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Fmr. Twitter employee gets prison for spying for Saudis

The Twitter icon on a cellphone. (Dreamstime/TNS)
December 16, 2022

A former Twitter employee was sentenced to three-and-a-half years in prison Wednesday after a jury found him guilty of spying on users for Saudi Arabia. 

Though a whistleblower recently alleged that multiple foreign countries have infiltrated the social media service, it’s never resulted in a conviction and jail time until now, CNBC reported.

Ahmad Abouammo, 45, was found guilty in August of taking bribes from a Saudi official to feed the kingdom private information, including birth dates and phone numbers, on users critical of the Saudi government beginning in 2014. 

Abouammo, a dual U.S.-Lebanese citizen, had been Twitter’s media partnerships manager for the Middle East and North Africa. After he left the company in 2015, he kept helping the Saudis by encouraging former co-workers to “verify” Saudi accounts and remove posts hand-picked by his handler, CNBC reported.

For his services, Abouammo received two $100,000 wire transfers and a luxury watch worth $42,000, according to the Department of Justice. CNBC reported that he used part of the funds for a downpayment on a Seattle home.

Abouammo’s attorneys asked the sentencing judge for leniency because his family was in financial turmoil over specialized medical care for his sister’s newborn daughter, Reuters reported

They also said his crimes were less severe than another Twitter employee charged at the same time as Abouammo, who fled the U.S. before being charged. That employee, Ali Alzabarah, was accused of spying on thousands of accounts for Saudi Arabia, Reuters reported.

Abouammo was first charged in 2019 along with another Twitter employee and a Saudi national, according to DOJ. Both are still wanted by the FBI and are believed by DOJ to be in Saudi Arabia. 

According to DOJ, Abouammo’s Saudi handler headed the “private office” of a royal family member who, as the scheme unfolded, held the titles of minister of state, minister of defense, and deputy crown prince.

Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, currently the kingdom’s de facto ruler, held all of those titles in the years the scheme was active. But DOJ did not confirm that he was the royal family member mentioned.