Jeff Bezos hack: Investigation points to Saudi Prince

Washington: Amazon chief Jeff Bezos’s phone was likely infected by spyware hidden in a message from Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, according to an analysis released Wednesday, prompting calls for an official investigation.

A forensic analysis by technical experts retained by Bezos after a leak of his personal information in early 2019 suggested that the Bezos iPhone was compromised by ‘tools’ procured by a close associate of the Saudi de facto ruler.

The suggestion of the Saudi prince’s role in the hacking prompted calls for further investigation by UN human rights officials looking into the October 2018 killing of Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi journalist and contributor to The Washington Post, which is owned by Bezos. “The alleged hacking of Mr Bezos’s phone, and those of others, demands immediate investigation by US and other relevant authorities,” UN Special Rapporteurs Agnes Callamard and David Kaye said in a statement in Geneva. Any investigation should also look at the “continuous, multi-year, direct and personal involvement of the Crown Prince in efforts to target perceived opponents,” they added.

Callamard, the UN expert on summary executions and extrajudicial killings, and Kaye, the expert on freedom of expression, said the latest revelation “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 technical experts hired by Bezos concluded “with medium to high confidence that Bezos’ iPhone was compromised via malware sent from a WhatsApp account used by Saudi Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman,” said the report by FTI Consulting, first reported by the online news site Vice. Saudi authorities rejected the latest allegations.

“Recent media reports that suggest the Kingdom is behind a hacking of Mr Jeff Bezos’ phone are absurd,” the Saudi Arabian embassy said on its Twitter account. But FTI, which was retained by the security consultant hired by Bezos, Gavin de Becker, said its forensic analysis pointed to former Saudi court media adviser Saud al-Qahtani, part of Prince Mohammed’s inner circle.