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Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios. Photos: Anadolu Agency/Getty Contributor, Michael Kovac/Getty Contributor

If it weren't for impeachment, the country's biggest story would be allegations that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) hacked Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos' phone.

Why it matters: This would be the nominal leader of an American ally spying on the head of one of America's largest companies, who doubles as the owner of one of America's most influential media outlets.

  • UN investigators concluded "with medium to high confidence" that MBS sent Bezos a video file via WhatsApp that included secret code developed by Israeli spy software maker NSO Group.
  • The result was a colossal, months-long data extraction, beginning when Jamal Khashoggi was still alive and writing critically about Saudi Arabia for the Bezos-owned Washington Post. Saudi Arabia strongly denies the allegation.
  • It was allegedly done via the same messaging app that MBS has reportedly used to communicate with top White House aide Jared Kushner. Oh, and Michael Flynn, former U.S. national security adviser, was once a paid advisor to Israel-based NSO Group.

Flashback: Facebook last October sued NSO Group, for allegedly providing tools that enabled this very sort of hack. Apple and Microsoft have co-invested, or pledged to co-invest, with the Saudi government in SoftBank Vision Fund.

Context: At the time of the alleged hack, NSO Group was owned by private equity firm Francisco Partners, whose investors include some of America's largest public and corporate pension funds.

  • One could forgive Francisco if somehow it didn't realize that NSO's technology could be used for nefarious purposes, except that it absolutely knew (at least by 2017, when it was revealed that NSO software was used by the Mexican government to spy on journalists and anti-corruption advocates).
  • Francisco, which also briefly employed Michael Flynn, yesterday continued its years-long practice of hiding behind "no comment" when it comes to NSO Group, which in early 2019 was sold back to the company's founders and European private equity firm Novalpina.

Yes, but: Again, the Saudis deny any involvement. And there are some unanswered technical questions from the leaked forensics report, including a lack of malware found on Bezos' phone and no certainty on where the extracted data went.

The bottom line: This incident, if verified, touches the highest levels of American power, both private and public. It's impossible to imagine that Twitter denials and buyout baron evasion will suffice.

Go deeper: Bezos tweets image from Khashoggi memorial amid MBS hacking allegations

Go deeper

Dan Primack, author of Pro Rata
7 mins ago - Podcasts

House antitrust chair discusses the bills to bust up Big Tech

House lawmakers last week introduced a series of five bipartisan bills designed to curb the power of Big Tech, targeting Apple, Amazon, Facebook and Google in all but name.

Axios Re:Cap speaks with Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.), chair of the House antitrust committee and a sponsor on most of the bills, to learn how he plans to get these measures over the finish line. The congressman from Rhode Island also faces a slate of other priorities and in the wake of a spending package to bolster the U.S. tech sector’s ability to compete with China.

Why online games have a shorter life span

"Grand Theft Auto Online" will join a growing list of obsolete games on older platforms this December when Rockstar Game shuts down the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 versions of the game.

Why it matters: Video game preservation is one of the biggest challenges when it comes to video games, physical or otherwise.

Historic heat wave expands across California, wildfire risk builds

Forecast high temperatures on Thursday from the National Weather Service. (Weatherbell)d

The record-breaking heat wave roasting the West is expanding its grip on Thursday, with the focus of the triple-digit heat shifting into California — particularly the Central Valley and desert regions.

Why it matters: Across the West, the combination of record heat, preexisting drought conditions, and dry lightning strikes from afternoon thunderstorms threatens to ignite numerous wildfires Thursday.