Business Insider Edition

Saudi officials close to the Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman reportedly knew of plans to hack Bezos phone

Rosie Perper , Business Insider US
 Jan 23, 2020, 03:59 PM
Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman uses his phone on January 12, 2020.
  • Saudi officials close to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (know in the West as MBS) told The Wall Street Journal that they were aware of plans to hack Jeff Bezos's phone.
  • The unnamed officials also said that senior adviser to the crown prince, Saud al-Qahtani, was also involved in the hacking as part of a broader intimidation campaign against Washington Post columnist Jamal Kashoggi, who was murdered in October 2018 at the hands of Saudi agents.
  • On Wednesday, UN experts published a report on the hacking allegations, calling for an "immediate investigation by US and other relevant authorities" into any role MBS may have played.
  • The UN experts suggested that MBS may have been targeting Bezos because of his ownership of The Washington Post.
  • The Saudi government has called the allegations "absurd" and called for an investigation into the claims.
  • For more stories go to the Business Insider South Africa homepage.

Saudi officials close to crown prince Mohammed bin Salman, referred to as MBS, said they were aware of plans to hack Jeff Bezos' phone, according to The Wall Street Journal.

The Guardian first reported on Tuesday that forensic analysis revealed that the Amazon CEO's mobile phone was hacked after a number belonging to MBS sent an unsolicited video over WhatsApp to Bezos that contained a malicious file. A source familiar with the matter told The Guardian said that large amounts of data were extracted from Bezos' phone within hours.

The Financial Times followed up with another report on Tuesday citing a forensic analysis conducted by FTI Consulting, a business advisory firm hired by Jeff Bezos, which said that within hours of the file being sent to Bezos from the crown prince's personal number, a "massive and unauthorised" amount of data began to be extracted in a campaign that escalated "for months."

The hack is believed to have happened after Bezos and MBS exchanged friendly messages on WhatsApp on May 1, 2018, weeks after they had met at a dinner in Los Angeles while the prince was in the US on official business.

The Saudi government has called the allegations "absurd" and called for an investigation into the claims.

According to The Journal, however, it appears those closest to the prince knew of the plan to steal Bezos' data.

These officials told The Journal that they were "aware" of a plan to hack Bezos' phone but not of attempts to use that information for blackmail.

The officials told The Journal that senior adviser to MBS, Saud al-Qahtani, was also involved in the hacking as part of a broader intimidation campaign against Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi dissident and columnist for The Washington Post, who was murdered at the Saudi Embassy in Istanbul in October 2018 at the hands of Saudi agents.

The crown prince is widely believed to have been behind the killing, though the royal court has blamed the assassination on rogue agents.

The Saudi government did not immediately respond to Business Insider's request for comment.

Bezos' team began investigating suspicious activity on his phone in January 2019 after The National Enquirer published a story about him having an affair. Bezos has since accused the tabloid's parent company American Media Inc., of blackmailing him by threatening to publish his nude images.

Representatives for Bezos did not immediately respond to Business Insider's request for comment.

Bezos' attorney told the Guardian that Bezos is "cooperating with investigations" into the hacking.

On Wednesday, UN experts published a report on the hacking allegations, calling for an "immediate investigation by US and other relevant authorities" into any role the crown prince may have played.

The UN experts suggested that Prince Mohammed may have been targeting Bezos because of his ownership of The Washington Post.

"The information we have received 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," UN experts Agnes Callamard and David Kaye said in the statement.

Callamard reiterated her thoughts in an interview with PBS News Hour on Wednesday. According to News Hour foreign affairs correspondent Ali Rogin, Callamard said in the interview that there is no other hypothesis that makes sense other than that the crown prince hacked Bezos' phone.

Saudi Foreign Minister Faisal bin Farhan responded to the allegations in a video posted to Twitter on Wednesday,calling the notion that the crown prince would hack Bezos' phone "absolutely silly."

He also slammed the UN report, saying that the allegations were based on forensic analyses that contained "no hard evidence to substantiate the claims it's making."

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