Saudi Arabia allegedly hacked Bezos’s phone

What happened: Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos’s phone was reportedly hacked by Saudi Arabia Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in 2018.

  • According to a new report from the Guardian’s Stephanie Kirchgaessner, Bezos’s phone was infiltrated after opening a malicious video file sent from the Crown Prince’s number on WhatsApp.
  • The two men had reportedly exchanged friendly messages via the encrypted messaging service on 1 May 2018, after which an unsolicited video file was sent from bin Salman’s phone. After Bezos opened the file, data was rapidly extracted from his personal phone.
  • According to the report, security experts working for Bezos only began examining his phone in January 2019 following the publication by the National Enquirer of a story about Bezos’s affair with Lauren Sanchez. Bezos accused the National Enquirer of “extortion and blackmail” after it published text messages between him and Sanchez.
  • The allegations have been refuted by the Saudi regime, which called the Guardian’s report “absurd” in a tweet Tuesday night and called for “an investigation on these claims so that we can have all the facts out.”

Context: Bezos is the owner of the Washington Post, which had employed dissident Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who was murdered in the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul in October 2018 by security officials connected with the Saudi regime.

  • This is not the first time Saudi Arabia has been linked to the hacking of Bezos’s phone. In March 2019 an investigator for the Amazon founder said Saudi Arabia was behind the hack and it had accessed his data. The investigation suggested that the hack was linked to the Washington Post’s coverage of Khashoggi’s murder.
  • US President Donald Trump and his son-in-law Jared Kushner have maintained close ties with the Saudi regime despite US intelligence believing that Mohammed bin Salman ordered Khashoggi’s murder. The US is sending additional military forces to Saudi Arabia, and France has deployed a radar system to bolster the kingdom’s air defences, following the rise in tensions between the US and Iran.
  • The new revelation comes a few months after the listing of oil giant Saudi Aramco on the local stock market. The company raised 3 billion shares at $8.53 each to raise $25.6bn, beating the previous record for the largest ever IPO by Alibaba, which raised $25bn in 2014.

Looking ahead: The new revelations will intensify concern about Saudi Arabia’s aggressive targeting of its perceived enemies.

  • The allegations surrounding MBS’s involvement in the murder of Khashoggi delayed the stock listing of Aramco for several months due to Saudi fears that investors would be put off by the erratic behaviour of the regime.
  • This time, as the Guardian notes, the possibility that the head of one of the US’s leading companies was targeted by Saudi Arabia is a major issue for corporate America and poses a dilemma for the White House, although President Trump has his own issues with Bezos.

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