Twitter Employee Busted for Spying on Dissidents for Saudi Arabia

Twitter Employee Busted for Spying on Dissidents for Saudi Arabia

Ahmad Abouammo, a former Twitter employee, was found guilty on Tuesday of using his position to spy for Saudi Arabia.

Ahmad Abouammo, a former employee of Twitter, was found guilty in a San Francisco federal court on Tuesday of using his position at the company to spy for the government of Saudi Arabia.

Abouammo, who had worked at the company as a “media partnerships manager” prior to his arrest, was convicted on six criminal counts, including money laundering, falsifying records, conspiracy to commit wire fraud, and failing to register as a foreign agent, although he was found innocent of five separate charges of wire fraud. At his upcoming sentencing, Abouammo is expected to receive ten to twenty years in prison.

In his role at Twitter, Abouammo, an Egyptian-born U.S. citizen, had helped prominent political and media figures in the broader Middle East promote their accounts on the social media network. However, he also used his position to access the birth dates, email addresses, phone numbers, and IP addresses of Saudi dissidents active on Twitter, which he transmitted to Saudi officials between November 2014 and May 2015. A press release at the time of Abouammo’s arrest noted that the Saudi government could then use this information to determine the identities and locations of people who had criticized the Saudi monarchy on Twitter within Saudi Arabia, with potentially serious consequences.

The Department of Justice formally charged Abouammo with participation in the scheme in 2019, adding additional charges in 2020. The Department of Justice also charged Saudi nationals Ali Hamad Alzabarah, a second Twitter employee, and Ahmed Saad Almutairi, who allegedly helped organize the scheme through a contact in the royal family. Both Alzabarah and Almutairi are wanted by the U.S. government, but the two men are presumed to be in Saudi Arabia, which does not have an extradition treaty with the United States.

In all, the three men accessed personal data from around 6,000 Twitter accounts—thirty-three of which had previously been the subject of “emergency disclosure requests” submitted to Twitter by Saudi authorities who alleged that they had violated Saudi law. In exchange for his information, Saudi officials provided Abouammo with gifts including a $300,000 bank deposit and a Hublot watch.

During the trial, Abouammo claimed that he had simply done his job, accusing Twitter of failing to properly secure its users’ data. Neither Abouammo’s federal public defenders nor Twitter immediately commented on the verdict.

In 2021, Saudi dissident Ali Al-Ahmed filed an unsuccessful lawsuit against Twitter, claiming that the company had not properly protected his information.

Trevor Filseth is a current and foreign affairs writer for the National Interest.

Image: Reuters.