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Saudis hack Jeff Bezos’ phone in retaliation for WaPo’s Khashoggi coverage, investigator says

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos in Seattle in a June 2014 file image. Bezos donated "Dreamers" $33 million to fund 1,000 scholarships. (Ken Lambert/Seattle Times/TNS)
April 01, 2019
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Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos’ phone was hacked by Saudis who gained access to his private information and leaked text messages in suspected retaliation, an investigation found.

Bezos hired security expert Gavin de Becker to investigate how his text messages were accessed and leaked to the public. In an op-ed for the Daily Beast on Saturday, Becker detailed the investigative efforts and concluded that the Saudis had been behind the data breach, which is suspected to have been in retaliation for Bezos-owned Washington Post’s news coverage on the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

“Our investigators and several experts concluded with high confidence that the Saudis had access to Bezos’ phone, and gained private information,” de Becker wrote.

The investigation came after the National Enquirer had published a feature story that included details of Bezos’ text messages and intimate relationship with former television anchor Lauren Sanchez.

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“The Saudi government has been intent on harming Jeff Bezos since last October, when the Post began its relentless coverage of Khashoggi’s murder,” de Becker wrote.

Bezos accused American Media Inc. (AMI), parent company of National Enquirer, of attempting to blackmail him.

The company threatened to publish Bezos’ personal, intimate photos if he and de Becker did not make a public statement that said the two had “no knowledge or basis for suggesting that AMI’s coverage was politically motivated or influenced by political forces,” according to letters Bezos published himself on Medium.

“We did not reach our conclusions lightly,” de Becker wrote of the investigation.

“The inquiry included a broad array of resources: investigative interviews with current and former AMI executives and sources, extensive discussions with top Middle East experts in the intelligence community, leading cybersecurity experts who have tracked Saudi spyware, discussions with current and former advisers to President Trump, Saudi whistleblowers, people who personally know the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (also known as MBS), people who work with his close associate Saud al-Qahtani, Saudi dissidents, and other targets of Saudi action, including writer/activist Iyad el-Baghdadi,” he noted.

The allegation of Saudi phone hackers isn’t new or exclusive to Bezos. After the Saudi-conspired murder of Khashoggi, high profile Saudi dissidents became victims of Saudi spyware which extracted data and gained access to phone cameras and microphones, Forbes reported in November.

De Becker cited previous investigative reporting from the Associated Press which found that the AMI-produced The New Kingdom magazine was shared with the Saudi government before it was published, suggesting that that the Saudi government had an influence on AMI’s publishing – and possibly an ongoing influence.

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“Why would American Media, best-known for publishing salacious stories of sex and scandal, sink money into printing 200,000 copies of a magazine with a grinning Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman splashed across the cover?” the authors, Josh Lederman and Jeff Horwitz, asked in the report.

AMI and Saudi officials both denied that the two had collaborated on the venture.

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