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UN to Investigate Saudi Prince's Involvement in Jeff Bezos's Phone Being Hacked

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UN to Investigate Saudi Prince's Involvement in Jeff Bezos's Phone Being Hacked

2020-01-23 09:49:431 Oct 2018 01:53 AM EST

By Laura Tucker, Staff writer; Image: Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (Image source: Public domain)

Last year it was made public in the National Enquirer that Jeff Bezos, the CEO/founder of Amazon and the owner of The Washington Post, was having an affair with Lauren Sanchez. He wrote an op-ed believing he was being extorted and blackmailed, as he was asked to publish that the Enquirer exposé was not motivated by the magazine's ties to Donald Trump. He just couldn't figure out how The National Enquirer got their information, but they blamed Sanchez's brother, Michael Sanchez. 

The U.N. may have figured out the answers to this puzzle. They are looking into whether Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is behind Bezos's phone being hacked.

In April 2018 the crown prince and the man known to be the richest in the world met at a dinner party at the Los Angeles home of a Hollywood producer. The two exchanged phone numbers that night. 

The day before the Post published a column by Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi dissident, who was trashing the Saudi government, opining that "replacing old tactics of intolerance with new ways of repression is not the answer."

In May the crown prince sent Bezos a WhatsApp message that contained a video in Arabic, an ad for Saudi Arabia's telecom market. A U.N. report that was released Wednesday says that a small piece of malicious code was inside the video. It allowed the sender to extract large amounts of data from the phone containing the video in an ongoing basis. 

Human rights investigations with the U.N. have concluded with "medium to high confidence" that a WhatsApp account that belongs to the prince sent the video to Bezos, and this led to an avalanche of data being extracted, which was then used in the plot against him in the National Enquirer.

Human rights investigators Agnes Callamard and David Kaye said a forensic probe of the phone in question "suggests the possible involvement of the Crown Prince in surveillance of Mr. Bezos in an effort to influence, if not silence, The Washington Post's reporting on Saudi Arabia." 

The investigators, in a statement that was released on Wednesday, requested that the United States and other countries take a larger look at what they discovered, calling it "the continuous, multi-year, direct and personal involvement of the Crown Prince in efforts to target perceived opponents."

Callamard and Kaye had looked into these allegations as part of their investigation into the murder of Khashoggi in October 2018, six months after the prince and Bezos met at the dinner party. The killing took place at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.  

U.S. intelligence has blamed the prince for the murder. The Saudi government has convicted and sentenced five other Saudi nationals for the killing. The investigators believe the crown prince's involvement was part of "a pattern of targeted surveillance" by Saudi authorities.

Bezos had commissioned a forensic investigation of his iPhone X and hired investigator Anthony Ferrante of FTI Consulting last year. Ferrante wrote in a report in November that the phone had been compromised "possibly via tools procured by Saud al Qahtani," who directed hacking programs for the Saudi government and led a large Twitter campaign against Bezos, Amazon, and The Post. 

Qahtani has already been sanctioned by the U.S. Treasury Department for his "part of the planning and execution" of Khashoggi's murder; however, last month a Saudi public prosecutor found a "lack of evidence" against him, while the other five were sentenced to death.

Ferrante's report said that Qahtani bought a 20 percent ownership in Hacking Team, a company that had been working on developing a way to infect phones by sending videos through WhatsApp. 

Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud, the Saudi foreign minister, referred to to the U.N. report as "absurd." While at a meeting of world leaders in Davos, Switzerland, that Donald Trump is attending as well, the minister said, "The idea that the crown prince would hack Jeff Bezos's phone is absolutely silly."

While he called it silly, a person close to the crown prince found it inconceivable that he would try to hack Bezos's phone and suggested one of his aides may have done it. The person added that Khashoggi's Post columns "hit Riyadh like a bombshell," adding, "There is also this thrill when you buy some software, and you don't know your limits." 

On Wednesday Bezos tweeted a photo of himself at a memorial honoring Khashoggi a year after his murder. His body has never been found. He captioned the photo only with a hashtag and the name "Jamal."

Ferrante's report stated that "within hours of receipt of the MP4 video file from the Crown Prince's account, massive and (for Bezos's phone) unprecedented exfiltration of data from the phone began." The data flow jumped suddenly, and the "spiking then continued undetected over some months." 

The data that was extracted from Bezos's phone included personal photos, text messages, instant messages, emails, and possibly "eavesdropped recordings done via the phone's microphone."

Bezos began receiving texts from the crown prince's account that seemed to indicate that he had access to Bezos's private information, the National Enquirer published the exposé showing that Bezos and Sanchez were having an affair. Bezos and his wife were considering divorce at the time, but it was not public.  

Bezos received another text from the prince's account, indicating again that he had information "that could have been gained via surveillance of Bezos's phone."

On Valentine's Day he was sent a briefing to his iPhone regarding the Saudi propaganda campaign against him. another text arrived from the prince's account two days later that said, "Jeff all what you hear or told to it's not true,...there is nothing against you or amazon from me or Saudi Arabia." 

Bezos said in his op-ed that American Media, the parent company of the Enquirer, threatened to publish photos of his genitals unless he publicly stated that the exposé of his affair was not motivated by the Enquirer's ties to Trump.

He also wrote, "Certain powerful people who experience Washington Post news coverage will wrongly conclude I am their enemy." 

It's interesting to note as well that Trump wanted Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to publicly announce he would be investigating Joe Biden, Hunter Biden, and the hacking of the Democrats in 2016.

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