UN experts Wednesday called for an investigation into reports that the crown prince of Saudi Arabia hacked into Amazon founder Jeff Bezos' phone via WhatsApp.
It was a stunning conclusion from two human rights experts who have been working on the investigation into the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, a journalist who worked for the Washington Post when he was brutally murdered and dismembered at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in late 2018. U.S. intelligence agencies believe that murder was carried out by Saudi operatives at the express direction of the prince. Bezos personally owns the Washington Post.
The UN experts said in a statement : "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."
They called for an immediate investigation by U.S. authorities.
The Guardian was first to report that digital forensics experts increasingly were of the belief that Bezos was in communication with the account belonging to bin Salman after the two met in April 2018, when the crown prince was on a goodwill tour of the U.S. Bezos reportedly received an innocuous-looking video file at the time from the account belonging to the prince. That video was actually malware that allowed the owner to access data on Bezos' phone, which was later leaked to the National Enquirer at the same time that the Post was reporting on the Khashoggi murder. The UN experts said it appeared that the hack was intended to "influence, if not silence" the Post's reporting on the murder of its employee.
The data gathered involved embarrassing information related to Bezos' personal life, which he later voluntarily disclosed publicly, saying he'd rather put it out himself than "capitulate to extortion and blackmail" from the Enquirer.
Before the UN report was released, the Saudi Embassy in the U.S. tweeted that the allegations were "absurd" and called for an investigation of its own.
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.— Saudi Embassy (@SaudiEmbassyUSA) January 22, 2020
The allegation by a renowned pair of human rights experts that a leader of a foreign allied government may have personally hacked the device of an American CEO, who also happens to be the world's richest person, represents an explosive turn in a story that began nearly two years ago, when bin Salman spent three weeks in the U.S. in a highly choreographed trip meant to signal that the Saudi kingdom was opening up and modernizing, with a focus on investments in tech. MBS, as he is known, met at the time with Richard Branson, Mark Zuckerberg, Rupert Murdoch, Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, and Oprah Winfrey, among others.
Six months later, Khashoggi, a Saudi dissident who was one of the kingdom's fiercest critics in the press, would walk into the Saudi consulate in Istanbul for a routine visit to obtain divorce documents. He never walked out.
A month after that, according to the UN report, with the Khashoggi murder one of the biggest ongoing stories in the U.S. news media, Bezos received another message on WhatsApp from the same account. That message was a photo that resembled the woman with whom Bezos was having an affair, before that affair was known to the public.