US authorities charged two former Twitter employees and a former Saudi royal family employee on Wednesday with espionage charges.
This is the first time the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) is charged with espionage in the US. The KAS Embassy in the United States has yet to issue a statement on the case.
Prosecutors allege the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia bribed former Twitter officials with gifts and cash in exchange for Saudi citizens data. Twitter is particularly popular in the Kingdom and there are an estimated ten million active accounts.
The Twitter employees are Saudi citizen Ali Alzabarah and US citizen Ahmad Abouammo.
They are suspected of stealing private user data of prominent Saudi royal family and government critics and passing them on to Riyadh with the help of a Saudi liaison, Ahmed Almutairi.
Almutairi used to ran a social media marketing company doing work for the Saudi royal family and acted as a go-in-between the Saudi government and the two agents.
Almutairi allegedly recruited Alzabarah who is thought to have stolen data from at least 6,000 Twitter users. Alzabarah was placed on administrative leave from Twitter, his work-owned laptop was seized, and he was escorted out of the office. The next day he flew to Saudi Arabia with his wife and daughter.
The US citizen, Abouammo, was arrested in his Seattle home and is held in custody. The 26-page indictment alleges that Abouammo, who worked as Twitter’s Middle East media partnership manager, was part of a coordinated effort to look into the private data of thousands of Twitter accounts. He is also charged with making false statements to the FBI and falsifying documents. If convicted, he faces 30 years in prison.
Twitter thanked the FBI and the US Department of Justice for the investigation.
The accounts Riyadh was interested in seeing included that of Omar Abdulaziz, a media personality with hundreds of thousands of followers on Twitter and a personal friend of the assassinated Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi.