone Hacking of Bezos to Washington Post's Coverage of Saudi Arabia

By Marc Fisher, The Washington Post

22 January 20

 

nited Nations human rights investigators have concluded that an account belonging to Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman sent an infected video to Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, triggering a massive extraction of data from the billionaire’s cell phone.

The report by human rights investigators Agnes Callamard and David Kaye says the forensic evidence found in Bezos’s phone “suggests the possible involvement of the Crown Prince in surveillance of Mr. Bezos, in an effort to influence, if not silence, The Washington Post’s reporting on Saudi Arabia.”

In a report released Wednesday, Callamard and Kaye called for the United States and other nations to investigate the alleged hacking of Bezos’s phone as part of a larger look at what they called “the continuous, multi-year, direct and personal involvement of the Crown Prince in efforts to target perceived opponents.”

The U.N. officials’ report was based on a forensic investigation of Bezos’s phone commissioned by the Amazon founder, who also owns The Washington Post. Callamard and Kaye said the crown prince’s involvement in the alleged hack was part of “a pattern of targeted surveillance of perceived opponents” by Saudi authorities and was “relevant to...ongoing evaluation of claims about the Crown Prince’s involvement in the 2018 murder of Saudi and Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi.”

The 2018 hack of Bezos’s phone took place five months before Khashoggi, a Saudi dissident who was under contract with The Post’s editorial department to write opinion columns, was murdered at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. Five Saudi nationals were sentenced to death last month in connection with the Khashoggi killing after a secret trial in Saudi Arabia.

According to the report, Bezos and Mohammed exchanged phone numbers at a dinner in Los Angeles about a month before the hack. The dinner took place the day after The Post published a column by Khashoggi that blasted the prince’s regime, saying that “replacing old tactics of intolerance with new ways of repression is not the answer.”

Four weeks later, on May 1, 2018, the prince sent the billionaire entrepreneur a WhatsApp message containing a video that, according to a person familiar with the investigation, was a promotional piece about economic success in Saudi Arabia. Inside the video file, the forensic report concludes, was malicious code that allowed the sender to extract information from the phone.

The report says that “within hours of receipt of the MP4 video file from the Crown Prince’s account, massive and (for Bezos’ phone) unprecedented exfiltration of data from the phone began.” The flow of data out of Bezos’s phone jumped suddenly by 29,156 percent and the “spiking then continued undetected over some months,” according to the investigation.

The infecting technology did not require Bezos to click on the video, but rather instantly created a channel for remote extraction of data from the phone, according to the person familiar with the investigation.

Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister, Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud, called the report “absurd.” Speaking at a meeting of world leaders in Davos, Switzerland, the minister said, “The idea that the crown prince would hack Jeff Bezos’ phone is absolutely silly.” He said he did not expect the UN report to have any impact on investors’ confidence in Saudi Arabia.

State Department officials did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Khashoggi was killed in October. Within days, as The Post published numerous news accounts about the murder and the Saudi government’s involvement in the incident, a massive Internet campaign against Bezos began, focused on his role as owner of The Washington Post.

By the next month, the top-trending hashtag on Saudi Twitter was “Boycott Amazon.”

In November, Mohammed’s account texted a photograph to Bezos, accompanied by what the report called “a sardonic caption.” The picture showed a woman who looked like Lauren Sanchez, the former TV host who, as the National Enquirer would report in January 2019, was conducting an extramarital affair with Bezos.

Last year, Bezos alleged through his security consultant, Gavin de Becker, that the Saudi government had “access to Bezos’s phone, and gained private information.” De Becker wrote in the Daily Beast that the Saudis were “intent on harming Jeff Bezos since . . . the Post began its relentless coverage” of the murder of Khashoggi,

Relations between Bezos and the Saudi government seemed to go from promising to poisoned over the past two years. After Trump picked Saudi Arabia for his first foreign trip as president, and Mohammed visited the United States in early 2018, Bezos’s company continued its efforts to make a $1 billion deal to build three data centers for Amazon Web Services in the desert kingdom — a project that seemed to dovetail with the prince’s desire to expand his country’s participation in the global economy.

Amazon Web Services, which dominates the cloud-computing industry, is the most profitable part of Bezos’s colossal business empire. The discussions between AWS and the Saudis ended after the Khashoggi murder.

But a far smaller piece of Bezos’s business interests, The Post, proved to be what the billionaire later called “a complexifier” in his relationship with the Saudi regime.

After the Enquirer published its expose, Bezos did not deny the affair with Sanchez, but wrote an online essay in which he said he was investigating how the Enquirer had obtained his texts with his girlfriend.

“Certain powerful people who experience Washington Post news coverage will wrongly conclude I am their enemy,” Bezos wrote.

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Last Updated on Wednesday, 22 January 2020 14:14