UN Demands Probe Of Bezos' Phone Hack, Allege Saudi Crown Prince "Targeted Perceived Opponents"

Update (1/22 0915ET): Despoite the Saudi Embassy's denial of the "absurd" claims that MbS hacked Jeff Bezos' phone, United Nations experts have called for an "immediate investigation" by the United States.

Independent experts Agnes Callamard, UN Special Rapporteur on summary executions and extrajudicial killings, and David Kaye, UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of expression, said in a statement Wednesday:

“The information we have received 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 circumstances and timing of the hacking and surveillance of Bezos also strengthen support for further investigation by U.S. and other relevant authorities of the allegations that the Crown Prince ordered, incited, or, at a minimum, was aware of planning for but failed to stop the mission that fatally targeted Mr. Khashoggi in Istanbul.

...

“The alleged hacking of Mr. Bezos’s phone, and those of others, demands immediate investigation by U.S. and other relevant authorities, including investigation of the continuous, multi-year, direct and personal involvement of the Crown Prince in efforts to target perceived opponents."

The U.N. experts reviewed a 2019 digital forensic analysis of Bezos' iPhone, which they said was made available to them as U.N. Special Rapporteurs. The experts said that records showed that within hours of receipt of a video from the crown Pprince’s WhatsApp account, there was “an anomalous and extreme change in phone behavior” with enormous amounts of data from the phone being transmitted over the following months.

This won't end well.

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Update (2055ET): Perhaps not entirely surprising - given our comments below on the source publication - the Saudi Embassy in the US has tweeted a quasi-denial:

We look forward the Kingdom investigating The Guardian's claims (but won't be holding our breath for a retraction).

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Jeff Bezos was allegedly hacked by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman or someone operating his WhatsApp account, according to The Guardian, so who knows.

Bezos was apparently hanging out in an encrypted WhatsApp chat room in 2018 when he opened an "infected video file" sent to him from the Saudi heir's account, instantly installing malware on his phone. Within hours, large amounts of data had been exfiltrated - though exactly what was taken or how it may have been used is unknown.

The two men had been having a seemingly friendly WhatsApp exchange when, on 1 May of that year, the unsolicited file was sent, according to sources who spoke to the Guardian on the condition of anonymity. -Guardian

Recall that after the National Enquirer published an exposé in early 2019 detailing Bezos’s extramarital affair, the billionaire revealed that the publication had threatened to publish explicit photos of him unless he publicly stated that there had been no political motivation for the tabloid’s original story. Bezos would make no such concession - instead, penning a Medium post exposing the attempt.

And while the Enquirer's parent company AMI insists their source was Michael Sanchez, the brother of Mr. Bezos’ girlfriend - Bezos's security consultant consultant, Gavin de Becker, alleged the Saudis were behind the leak - as they had "been intent on harming Jeff Bezos since . . . The Post began its relentless coverage" of the murder of Saudi dissident and Post journalist, Jamap Khashoggi."

De Becker writes:

Our investigators and several experts concluded with high confidence that the Saudis had access to Bezos’ phone, and gained private information. As of today, it is unclear to what degree, if any, AMI was aware of the details.

We did not reach our conclusions lightly. 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.

Experts with whom we consulted confirmed New York Times reports on the Saudi capability to “collect vast amounts of previously inaccessible data from smartphones in the air without leaving a trace—including phone calls, texts, emails”—and confirmed that hacking was a key part of the Saudis’ “extensive surveillance efforts that ultimately led to the killing of [Washington Post] journalist Jamal Khashoggi.” -Gavin de Becker (via the Daily Beast)

As the Post noted in October, "After Khashoggi’s killing in Istanbul, the planet’s richest man, who also owns The Post, became the target of waves of criticism from Saudi-based online trolls." (Also interesting, and perhaps related, is a $1 billion Saudi data center deal Amazon was vying for in March 2018, which began to fizzle out as early as February 2019 - as the dick-pic scandal unfolded.)

Sanchez, meanwhile, vehemently denied being AMI's source, while de Becker said in The Beast that Sanchez was contacted by the Enquirer first, not the other way around.

AMI has repeatedly insisted they had only one source on their Bezos story, but the Journal reports that when the Enquirer began conversations with Michael Sanchez, they had “already been investigating whether Mr. Bezos and Ms. Sanchez were having an affair.” Michael Sanchez has since confirmed to Page Six that when the Enquirer contacted him back in July, they had already “seen text exchanges” between the couple. If accurate, the WSJ and Page Six stories would mean, clearly and obviously, that the initial information came from other channels—another source or method. -Gavin de Becker (via the Daily Beast)

AMI insists Sanchez was their source, however The Guardian now says it was the Saudis all along - at the highest level. Of course, given the publication, we should be wary that the Bezos-MbS 'source' is the same one who told them Manafort met with Julian Assange in the Ecuador's London embassy.