Twitter Employees Spied on Users for Saudis: Prosecutors

Two men who looked up data received cash and designer watch, complaint says
By Bob Cronin,  Newser Staff
Posted Nov 6, 2019 6:45 PM CST
Saudis Paid Twitter Employees to Spy on Users: Prosecutors
Pedestrians walking by Twitter's offices in San Francisco.   (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu, File)

Two former Twitter employees face federal charges after prosecutors said they were paid to look up users' private information in an effort against critics of Saudi Arabia's government. The two are charged with acting as foreign agents without registering with the US. It's the first time federal prosecutors have publicly said Saudi Arabia has agents operating in this country, the Washington Post reports. In exchange for spying on more than 6,000 Twitter users, the employees received tens of thousands of dollars through secret bank accounts and a designer watch, prosecutors said. The complaint was unsealed in San Francisco on Wednesday, per USA Today. The Saudi government had no comment on the case.

A social media adviser for the royal family had offered to fly Twitter engineer Ali Alzabarah to Washington, D.C., to meet a Saudi royal who wasn't named in the compliant, per the AP. "Within one week of returning to San Francisco, Alzabarah began to access without authorization private data of Twitter users en masse," the complaint said. When his bosses asked him why he was accessing the data, he said it was out of curiosity. He flew to Saudi Arabia the next day with his family, prosecutors said, and an arrest warrant was issued. Ahmad Abouammo also was charged with lying to FBI agents and falsifying documents. He had been Twitter's media partnerships manager for the Middle East. He's in custody, with a detention hearing scheduled for Friday. (More Twitter stories.)

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