Updated Jan 22, 2020 - Technology

UN calls for investigation into alleged Saudi involvement in Bezos phone hack

Jeff Bezos and Saudi crown prince Mohammad bin Salman in 2016

Jeff Bezos and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in 2016. Photo: Pool/Bandar Algaloud/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos' phone was hacked in 2018 after he received a WhatsApp message from an account apparently owned by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS), UN investigators said in a statement Wednesday.

What they're saying: The UN is calling for an “immediate investigation” by the United States and other countries into the hacking of Bezos' phone, which experts said may have been part of "an effort to influence, if not silence, The Washington Post's reporting on Saudi Arabia."

Why it matters: The alleged security breach of the owner of the Washington Post, whose columnist Jamal Khashoggi was killed in October 2018 in an assassination linked to MBS, comes months after Bezos' security consultant alleged in a Daily Beast article that Saudi Arabia took data from the billionaire's phone, saying "it’s clear that MBS considers The Washington Post to be a major enemy."

  • The forensic analysis by the UN "is the first to directly implicate a WhatsApp account" used by MBS, per the Financial Times.

Of note: FT notes Bezos' relationship with the crown prince deteriorated following Khashoggi's killing. MBS has denied involvement in the journalist's assassination, despite the CIA concluding with "high confidence" and the UN finding there was "credible evidence" that he was responsible.

What's new: The UN report details a "forensic investigation into long-standing allegations by Bezos" that he was the victim of a cyberattack by the Saudi regime "as part of a complex series of conflicts among Bezos, the Saudis, President Trump and the National Enquirer tabloid," according to the Washington Post.

Flashback: The Enquirer reported last year that Bezos had an affair with Lauren Sanchez, prompting Bezos to allege that the publication was engaged in “extortion and blackmail."

The new allegations: UN official David Kaye outlines in a new documentary film that Bezos' cellphone was "infected with malware that was delivered via a message" from MBS, per the WashPost.

  • "Soon after the message was sent, investigators concluded, a massive amount of data was extracted from Bezos’s phone," the news outlet notes.
  • The hacking is alleged to have occurred weeks after MBS met with several leading U.S. executives and "sought to attract investment to the kingdom," with he and Bezos exchanging numbers at a Los Angeles dinner, the FT reports.
  • Experts hired by Bezos determined with "medium to high confidence" that MBS' WhatsApp account had been involved in the hacking, according to the FT.

What they're saying: A statement by Saudi Arabia's U.S. embassy posted to Twitter said, "Recent media reports that suggest the Kingdom is behind a hacking of Mr. Jeff Bezos' phone are absurd. We call for an investigation on these claims so that we can have all the facts out."

What's next: "It is understood that [the evidence] is considered credible enough for investigators to be considering a formal approach to Saudi Arabia to ask for an explanation," The Guardian reports.

Read the UN's forensic report.

Go deeper: Bezos' consultant accuses Saudis of taking Amazon CEO's phone data

Editor's note: This article has been updated with the UN's call for an investigation and Saudi Arabia's response to the allegations.

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