Federal prosecutors charged two former twitter employees and a Saudi Arabian of using the platform to spy on some users who were critical of Riyadh and providing that information to thehigh ranking SA officials.
On Tuesday, Mr. Abouammo was arrested in Seattle is accused of trying to obtain personal information about Saudi Arabia’s critics. Mr. Alzabarah allegedly used employee credentials to obtain email addresses, dates of birth and other information about people who had published posts critical of the Saudi royal family. Mr. Alzabarah allegedly accessed the personal information of over 6,000 Twitter accounts in 2015 on behalf of the Saudi government, in one instance he obtained the email address of a prominent critic of the Saudi royal family with over 1 million Twitter followers.
“This information could have been used to identify and locate the Twitter users who published these posts,” the Justice Department said.
The Central Intelligence Agency last year concluded that Jamal Khashoggi was killed under order of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
Messrs. Abouammo and Alzabarah began working for Twitter around 2013 and left the company in 2015.
Mr. Almutairi was accused of a handler for the two employees from the Saudi government, convincing the Twitter workers to access the information. The Twitter employees received payments of varying kinds that included a watch and in others cash and benefits.
“The criminal complaint unsealed today alleges that Saudi agents mined Twitter’s internal systems for personal information about known critics of the government and thousands of other Twitter users,” said David Anderson, U.S. attorney in San Francisco. “We will not allow U.S. companies or U.S. technology to become tools of foreign repression in violation of U.S. law.”
The charges are unusual because they allege wrongdoing by citizens of a close Middle Eastern ally of the U.S. and detail a sophisticated conspiracy to infiltrate Twitter’s workforce and leverage access to its systems to spy on individual users of the social-media platform.
“We recognize the lengths bad actors will go to try and undermine our service,” a twitter spokesperson said.