- UN investigators backed a bombshell investigation that found that Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos most likely had his phone hacked by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
- The UN investigators David Kaye and Agnes Callamard said in a statement on Wednesday that the information they had suggested that Crown Prince Mohammed might have been involved in the hack.
- The Guardian first reported on Wednesday that the investigation found that Bezos was hacked by a WhatsApp number belonging to the crown prince in May 2018.
- The Saudi government has denied the allegations, calling them “absurd.”
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
UN investigators said on Wednesday that there were reasonable grounds to believe that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was involved in a hack of Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos’ phone.
“UN human rights experts are gravely concerned by information they have received suggesting that, in contravention of fundamental international human rights standards, a WhatsApp account belonging to the Crown Prince of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in 2018 deployed digital spyware enabling surveillance of The Washington Post owner and Amazon CEO, Jeffery Bezos,” a UN statement said.
The UN special rapporteurs David Kaye and Agnes Callamard, independent experts appointed by the UN to examine human-rights violations and violations of freedom of expression, said that “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.”
A forensic investigation concluded that a number belonging to Crown Prince Mohammed hacked Bezos via WhatsApp
A WhatsApp number belonging to Crown Prince Mohammed is thought to have sent Bezos a message with a video file that contained malware that infiltrated the billionaire’s phone.
In their report, the UN investigators included a technical analysis of Bezos’ phone suggesting he had been surveilled by Saudi Arabia and linking Crown Prince Mohammed to the hack.
The investigators wrote: “Mr. Bezos was subjected to intrusive surveillance via hacking of his phone as a result of actions attributable to the WhatsApp account used by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.”
The investigators also said in their statement that Crown Prince Mohammed sent Bezos messages in November 2018 and February 2019 containing “private and confidential information about Mr. Bezos’ personal life that was not available from public sources.”
The New York Times reported earlier on Wednesday that the forensic analysis of the phone was performed by the business advisory firm FTI Consulting.
The technical analysis released on Wednesday pointed to Pegasus, invasive software from NSO Group, a secretive Israeli security firm that is being sued by WhatsApp’s owner, Facebook, over allegations that it compromised users’ accounts. The technical analysis confirmed the use of a malicious video file but did not detail its contents.
In a statement to Business Insider, NSO Group denied any involvement. “As we stated unequivocally in April 2019 to the same false assertion, our technology was not used in this instance,” a spokesman said. “We know this because of how our software works and our technology cannot be used on US phone numbers. Our products are only used to investigate terror and serious crime.”
In a statement published on its website, NSO Group said it was “shocked and appalled” by the reports of the hack of Bezos’ phone. “If this story is true, then it deserves a full investigation by all bodies providing such services to assure that their systems have not been used in this abuse,” it said.
The Saudi government pushed back against The Guardian’s reporting, calling the allegation “absurd” and calling for an investigation.
This is part of the saga of Bezos and Saudi Arabia
The alleged hack is the latest in a long story involving Bezos, his phone communications, and Saudi Arabia.
After the US tabloid the National Enquirer last year obtained and published texts and intimate pictures shared between Bezos and his girlfriend, Lauren Sanchez, Bezos commissioned his private head of security, Gavin de Becker, to find out who was behind the leak.
In an extraordinary blog post in February, Bezos pointed to links between American Media Inc. (the Enquirer’s publisher) and Crown Prince Mohammed. Bezos also pointed out that he owns The Washington Post, the paper that employed the Saudi dissident Jamal Khashoggi, whose killing in October 2018 is widely believed to have been ordered by Crown Prince Mohammed; the UN investigators said the investigation into Khashoggi’s murder was relevant to the latest hack of Bezos’ phone.
In March, de Becker wrote in the Daily Beast that his investigation had “concluded with high confidence” that the Saudis had gained access to Bezos’ phone.
In their statement, the UN investigators called for a more thorough investigation into the latest hack.
“The alleged hacking of Mr. Bezos’s phone, and those of others, demands immediate investigation by US and other relevant authorities, including investigation of the continuous, multi-year, direct and personal involvement of the Crown Prince in efforts to target perceived opponents,” they said.
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