Ex-Twitter Employees Charged in the US With Spying as CEO Jack Arrives Nigeria

Two former employees of Twitter have been charged in the US with spying for Saudi Arabia.

The charges, unsealed on Wednesday in San Francisco, allege that Saudi agents sought personal information about Twitter users including known critics of the Saudi government.

Court documents named the two as Ahmad Abouammo, a US citizen, and Ali Alzabarah, from Saudi Arabia.

A third person, Saudi citizen Ahmed Almutairi, is also accused of spying.

The New York Times says it is the first time that Saudi citizens have been charged with spying inside the United States.

The three men are accused of working with the head of a Saudi charity founded by Mohammed bin Salman, Bader Al Asaker, who, according to the complaint was “working for and at the direction of” MBS. After meetings with Saudi officials, Alzabarah and Abouammo began accessing sensitive information that could be used to identify and locate critics of the regime. At one point, Abouammo set up a limited liability company to receive $300,000 in wire transfers from the Saudi government. “The information allegedly accessed by Mr Abouammo and Mr Alzabarah between 2014 and 2015 included the email addresses, IP addresses and dates of birth of people behind Twitter accounts targeted by the Saudi government and the Saudi royal family,” according to the Financial Times. “On one occasion in 2015, Mr Alzabarah allegedly accessed the email and IP addresses for four specific Twitter accounts. The same day, an unnamed Saudi official, who Mr Alzabarah is accused of having contact with, saved a note in his emails that referenced details about the users, prosecutors alleged.”

The saved draft email included in the complaint gives a sense of how the information provided by the Twitter employees can be weaponized against dissidents, wherever they are. The draft email referenced multiple users. “He is in Turkey and has a friend, or something, and they use the same Michigan State University account,” the draft email said of one targeted user. “This one is a professional. He’s a Saudi that uses encryption. … We tracked him and found that 12 days ago he signed in once without encryption from IP [redacted] at 18:40 UTe on 05/25/2015,” the email described another. “This one does not use a cell phone at all, just a browser. He’s online right using Firefox from a windows machine.”

A Twitter spokesperson said the company “limits access to sensitive account information to a limited group of trained and vetted employees.” “We understand the incredible risks faced by many who use Twitter to share their perspectives with the world and to hold those in power accountable,” the spokesperson said. “We have tools in place to protect their privacy and their ability to do their vital work.”


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