DUBAI, United Arab Emirates —
The phone of Amazon founder and Washington Post owner Jeff Bezos was hacked after receiving a file sent from an account used by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, U.N. experts said Wednesday.
The two experts called for an “immediate investigation” by the United States into information that suggests that Bezos’ phone was likely hacked after he received an MP4 video file sent from the Saudi prince’s WhatsApp account in May 2018, after the two exchanged phone numbers at a dinner in California.
The file was sent to Bezos’ phone five months before Saudi critic and Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi was killed by Saudi government agents inside the Saudi consulate in Turkey in October. At the time, the crown prince was being widely hailed for ushering in major social reforms to the kingdom, but Khashoggi was writing columns in the Post that highlighted the darker side of the crown prince’s simultaneous clampdown on dissent.
The Post was harshly critical of the Saudi government after Khashoggi’s killing and demanded accountability in a highly public campaign that ran in the paper for weeks after his death.
“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 independent U.N. experts said.
They said that at a time when Saudi Arabia was “supposedly investigating the killing of Mr. Khashoggi, and prosecuting those it deemed responsible, it was clandestinely waging a massive online campaign against Mr. Bezos and Amazon, targeting him principally as the owner of the Washington Post.”
The U.N. experts published their statement after reviewing a full report conducted by a team of investigators hired by Bezos. The experts said they reviewed the 2019 digital forensic analysis of Bezos’ iPhone, which was made available to them as U.N. special rapporteurs. The independent experts are appointed by the U.N. Human Rights Council.
The digital forensic investigation that was commissioned by Bezos and shared with the U.N. experts assessed with “medium to high confidence” that his phone was infiltrated on May 1, 2018, via the MP4 video file sent from the crown prince’s WhatsApp account.
The experts said that records showed that within hours of receiving the video from the crown prince’s account, there was “an anomalous and extreme change in phone behavior” with enormous amounts of data being transmitted and exfiltrated from the phone, undetected, for several months.
Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister, Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud, called the hacking allegations “absolutely illegitimate.”
“There was no information in there that’s relevant. There was no substantiation, there was no evidence,” he told an Associated Press reporter at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. “It was purely conjecture, and if there is real evidence, we look forward to seeing it.”
Saudi Arabia is already under investigation in the United States for another case involving Twitter. U.S. prosecutors in California allege that the Saudi government, frustrated by growing criticism of its leaders and policies on social media, recruited two Twitter employees to gather confidential personal information on thousands of accounts that included prominent opponents.
Bezos went public last February after allegedly being shaken down by the U.S. tabloid National Enquirer, which he said threatened to expose a “below-the-belt” selfie he’d taken and other private messages and pictures he’d exchanged with a woman he was dating while he was still married.
Bezos wrote in a lengthy piece for the Medium that rather than capitulate to extortion and blackmail, “I’ve decided to publish exactly what they sent me, despite the personal cost and embarrassment they threaten.” While he did not accuse Saudi Arabia’s crown prince of being behind the hacking of his phone, he noted that the owner of the National Enquirer had been investigated for various actions taken on behalf of the Saudi government.
Bezos’ chief investigator, Gavin De Becker, went further, saying in a published report last March that the investigation found the Saudis obtained the private data of Bezos. His piece for the Daily Beast outlined in detail what he said was the crown prince’s close relationship with the chairman of AMI, David Pecker, which is the parent company of the National Enquirer.
At the time of his dealings with the crown prince, Bezos had been looking for a site in the Middle East to expand Amazon’s cloud services. The billionaire technology mogul had visited Saudi Arabia in 2016 to meet with the crown prince before meeting with him again during the prince’s tour of the United States in 2018. The company ultimately selected the island nation of Bahrain off the coast of Saudi Arabia, and the cloud services facility opened in July.
Amazon has also expanded into the Middle East with its 2017 purchase of e-commerce website Souq.com, which is a competitor of Noon.com, a platform that launched that same year and is heavily funded by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund that is overseen by the crown prince.
Another senior Saudi official in Riyadh, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly, told the Associated Press that the kingdom finds it “distressing” that these claims are being made “devoid of evidence or fact.”
