More fallout at Twitter after it was revealed last week that that two Twitter employees spied on users on behalf of Saudi Arabia — and after the arrest of one as another fled the country: CEO Jack Dorsey had actually met privately with crown prince Mohammed bin Salman six months after the company uncovered the Saudi intelligence infiltration, a new report has revealed.
Middle East Eye uncovered the critical timeline related to the meeting via the Justice Department’s criminal complaint filed in California, which raises a host of pressing questions, given the scandal was known internally to Twitter executives by December 2015, yet Dorsey sat down with MbS in June 2016. Middle East Eye reported Saturday:
Lawyers for one of the Saudi dissidents targeted in the operation say Dorsey and Mohammed bin Salman’s meeting raises questions about what the CEO of Twitter, a company which has seen massive Saudi investment in recent years, knew and when he knew it.
The Washington Post reported that two employees working for the company in 2015 accessed the private information of more than 6,000 Twitter accounts. Their Saudi intelligence “handler” had actually been a close associate to MbS at the time. And yet even after this bombshell scandal was unearthed internally Jack appeared chummy and business as usual with MbS in New York.
Crucially, at least one of the accounts accessed by the spies could be related to the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, given it belongs Saudi dissident Omar Abdulaziz, well-known to have been a close friend and confidant of Khashoggi.
Thus it’s further important to remember that this major Saudi spy infiltration of Twitter occurred significantly prior to the October 2, 2018 murder of Khashoggi by a Saudi hit team at the Istanbul consulate. What did Jack know and when of the personal Twitter information collected on Saudi dissidents accessed from within the company? Did he broach the issue with MbS during their 2016 meeting?
The two former Twitter employees, identified as Ahmad Abouammo and Ali Alzabarah – the former arrested in Seattle and the latter believed to have fled US soil – along with their alleged Saudi intelligence ‘handler’ Ahmed Almutairi, who was identified as serving as the intermediary between Saudi Arabia and the Twitter staff, were central to the broader MbS campaign to muzzle critics and activists overseas.
According to the criminal complaint, Twitter did take some limited action a week after uncovering the spy plot to warn several dozen users that they “may have been targeted by state-sponsored actors”.
The attorney for the friend of Khashoggi who was targetted, Omar Abdulaziz, told Middle East Eye the following:
“The thing that strikes me is when you look through the government’s complaint, this guy hacked 5,500 records in June. That’s not a small number. It raises the question about what Twitter did and did not want to know,” said Mark Kleiman, an attorney who represents Omar Abdulaziz, a Saudi dissident living in Canada.
Kleiman told Middle East Eye that he and Ben Gharagozli, a second lawyer representing Abdulaziz, understood that “somebody from one of the three-letter agencies in the US” tipped Twitter off about Azabarah, before company put him on administrative leave in early December 2015.
Abdulaziz and his attorney are furious, given it was literally life and death on the line, as was proven with Khashoggi’s heinous murder by Saudi state assassins, which possibly was even planned with information gleaned from Twitter or other messaging platforms.
Kleiman underscored that “It’s hard to imagine that [Dorsey] wouldn’t have heard about it six months later.”
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— بدر العساكر Bader Al Asaker (@Badermasaker) June 25, 2016
Middle East Eye notes in its report that it sent Twitter a list of the following questions, though it initially received no response:
- When and how Twitter became aware of Alzabarah’s activities
- Whether Twitter believed its accounts had been targeted by a state-sponsored actor in December 2015
- Whether Twitter was aware in December 2015 that Alzabarah had been feeding user data to Bader al-Asaker, who had close ties to the Saudi ruling family
- Whether Dorsey had been made aware of Alzabarah’s activities and the fact that he had been involved in state-sponsored activity and, if so, whether he knew about these actions when he met with Mohammed bin Salman in June 2016
- Whether Dorsey raised any concerns over the incident with Mohammed bin Salman or Asaker during the June 2016 meeting