The seeds of the plan to hack Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos’ phone were reportedly sown when Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman visited the United States in 2018 to project his progressive vision for the country. MBS visited MIT and Harvard and met business leaders including Bezos, owner of The Washington Post, where they exchanged phone numbers over a dinner.
On January 22, two United Nations experts confirmed the report, by The Guardian, of hacking in a statement that read, “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.”
The experts became aware of the forensic analysis of Bezos’ phone which claimed that large amounts of data were exfiltrated after the privacy breach. The analysis suggests that privacy was breached through the use of a prominent spyware product identified in other Saudi surveillance cases, such as the NSO Group's Pegasus-3 malware.
The alleged involvement of Saudi Crown Prince and his inner circle in the hacking of The Washington Post owner’s phone might open a can of worms as the incident was followed by the revelation of Bezos’ alleged extramarital affairs and murder of Jamal Khashoggi, a Post’s columnist. The National Enquirer, an American tabloid newspaper, published a story about Amazon CEO’s extramarital affair with Lauren Sanchez, along with intimate text messages and pictures of the couple, months after the data breach.
However, Saudi Arabia Embassy to the United States has rejected the claims and called for an investigation. The reports of Saudi involvement in hacking is a huge setback for MBS who has been trying to repair the tarnished image after Khashoggi killing. In December, Saudi Arabia court convicted eight people in the killing of The Washington Post columnist but exonerated inner circle of MBS.
Agnes Callamard, UN Special Rapporteur on Extra-Judicial Executions, and David Kaye, UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of expression, said that the circumstances and timing of the hacking and surveillance of Bezos also strengthen support for further investigation by the US and other relevant authorities of the allegations that the Crown Prince ordered, incited, or, at a minimum, was aware of planning for but failed to stop the mission that fatally targeted Mr Khashoggi in Istanbul.