The FBI suspects two Twitter employees of transmitting to the Saudi authorities private data. Insiders got access to thousands of profile owners, which posted criticism of the Saudi authorities.The materials mention three citizens of the kingdom: Ali Alzabarah, Ahmad Abouammo and Ahmed Almutairi. The first two worked on Twitter, the latter mediated between them and the Saudi authorities.
“Acting in the United States under the direction and control of Saudi officials, the defendants are alleged to have obtained private, identifying information about users of Twitter who were critical of the Saudi government”, — said Assistant Attorney General for National Security John C. Demers.
According to the FBI, the cooperation of the suspects began between November 2014 and May 2015. The official position of Alzabara and Abuammo opened access to the electronic and IP addresses of users, their phone numbers and dates of birth. According to investigators, the Saudi authorities passed lists of profiles of interest to the accused through Altumayri in order to further track down dissidents. In exchange, insiders received money and luxury goods.
The investigation does not disclose the names of users who have suffered from this activity. It is only known that Alzabar provided the basic information – he gained access to 6,000 profiles; Abuammo had three incidents.
At some point, Twitter executives discovered signs of unauthorized access and demanded an explanation from Alzabara. The next day, he left the United States by sending a letter of resignation by e-mail. According to the FBI, in Saudi Arabia, the accused received a position in the civil service. Almutari also managed to leave the United States.
FBI representatives contacted Abuammo in October 2018. He lied to them in the testimony and provided false documents to complicate the investigation. In November 2019, he was charged with working for a foreign government without notice to the American authorities.
Under the same article, the court qualified the actions of the other participants in the case – they all face 10-year prison sentences and fines of $ 250 thousand. Abuammo may also receive an additional 20 years and an order to pay $ 250 thousand for the destruction, alteration and falsification of evidence during a federal investigation.
“The FBI will not stand by and allow foreign governments to illegally exploit private users’ information from U.S. companies. These individuals are charged with targeting and obtaining private data from dissidents and known critics, under the direction and control of the government of Saudi Arabia”, – said FBI Special Agent in Charge John F. Bennett.
This is the third scandal in recent months in which employees of large American companies have been implicated. In August, the U.S. Department of Justice accused a former Amazon Web Services employee of hacking Capital One banking holding. As a result of the incident, an unknown attacker received transaction histories, credit ratings and social security numbers of 106 million customers of the company.