Can we finally admit that Silicon Valley has a LOT of power, and isn’t all that careful about seeing it doesn’t get abused?
There’s been all kinds of talk about Russian and Ukranian political interference. But what about Saudi Arabia?
We’ve come to learn that employees of Twitter had a … close … relationship with the House of Saud.
Did we mention those Twitter employees were working here in America?
Ali Alzabarah was an engineer who rose through the ranks at Twitter to a job that gave him access to personal information and account data of the social media service’s millions of users.
Ahmad Abouammo was a media partnerships manager at the company who could see the email addresses and phone numbers of Twitter accounts.
On Wednesday, the Justice Department accused the two men of using their positions and their access to Twitter’s internal systems to aid Saudi Arabia by obtaining information on American citizens and Saudi dissidents who opposed the policies of the kingdom and its leaders.
The two men, Mr. Alzabarah and Mr. Abouammo, were charged with acting as agents of a foreign power inside the United States, in the first complaint of its kind involving Saudis in the country. The case raised questions about the security of American technology companies already under scrutiny for spreading disinformation and influencing public opinion, showing that these firms can be penetrated from the inside as well.
They both left Twitter in 2015.
American companies like Twitter are attractive targets for foreign agents. “The U.S. has such a dominant position in social media and technology that we are a natural target for our enemies and frenemies,” said Mark D. Rasch, a former head of the Justice Department’s computer crime division. “They will use any means at their disposal to get individuals’ data from U.S. companies for their intelligence and, in this case, suppression efforts.”
In addition to Mr. Alzabarah and Mr. Abouammo, federal prosecutors charged Ahmed Almutairi, who previously ran a social media marketing company that did work for the Saudi royal family. He and Mr. Alzabarah are Saudi citizens, and Mr. Abouammo is an American, according to the complaint filed by prosecutors.
The period of time in question began in 2014.
While at Twitter, Mr. Alzabarah had grown increasingly close to Saudi intelligence operatives, Western intelligence officials told company executives. The operatives eventually persuaded him to peer into the accounts of users they sought information on, including dissidents and activists who spoke against the crown, multiple people have told The Times.
Two people familiar with the case said one of the 6,000 Twitter accounts that Mr. Alzabarah had looked at on behalf of Saudi officials in 2015 belonged to Omar Abdulaziz, a prominent Saudi dissident and confidant of Mr. Khashoggi.
Recognize that name? Yes, THAT Khashoggi.
Once discovered, Twitter put him on administrative leave. They couldn’t PROVE that he’d passed along information, but he left the company and went to work in Saudi Arabia after that.