Prosecutors: Saudi Arabia Recruited Twitter Employees to Spy on Critics



Federal prosecutors in San Francisco have charged two former Twitter employees for acting as unregistered agents for Saudi Arabia after the kingdom allegedly recruited them to help them spy on critics of the government.

According to the complaint unsealed Wednesday in San Francisco's U.S. District Court, the two employees of Twitter were paid tens of thousands of dollars and were even given a designer watch by Saudi officials in order to get them to spy on the private information of more than 6,000 Twitter users. Some the Twitter users who information was taken included prominent critics of the Saudi government as well as several popular journalists.

The FBI's San Francisco Field Office led the multi-year investigation. Saudi officials coordinated the effort to gain information on users' email addresses, IP addresses, and dates of birth for any individuals who posted critical posts of the kingdom's regime.

Three people were charged, including Ahmad Abouammo, a U.S. citizen who was arrested by the FBI's Seattle Field Office. He's alleged to have spied on the accounts of three users. Abouammo was also charged with falsifying an invoice to obstruct the FBI's investigation.

The second former employee accused in the complaint is Ali Alzabarah, a Saudi citizen, who is accused of accessing the personal information of more than 6,000 users in 2015 on behalf of the kingdom. Prosecutors said a third individual, Ahmed Almutairi, acted as an intermediary between Saudi officials and the Twitter employees and was also charged with spying.

Both Alzabarah and Almutairi are believed to be in Saudi Arabia.

"The criminal complaint unsealed today alleges that Saudi agents mined Twitter's internal systems for personal information about known Saudi critics and thousands of other Twitter users," said David Anderson, U.S. attorney for the Northern District of California. "U.S. law protects U.S. companies from such an unlawful foreign intrusion. We will not allow U.S. companies or U.S. technology to become tools of foreign repression in violation of U.S. law."

All three individuals have been charged with fraudulently accessing private information and acting as illegal agents of a foreign government.

Photo: Getty Images