Saudi Arabia denies hacking into Jeff Bezos' phone, UN calls for probe

UN report says Saudi crown prince's WhatsApp account was used to hack Bezos

MBS-Jeff-Bezos-Reuters File photos of crown prince Mohammed bin Salman and Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos | Reuters

In yet another startling revelation from the case of Jamal Khashoggi, the former Washington Post writer who was murdered by a Saudi Arabian hit squad, UN experts have found that a WhatsApp message from Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman was used to hack Amazon CEO and Post owner Jeff Bezos.

"Mr Bezos was subjected to intrusive surveillance via hacking of his phone as a result of actions attributable to the WhatsApp account used by Crowd Prince Mohammed bin Salman," the UN's special rapporteur for summary executions and extrajudicial killings and the special rapporteur on freedom of expression wrote in a joint statement. "The alleged hacking of Mr Bezos's phone, and those of others, demands immediate investigation by US and other relevant authorities," Agnes Callamard and David Kaye said in a statement.

The finding comes an investigation by The Guardian revealed that Post owner Jeff Bezos had his phone hacked five months before Khashoggi’s killing. The hack took place after Bezos opened a message from MBS, an MP4 file that contained a malicious payload.

Bezos hired a forensic team to investigate the matter, which concluded that his phone had indeed been hacked. The team found it “highly probable” that a phone number used by MBS was used to send an encrypted message to Bezos, which contained a video file that injected his phone with malicious software. Following this, a huge amount of data was extracted from Bezos' phone.

The incident, which is said to have taken place in May 2018, was followed nine months later by The National Enquirer publishing text messages from Bezos’s phone purporting to show that he was having an affair. In the timeline published in the UN report, it says that on November 8, 2018, "A single photograph is texted to Mr. Bezos from the Crown Prince’s WhatsApp account, along with a sardonic caption. It is an image of a woman resembling the woman with whom Bezos is having an affair, months before the Bezos affair was known publicly."

in February 2019, Bezos made a blog post outlying the alleged efforts of the Enquirer to blackmail him, wherein he cited the link between the Enquirer and Saudi authorities. “Mr. Pecker [The National Enquirer's publisher at the time] and his company have also been investigated for various actions they’ve taken on behalf of the Saudi Government,” Bezos wrote.

Khashoggi is believed to have earned the ire of Saudi Arabia after publishing a series of articles in the Post criticising MBS and his rule. He was murdered in October 2018 by a Saudi hit squad while in the Saudi embassy in Istanbul. 

The UN experts said in their 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.”

On Wednesday, Saudi Arabia denied the allegations, calling the claim “absurd”. The Saudi embassy in the US stated on Twitter, “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.”