Former Twitter employee accused of spying for Saudi

On 6th November 2019, the US Justice Department accused two former Twitter employees. They charged them of spying for Saudi Arabia. Then the charges unsealed in San Francisco. Alleging that Saudi agents approached the two men to provide personal information of Twitter users. So, it included critics of the Saudi government. The charge clearly states that Ahmad Abouammo, an American citizen and Ali Alzabarah, a Saudi Arabian national were spying for Saudi Arabia.  By accessing Twitter’s information about American citizens and Saudi dissidents. They also use Twitter and oppose the policies of the Saudi leaders and the kingdom. This is the first time that the federal prosecutors have accused the Saudi kingdom publicly of running agents in the United States.

The accused

A media partnership manager at Twitter Ahmad Abouammo had access to the e-mail addresses and phone numbers of Twitter accounts. Therefore, an engineer, Ali Alzabarah, rose through the ranks at Twitter and acquired a position that gave him access to account data and personal information of millions of Twitter users. According to the court papers, one of the accused is an associate of Mohammed Bin Salman. The Saudi Crown prince, who, according to CIA findings, had ordered the assassination of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi. It was a fierce critic of the kingdom in Istanbul last year.

The charges

A day after that the arrest of the former Twitter employees, the allegations that have come to a light state that Ahmad Abouammo has spied on three Twitter accounts. Including one whose posts discussed the modus operandi of the Saudi leadership on behalf of the government of that country. He is also facing charges with attempting to obstruct an FBI investigation by falsifying an invoice.

Ali Alzabarah, the second accused, is charged with accessing personal information of 6,000 Twitter accounts. In 2015 at the behest of the Saudi government. One of the accounts belonged to Omar Abdulaziz. A prominent dissident, who later became close to Jamal Khashoggi. A contributing columnist of Washington Post and a die-hard critic of the Saudi kingdom.Its leaders who advocated for free expression in the Arab world.

Prosecutors have also revealed the name of a third individual charged with spying, Ahmad Almutairi, a Saudi citizen who acted as a conduit between Twitter employees and Saudi officials. It is believed that Ali Alzabarah and Almutairi are currently in Saudi Arabia.

The modus operandi

The men accused of spying worked with a Saudi official. They also head a charitable organization patronized by the crown prince Mohammed. Drawing inference from the description of the charity, Bader Al Asaker is the official as confirmed by a person familiar with the happenings who spoke on the condition of anonymity. MiSK, the name of Asaker’s charity, belongs to Mohammed, who the prosecutors name as Royal Family Member 1 in the charge sheet.

The case highlights the issue of foreign powers using American social media platforms to track critics and muzzle their voices. This leads to concerns about Silicon Valley’s to protect the private information of all users, including dissidents of repressive governments.