Former Twitter Employees Paid by Saudi Arabia to Spy on Users

Disinformation campaigns on Twitter are near and dear to all of our hearts, so this story is sure to raise a few eyebrows.

The Justice Department has charged two former Twitter employees with spying for Saudi Arabia in a case that raises concerns about the ability of Silicon Valley to protect the private information of dissidents and other users from repressive governments.

Washington Post

Bad faith actors love Twitter. It is an amazing tool for brainwashing, spreading propaganda, and silencing dissent.

The second former Twitter employee — Ali Alzabarah, a Saudi citizen — was accused of accessing the personal information of more than 6,000 Twitter accounts in 2015 on behalf of Saudi Arabia. One of those accounts belonged to a prominent dissident, Omar Abdulaziz, who later became close to Jamal Khashoggi, a Washington Post columnist who was killed by Saudi government agents last year.

Washington Post

If Twitter can figure out how to protect dissidents from targeted campaigns, it will be a great tool for free speech. If not, it becomes a propaganda tool.

The criminal complaint unsealed today alleges that Saudi agents mined Twitter’s internal systems for personal information about known Saudi critics and thousands of other Twitter users. We will not allow U.S. companies or U.S. technology to become tools of foreign repression in violation of U.S. law.

U.S. Attorney David L. Anderson

God bless the brave men and women investigating and prosecuting these abuses.

The three men are accused of working with a Saudi official who leads a charitable organization 

Washington Post

What is it with fraudsters and fake charities? I guess the “charity” label gives you cover to do bad things without raising as many suspicions.

Asaker paid Abouammo at least $300,000 for his efforts and also gave him a watch worth about $20,000, the complaint alleged. In May 2015, Abouammo resigned from Twitter and moved to Seattle.

Washington Post

Wow, with that kind of a payment for controlling the Twitter conversation, these guys were definitely some of the top influencers of the year.

Last fall, an FBI agent interviewed Abouammo at his home about the watch and his communications with Asaker and others. According to the complaint, Abouammo created a false receipt using his home computer during the interview to show a $100,000 payment received from Asaker to disguise the payments as media strategy work.

Washington Post

There always needs to be a supposedly legitimate source the money came from. Otherwise people start asking where you got it from. Hence the need to pretend the payments were for something else.

On Dec. 2, Twitter confronted Alzabarah about his access of user data. He said he did so “out of curiosity,” the complaint said. He was placed on leave. The following day, he flew to Saudi Arabia.

Washington Post

Read the full story at The Washington Post

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