Saudi Arabia says reports of crown prince hacking Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos’ phone are ‘absurd’
The alleged intrusion took place during a friendly WhatsApp conversation between the two men.
Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud on Wednesday described as “absurd” the allegation that Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman hacked American media proprietor Jeff Bezos’ mobile phone in 2018, Reuters reported.
“I think absurd is exactly the right word,” Faisal told Reuters in Davos. “The idea that the crown prince would hack Jeff Bezos’ phone is absolutely silly.”
On Tuesday, The Guardian reported, citing unidentified people, that Bezos’ phone was hacked after receiving WhatsApp messages from the Saudi crown prince. The results of a digital forensic analysis suggested that the encrypted message included a malicious file that infiltrated the phone of the world’s richest man. Analysts said it was “highly probable” that an infected video file sent from the account of Salman triggered the hacking of Bezos’ phone.
The incident took place on May 1, 2018, when Salman and Bezos were having a friendly WhatsApp conversation, The Guardian reported. Large amounts of data were taken from Bezos’ phone within hours, a person familiar with the matter told the newspaper. However, the newspaper added that it has no information about what data was taken or how it was used.
Digital forensic experts had begun to examine Bezos’s phone in January 2019 after the National Enquirer published intimate details about his personal life, including an extramarital affair. Bezos’ security team attempted to determine how the tabloid had got hold of his private messages. Bezos had then accused the tabloid of blackmailing him to not publish his intimate photos with a woman.
American Media Inc, which owns the National Enquirer, had claimed at the time that it was tipped off about the affair by the estranged brother of Bezos’s girlfriend. However, forensic experts discovered with “high confidence” that the Saudis had managed to access Bezos’s phone and gain information about his personal life. Saudi Arabia denied any role in the matter.
Agnès Callamard, the United Nations special rapporteur who investigates extrajudicial killings, has reviewed the forensic analysis of Bezos’ phone which suggests it was hacked by the Saudi crown prince in May 2018, The Guardian reported. However, Callmard declined to comment on the matter. Asked whether she would challenge Saudi Arabia about the hacking allegation, Callamard said she followed all UN protocols that require investigators to alert governments about forthcoming public allegations.
Saudi experts said that the crown prince may have targeted Bezos because of his ownership of the Washington Post and its coverage of Saudi Arabia. Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who had written columns critical of Saudi Arabia, was killed in October 2018, allegedly at the behest of Mohammad bin Salman. United States intelligence agencies had found credible evidence that Salman ordered Khashoggi’s killing. However, in what was seen as a sham trial, Saudi Arabia sentenced five people to death for the murder.
“He [Salman] probably believed that if he got something on Bezos it could shape coverage of Saudi Arabia in the [Washington] Post,” Andrew Miller, an expert on West Asia who worked under the Barack Obama administration, told The Guardian. “It is clear that the Saudis have no real boundaries or limits in terms of what they are prepared to do in order to protect and advance MBS...”
A lawyer for Bezos, however, declined to comment on the matter. “I have no comment on this except to say that Mr Bezos is cooperating with investigations,” he said.