In an Op-Ed for The Daily Beast, security specialist Gavin De Becker writes about how an investigation led by Bezos found that Saudis obtained his private data. The story began when Bezos, who has been a client of De Becker’s for 22 years, asked for De Becker’s help in discovering how the National Enquirer received Bezos’s private texts, which were published by the Enquirer in January.
The private texts uncovered a private relationship Bezos was having with Lauren Sanchez. Bezos asked De Becker to discover who provided the text messages and why. De Becker quickly discovered that Michael Sanchez, Lauren Sanchez’s brother, was the source. Yet, De Becker found it to be unusual how hard AMI, the parent company of the National Enquirer, worked to ensure that the identity of their source was revealed. A company lawyer gave strong hints and then direct statements that the source was Michael Sanchez.
Yet, Michael Sanchez claimed that the Enquirer contacted him about the affair first, not the other way around. He said that when he was contacted in July, Enquirer staff had already “seen text exchanges” between Bezos and Sanchez. This would indicate that the information initially came from another source.
AMI then threatened to disperse embarrassing photographs of Bezos unless he agreed to certain conditions. In an eight-page contract, AMI asked De Becker and Bezos to say that the investigation found that the Enquirer had not relied upon “any form of electronic eavesdropping or hacking in their news-gathering process.” AMI also wanted De Becker to say that his investigation concluded that their story on Bezos was not “instigated, dictated or influenced in any manner by external forces, political or otherwise.”
Bezos immediately rejected the contract before writing an essay describing why he rejected the proposal and publishing both the essay and the emails from AMI on Medium.
De Becker continued his investigation and reached the conclusion with “high confidence that the Saudis had access to Bezos’ phone, and gained private information. As of today, it is unclear to what degree, if any, AMI was aware of the details.”
Experts confirmed that Saudis were capable of collecting “vast amounts of previously inaccessible data from smartphones in the air without leaving a trace—including phone calls, texts, emails” and also confirmed that hacking was a part of the Saudis’ “extensive surveillance efforts that ultimately led to the killing of [Washington Post] journalist Jamal Khashoggi.”
The Saudi government unleashed a cyberarmy on Bezos and De Becker in October. The attacks included calls for boycotts against Amazon.com and the Saudi subsidiary, Souq.com.
De Becker studied the relationship between Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman and AMI chairman David Pecker. Pecker has traveled to Saudi Arabia to meet with MBS and after that meeting, AMI created a 100-page magazine called The New Kingdom. The magazine introduced MBS as “the most influential Arab leader—transforming the world at 32,” and “improving lives of his people & hopes for peace.”
Saudi Arabia denies having anything to do with the Bezos scandal.