Two Former Twitter Employees Accused of Spying for Saudi Arabia
Two former employees of Twitter are facing charges in the U.S. for spying on behalf of Saudi Arabia.
The charges unveiled on Wednesday in San Francisco, accuse the ex-employees of divulging personal information to Saudi agents about Twitter users, including known critics of the Saudi government.
Facing charges for spying
The two suspects were named in court documents as Ahmad Abouammo, a U.S. citizen, and Ali Alzabarah, from Saudi Arabia.
A third individual, Ahmed Almutairi, also a Saudi citizen, was accused of acting as an “intermediary” between Alzabarah and Saudi officials and also faces spying charges, The Washington Post reports.
According to the criminal complaint, the Saudi official is likely Bader Al Asaker, whom the CIA linked to last year’s murder killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
What are the charges?
As the BBC reports, Ahmad Abouammo, who is believed to have left his job as a media partnership manager at Twitter in 2015, appeared in a Seattle court on Wednesday and is due to appear for another hearing on Friday.
He is charged with spying as well as with falsifying documents and making false statements to the FBI.
Alzabarah, a former Twitter engineer, is accused of unlawfully accessing the private date of over 6,000 Twitter users in 2015. He is believed to have started this operation after being recruited by Saudi agents.
When this was discovered at Twitter, Alzabarah was confronted by his supervisors and placed on administrative leave, investigators said. Soon after, he fled to Saudi Arabia with his wife and daughter.
The Saudi government is believed to have paid the men hundreds of thousands of dollars. One of them also reportedly received a Hublot watch, worth approximately $20,000.
Holding power accountable
In a statement, Twitter said, "We understand the incredible risks faced by many who use Twitter to share their perspectives with the world and to hold those in power accountable. "We have tools in place to protect their privacy and their ability to do their vital work."