Two Former Employees of Twitter Caught Spying Thousands of Accounts for Saudi Arabia

Recently, two former employees have been charged for spying on thousands of Twitter users’ accounts on behalf of Saudi Arabian Government.

According to the indictment, one of the defendants is identified as Ahmad Abouammo. He is an American citizen who left twitter in May 2015.The other one is recognized as Ali Alzabara, a Saudi Arabian citizen who left twitter in December 2015. The two are accused of spying with their purpose of exposing the identity of non-conformist.

The two- ex employees were recruited in 2014 by Saudi government officials. Both have close ties with Mohammed Bin Salman, the Saudi Crown Prince. They are hired to access sensitive and non-public information of twitter accounts accompanied with known Saudi critics.

Email addresses, devices used, browser information, biographical information, birthdate and other information that can be used to verify user’s location like IP address together with accounts and phone numbers are just some of the information Abouammo and Alzabarah illegally accessed.

Alzabarah, one of the accused joined twitter in August 2013 as” Site Reliability Engineer “worked with the Saudi officials between May 21 and November 18, 2015.He allegedly accessed more than 6000 private data on twitter accounts.

There are at least 33 users included in the accounts he accessed. This made Saudi Arabian law enforcement submit emergency disclosure request to twitter.

Accordingly, Abouammo has also been separately charged for acting as a foreign agent and handing the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) with distorted records to fetter the federal investigation.

The criminal complaint says he provided the FBI with a falsified, back – dated invoice charging an unnamed Saudi official $100,000 for “consulting services”.

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Aside from spying on twitter users, he is also charged for deleting exact information from social media platforms, revealing identities of some users and shutting down twitter accounts granting request of the Saudi government officials.

According to the affidavit released by FBI, Saudi official paid up to $300,000 to Abouammo to do the task. His work includes trying to cover up with faked invoices to his personal need and provide himself a luxurious Hublot watch worth of $20,000.

Along with these two, another Saudi national namely Ahmed al Mutairi, head of Saudi Social Media Company was charged by US Department justice for his involvement in the case. He has been accused of acting as intermediary between the two former twitter employees and the Saudi Government officials.

After being arrested by the FBI on Tuesday in Seattle, Abouammo is currently in US custody while theremaining two suspects are believed to be in Saudi Arabia and still at large.

Twitter claimed that they cooperated in the investigation and limit access to sensitive account data only to limited of vetted employees.

 “We understand the incredible risks faced by many who use Twitter to share their perspective with the world and to those in power accountable. We have tools in place to protect their privacy and their ability to do their vital work,”

Twitter said in the statement.

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