Topline: Amazon CEO and Washington Post owner Jeff Bezos was hacked by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in 2018, the Guardian reported Tuesday, raising questions over who the Saudis were monitoring in connection to slain Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi and how the National Enquirer obtained Bezos’s private texts that exposed an extramarital affair last year.
- Citing sources familiar with the matter, the Guardian reported that a malicious video file sent from Mohammed bin Salman to Bezos on WhatsApp was responsible for the hack.
- Large amounts of data were taken from Bezos’s phone within hours of the infected file being sent.
- The two men were having a seemingly friendly conversation before that, the Guardian reported, though it is unclear what they were talking about or why they were in communication with each other.
- It is also unclear where the information taken from Bezos’s phone went or how it was used, but it undermines previous claims made by the Saudis that they weren’t surveilling Bezos and others connected to Khashoggi, who was killed inside a Saudi embassy in Istanbul, Turkey last year apparently because he wrote columns critical of the Saudi government. The CIA has since concluded that bin Salman personally ordered Khashoggi’s assassination, which he has denied.
- The Guardian’s reporting also supports claims made by Bezos’s head of security, Gavin de Becker, who wrote in a March 2019 Daily Beast story that the Saudis had access to Bezos’s private data. He also alleged that the Saudis provided the initial tip about Bezos’s affair to the National Enquirer, which then published Bezos’s intimate text messages and photos.
- A spokesperson for Bezos did not immediately respond to a request for comment from Forbes.
Chief critic: The Saudi Embassy in Washington D.C. dismissed the Guardian’s reporting. “Recent media reports that suggest the Kingdom is behind a hacking of Mr. Jeff Bezos’ phone are absurd. We call for an investigation on these claims so that we can have all the facts out,” the embassy tweeted.
Key background: Forbes and independent researchers have found that Saudi Arabia has used a hacking tool created by Israeli firm NSO Group to spy on human rights workers, journalists and activists. It is ultimately unclear if bin Salman used NSO Group’s technology on Bezos, though the Israeli company was sued by Facebook in October for exploiting a WhatsApp vulnerability to inject malicious code into target phones.
I’m a San Francisco-based reporter covering breaking news at Forbes. Previously, I’ve reported for USA Today, Business Insider, The San Francisco Business Times and San Jose Inside. I studied journalism at Syracuse University’s S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications and was an editor at The Daily Orange, the university’s independent student newspaper. Follow me on Twitter @rachsandl or shoot me an email email@example.com.