Twitter: Former employee found guilty of spying for Saudi Arabia

He wanted to know the identity and other details of persons who criticized the kingdom or the royal family.


Former employee of Twitter Inc. was found guilty on Tuesday of spying on users of the social networking site of the same name on behalf of Saudi Arabia, which wanted to know the identity and other details of people who criticized the kingdom or the royal family.

A San Francisco jury has ruled that Ahmad Abouamo did sell the personal data of (theoretically) anonymous users of the platform to Riyadh for tens of thousands of dollars.

He faces up to 20 years in prison for acting on behalf of a foreign government and for money laundering, fraud and forgery.

His sentence will be announced at a later date.

"The evidence showed that, for money and while he thought he was protected from prying eyes, the accused sold his (the Twitter employee's) position to a person close" to the Saudi royal family, said last week federal prosecutor Colin Sampson addressing the jury at the close of the two-week hearing.

The verdict came amid criticism from rights advocates against Joe Biden and Emmanuel Macron for their rapprochement with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who had long been sidelined internationally after the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in consulate of the kingdom in Istanbul in 2018.

Several NGOs accuse the prince, also known as 'MbS', and his regime of systematic espionage, kidnapping and torture of dissidents. Riyadh denies this.

Ahmad Abuamo was arrested in Seattle in November 2019. Prosecutors alleged that he and another former Twitter employee, Ali Alzabara, were approached by Riyadh in late 2014 and early 2015 and began sending Saudi Arabia user data accessible only from the company's systems (email addresses, phone numbers, dates of birth, etc.).

Mr Abouamo left the company in 2015. Ali Alzabara, a Saudi, left the US.

Angela Chuang, the defense lawyer for Ahmed Abouamo, has acknowledged that there may have been a Saudi operation seven years ago to obtain information on opponents of the regime that involved employees of the company Twitter.

But, according to her, her principal is being tried in place of Mr. Alzabara. "It's obvious that the defendant the government was looking for is not here," he said.

The Twitter company, asked about this by AFP, did not want to comment on the court decision.

The platform accuses its ex-employee of violating company rules by failing to inform its superiors that he received $100.000 and a watch worth more than $40.000 from a person close to the Saudi monarchy.

These were just "small change" for Saudis, who are accustomed to opulence, countered Ms Chuang.

Source: RES-EAP