A WhatsApp message sent from a number used personally by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman led to the hacking of Jeff Bezos phone in 2018, the Guardian reported on Tuesday.
The newspaper cited “sources” to back its claims without specifying their background or who they work for, but if true, the report would bring more scrutiny to US-Saudi relations, which have hit a lowpoint after the murder of Jamal Khashoggi.
Bezos, a global entrepreneur who owns the retail online giant Amazon and the Washington Post, had vowed to get to the bottom of how the National Enquirer tabloid had obtained private conversations and photos from his phone and published them early last year.
The Enquirer is closely aligned with President Donald Trump. In 2018, American Media Inc (AMI), which also publishes the National Enquirer, released a magazine glorifying bin Salman ahead of his visit to the United States that year.
In a blogpost blasting AMI and its CEO David Pecker last year, Bezos suggested that his targeting by the National Enquirer may have been related to the Washington Post’s coverage of the murder of Khashoggi.
The slain journalist, who wrote for the Post, was killed and dismembered by Saudi government agents at the kingdom’s consulate in Istanbul in October 2018.
“The Post’s essential and unrelenting coverage of the murder of its columnist Jamal Khashoggi is undoubtedly unpopular in certain circles,” Bezos wrote addressing the National Enquirer controversy in February of last year.
In the same blogpost, he said he had tasked his security chief Gavin de Becker to investigate the matter. Less than two months later, de Becker wrote in the article published by the Daily Beast that Saudi Arabia had access to Bezos phone.
“Our investigators and several experts concluded with high confidence that the Saudis had access to Bezos’ phone, and gained private information,” he said.
Now the Guardian has revealed that bin Salman may have been personally involved in the kingdom’s plot to gain access to Bezos phone – months before Khashoggi was murdered.
Bezos and bin Salman were having a personal exchange on 1 May 2018 when the Amazon owner received a “malicious file” from the Saudi crown prince that gave the Saudis access to the phone.
The newspaper cites a digital forensic analysis without revealing who conducted it.
Critics were quick to rebuke the kingdom after the report on Tuesday.
I wasn't gonna tweet the colorful language I would like to say about this.
I was going to say this is f***king insane.
But it's not.
This is MBS being drunk and high on impunity.
He's never been held accountable for any single f**king thing, ever.https://t.co/prdloFzVxI
— Karen Attiah (@KarenAttiah) January 21, 2020
“If the Saudi Crown Prince is brazen enough to do this to the world’s richest man, there’s every reason to believe this isn’t an isolated incident,” Ned Price, a lecturer at Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service, wrote on Twitter.
“Has he done the same to Jared Kushner, a WhatsApp contact of his and the administration’s Saudi point person?”