- UN investigators backed a bombshell investigation that found Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos had his phone hacked by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
- UN investigators David Kaye and Agnes Callamard released a statement on Wednesday saying the information suggested the possible involvement of Crown Prince Mohammed in the hack.
- The Guardian first reported on Tuesday that Jeff Bezos had been hacked by the Crown Prince via WhatsApp.
- The Saudi government has denied the allegations, calling them “absurd.”
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
UN investigators said on Wednesday there are reasonable grounds to believe that Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was involved in a hack of Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos’ phone.
“UN human rights experts are gravely concerned by information they have received suggesting that, in contravention of fundamental international human rights standards, a WhatsApp account belonging to the Crown Prince of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in 2018 deployed digital spyware enabling surveillance of The Washington Post owner and Amazon CEO, Jeffery [sic] Bezos,” the UN investigators said in their statement released on Wednesday.
“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,” special rapporteur David Kaye said in a statement.
Kaye and fellow special rapporteur Agnes Callamard are independent experts appointed by the UN to examine human rights violations and violations of freedom of expression.
A forensic investigation concluded a number belonging to Crown Prince Mohammed hacked Jeff Bezos via WhatsApp
The Guardian reported on Tuesday that a forensic investigation of Jeff Bezos’ phone revealed he had been hacked by the Crown Prince in 2018.
A number belonging to Crown Prince Mohammed is thought to have sent Bezos a WhatsApp message with a video file that contained malware that infiltrated the billionaire’s phone.
In their report, the UN investigators included a technical analysis of Bezos’ phone which suggested that he had been subject to “intrusive surveillance” from Saudi Arabia. That report linked Crown Prince Mohammed to the hack.
The investigators wrote: “Mr. Bezos was subjected to intrusive surveillance via hacking of his phone as a result of actions attributable to the WhatsApp account used by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.”
The investigators also note in their statement that Crown Prince Mohammed sent Bezos messages in November 2018 and February 2019 containing “private and confidential information about Mr. Bezos’ personal life that was not available from public sources.
The New York Times earlier reported on Wednesday that the forensic analysis of the phone had been performed by business advisory firm FTI Consulting.
The technical analysis released on Wednesday pointed to Pegasus, invasive software from secretive Israeli security firm NSO Group. NSO Group is currently being sued by WhatsApp’s owner Facebook for compromising users’ accounts. The technical analysis confirmed the use of a malicious video file, but did not detail its contents.
In a statement to Business Insider NSO Group denied any involvement: “As we stated unequivocally in April 2019 to the same false assertion, our technology was not used in this instance. We know this because of how our software works and our technology cannot be used on US phone numbers. Our products are only used to investigate terror and serious crime,” a spokesman said.
In an additional statement published on its website NSO Group added it was “shocked and appalled” by the alleged hack. “If this story is true, then it deserves a full investigation by all bodies providing such services to assure that their systems have not been used in this abuse,” it said.
The Saudi government pushed back against The Guardian’s earlier report, calling the allegation “absurd” and calling for an investigation.
This is part of a long-running saga between Jeff Bezos and Saudi Arabia
The alleged hack is the latest in a long-running saga involved Jeff Bezos, his phone communications, and Saudi Arabia.
After US tabloid the National Enquirer obtained and published texts and intimate pictures shared between Jeff Bezos and his girlfriend Lauren Sanchez last year, Bezos commissioned his private head of security Gavin de Becker to find out who was behind the leak.
In an extraordinary blog post in February 2019, Bezos pointed to links between American Media Inc (the National Enquirer’s parent company) and Crown Prince Mohammed. Bezos also pointed out he owns the Washington Post, the paper which employed murdered Saudi dissident Jamal Khashoggi. Khashoggi’s killing is widely believed to have been ordered by Crown Prince Mohammed, and the UN investigators described the alleged Bezos hack as relevant to the ongoing investigation into Khashoggi’s murder.
A month later de Becker wrote in the Daily Beast that his investigation had concluded with “high confidence” that the Saudis had gained access to Bezos’ phone.
In their statement the UN investigators called for a more thorough investigation. “The alleged hacking of Mr Bezos’s phone, and those of others, demands immediate investigation by US and other relevant authorities, including investigation of the continuous, multi-year, direct and personal involvement of the Crown Prince in efforts to target perceived opponents,” said Kaye.
This is a developing story…