Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Digital Despot the Saudi Crown Prince Is an Unsavory Ally

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Digital Despot the Saudi Crown Prince Is an Unsavory Ally

Article excerpt

It's hard to underestimate just how much damage Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia has done to his country in the last 15 months. Yet it's also difficult to see how the U.S. can defend its interests in the region without his cooperation.

The damage became visible on Oct. 2, 2018, when a Saudi hit team lured Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi to the Saudi consulate in Istanbul to murder him. The latest revelation is a hacking campaign against Jeff Bezos, the founder and CEO of Amazon, who also owns The Washington Post. As a United Nations report released Wednesday notes: "The information we have received suggests the possible involvement of the Crown Prince in surveillance of Mr. Bezos, in an effort to influence, if not silence, The Washington Post's reporting on Saudi Arabia."

A security consultant for Mr. Bezos made a version of this claim last year. The U.N. report fills in more details. It says that Mr. Bezos and the crown prince, known as MBS, attended a dinner on April 4, 2018, where the two men exchanged their WhatsApp contact information. On May 1, a video was sent to Mr. Bezos from MBS' account that included malware that allowed the Saudis to keep tabs on his phone. More than six months later, on Nov. 8, MBS trolled Mr. Bezos, sending him a photo of a woman that resembled his paramour. This was months before the National Enquirer published a story about Mr. Bezos and his extramarital affair.

U.N. reports are not always reliable, of course. The Wall Street Journal reported last March that the Enquirer got its scoop about the Bezos affair from his lover's brother, to whom it paid $200,000. That said, the specifics of the report support what's widely known about the Saudis' extensive cyberespionage operation. In November, for example, the Justice Department charged two former employees of Twitter and a Saudi national with spying for Saudi Arabia. In October, Facebook sued an Israeli company, alleging it had compromised the accounts of 1,400 users of WhatsApp, which Facebook owns. …

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