“The kingdom of Saudi Arabia does not conduct illicit activities of this nature, nor does it condone them,” the official said.
The Financial Times, which has seen the forensic report that was done by FTI Consulting, said the investigation “does not claim to have conclusive evidence,” and “could not ascertain what alleged spyware was used.”
The Hawaii congresswoman and Democratic presidential candidate Tulsi Gabbard is suing Hillary Clinton for defamation, alleging the 2016 nominee described her as a “Russian asset” and claiming more than $50m in damages.
Gabbard, who sued Google in July 2019, also claiming $50m, filed the lawsuit in the southern district of New York. She claims that in October 2019 Clinton “falsely stated” that Gabbard “is a ‘Russian asset’”.
“Clinton’s false assertions were made in a deliberate attempt to derail Tulsi’s presidential campaign,” the filing says.
The lawsuit claims: “The defamatory statements have caused Tulsi to lose potential donors and potential voters who heard the defamatory statements. Tulsi has suffered significant actual damages, personally and professionally, that are estimated to exceed $50m – and continue to this day.”
Gabbard’s allegations stem from an interview Clinton conducted with the Democratic strategist, author and podcaster David Plouffe in October 2019. Discussing the 2020 primary field, Clinton said of one candidate: “She is a favourite of the Russians.
“They have a bunch of sites and bots and other ways of supporting her so far. And, that’s assuming Jill Stein [the Green Party nominee for president in 2016, who received favourable coverage from Russian state media] will give it up, which she might not because she’s also a Russian asset. Yeah, she’s a Russian asset.”
Some observers say Stein cost Clinton victory over Donald Trump in key states in 2016. Such claims are fiercely debated.
A Clinton spokesman confirmed that Clinton was talking about Gabbard.
Before the interview, the New York Times reported that Gabbard had “supportive signs” from the Russian state news media, and said a hashtag supporting her “appeared to be amplified by a coordinated network of bot-like accounts”. The Times said there was no evidence of coordination between these networks and Gabbard’s campaign.
Gabbard claimed Clinton had said she was being “groomed” by the Russians. Though a number of media organisations did report that Clinton made that accusation, media factcheckers discredited Gabbard’s interpretation of Clinton’s statement about Russia, with the Washington Post awarding her three “Pinocchios”.
Gabbard’s lawsuit brushes over the “grooming” claim, focusing instead on the alleged damage of the “Russian asset” remark.
“Tulsi is not a Russian asset,” the filing says. “No one – Russia or anyone else – controls her or her presidential campaign.”
The lawsuit claims Clinton made the remark in “retribution” for Gabbard supporting Bernie Sanders in the 2016 primary and describes Clinton as a “cut-throat politician” who has “never forgotten this perceived slight”.
At the time, Gabbard was in her second term in the House and was a vice-chair of the Democratic National Committee.
Gabbard sued Google in 2019, claiming the company suspended her campaign’s advertising after the first Democratic debate in June. A hearing is reportedly set for 27 January.
There is little evidence Clinton’s comments have had any impact on Gabbard’s popularity. According to Real Clear Politics, the congresswoman was polling at 2.3% nationally at the time of the remarks. She currently has 1.7% of stated preferences.
The attorneys general of 21 states have come forward with a blistering rebuke of the impeachment of President Trump, asserting that it “establishes a dangerous historical precedent.”
The Republican attorneys general, in a letter submitted to the Senate Wednesday morning and obtained by Fox News, urged the chamber conducting Trump’s trial to “reject” the impeachment articles.
“If not expressly repudiated by the Senate, the theories animating both Articles will set a precedent that is entirely contrary to the Framers’ design and ruinous to the most important governmental structure protections contained in our Constitution: the separation of powers,” they wrote.
The letter accuses House Democrats of impeaching Trump as a politically motivated response to the 2016 election and warned that it poses a threat to the 2020 election as well.
“Even an unsuccessful effort to impeach the President undermines the integrity of the 2020 presidential election because it weaponizes a process that should only be initiated in exceedingly rare circumstances and should never be used for partisan purposes,” the letter continued.
READ THE LETTER:
State AG letter to Senate on impeachment by Fox News on Scribd
FOLLOW >>> @magababe <<<