Former Twitter employee found guilty of spying for Saudi Arabia

Abouammo failed to register as a foreign agent and thus was found guilty of six counts of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and money laundering.

 The Twitter app is seen on a smartphone in this illustration taken July 13, 2021 (photo credit: REUTERS/DADO RUVIC)
The Twitter app is seen on a smartphone in this illustration taken July 13, 2021
(photo credit: REUTERS/DADO RUVIC)

Former Twitter employee Ahmad Abouammo was convicted of spying on behalf of the Saudi Arabian government, a US Federal court in San Francisco ruled on Tuesday. 

A US citizen who served as Twitter’s former media partnership manager in the Middle East, Abouammo was charged in 2019 after an FBI complaint said he and two other accomplices received money in exchange for confidential Twitter data about users that were critical of the Saudi government – such as their email addresses, phone numbers and IP addresses.

The US complaint alleged that user data of over 6,000 Twitter accounts were accessed – including at least 33 usernames that Saudi law enforcement had requested that the social media giant disclose to them. 

The former Twitter employee failed to register as a foreign agent and thus was found guilty of six counts of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and money laundering.

Saudi Arabia spying 

 SAUDI CROWN PRINCE Mohammed bin Salman poses ahead of the Jeddah Security and Development Summit in Saudi Arabia, July 16.  (credit: BANDAR ALGALOUD/COURTESY OF SAUDI ROYAL COURT/REUTERS) SAUDI CROWN PRINCE Mohammed bin Salman poses ahead of the Jeddah Security and Development Summit in Saudi Arabia, July 16. (credit: BANDAR ALGALOUD/COURTESY OF SAUDI ROYAL COURT/REUTERS)

The Saudi Arabian government originally contacted Abouammo in May 2014 and asked him to arrange a tour of Twitter’s San Francisco office for a group of Saudi “entrepreneurs,” the indictment explains. 

Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s aide Bader al-Asaker is said to have compensated Abouammo with a $20,000 watch and over $300,000 to an account in Lebanon set up in the name of his father. Asaker also asked Abouammo for help in having the prince's Twitter account get the company's “blue checkmark” verification.

While this is the first known instance of a Saudi informant spying on the US, friends and associates of the murdered Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi were also hacked using Pegasus spyware supplied by an Israeli security company, NSO