Saudi Arabian officials with an interest in harming Jeff Bezos obtained “access to Bezos’ phone and gained private information,” according to an adviser to the Amazon CEO and world’s richest person.
Bezos confidante Gavin De Becker wrote in a story for the Daily Beast that he reached the conclusion after an extensive private investigation that included interviews with Saudi spyware experts and people with close ties to the Saudi crown prince.
He alleged that the Saudi government “has been intent on harming Jeff Bezos since last October,” when the Bezos-owned Washington Post “began its relentless coverage” of Saudi dissident Jamal Khashoggi’s murder.
“If what the investigators on behalf of Jeff Bezos found is true, it’s clearly a crime and the evidence should be referred to the Department of Justice,” said David Hickton, a former U.S. attorney who led multiple cases on international cybercrime and now serves as founding director of the University of Pittsburgh Institute for Cyber Law, Policy and Security.
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Hickton, who brought an indictment against members of the Chinese military over hacking allegations, said the U.S. government has a responsibility to protect American citizens from foreign state actors.
“I can vouch for the fact that it is possible to precisely identify hackers from overseas. I can vouch for the fact that it is possible to put a case together,” he said.
Robert Amsterdam, an international lawyer who has represented heads of state, said President Trump’s criticism of the Washington Post adds extra significance to the allegations.
“Bezos has more power than many heads of state and his dispute with the president rises to real significance in terms of ensuring there’s proper institutional protections for those citizens who stand up to the power of a president who abjures rule of law,” Amsterdam said.
De Becker noted that the Saudis “have a close alliance” with American Media Inc. (AMI), whose National Enquirer tabloid first exposed Bezos’ affair with former Los Angeles TV news anchor Lauren Sanchez in a report that included the publication of their private text messages.
AMI is currently subject to a non-prosecution agreement with the U.S. Attorney in the Southern District of New York after federal prosecutors accused the company of participating in a scheme to help Donald Trump win the presidency by paying women to keep silent about extramarital affairs he allegedly had with them before the election.
Bezos has accused AMI of attempting to extort and blackmail him by threatening to publish embarrassing photos and text messages illustrating his affair with Sanchez.
AMI had tried to get Bezos and De Becker to sign a document “saying that my investigation had concluded they hadn’t relied upon ‘any form of electronic eavesdropping or hacking in their news-gathering process,'” De Becker wrote.
“I’d never publicly said anything about electronic eavesdropping or hacking—and they wanted to be sure I couldn’t. They also wanted me to say our investigation had concluded that their Bezos story was not ‘instigated, dictated or influenced in any manner by external forces, political or otherwise.'”
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De Becker said “it is unclear to what degree, if any, AMI was aware of the details” of the Saudi role in possibly hacking Bezos.
AMI provided the following statement: “Despite the false and unsubstantiated claims of Mr. de Becker, American Media has, and continues to, refute the unsubstantiated claims that the materials for our report were acquired with the help of anyone other than the single source who first brought them to us. The fact of the matter is, it was Michael Sanchez who tipped the National Enquirer off to the affair on Sept. 10, 2018, and over the course of four months provided all of the materials for our investigation. His continued efforts to discuss and falsely represent our reporting, and his role in it, has waived any source confidentiality. There was no involvement by any other third party whatsoever.”
Amazon did not immediately return a request seeking comment Sunday. A call placed to the Saudi U.S. embassy’s press office was routed to a message that said no one was available. The FBI had no immediate comment.
Follow USA TODAY reporter Nathan Bomey on Twitter @NathanBomey.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Did Saudi Arabia hack Jeff Bezos? Amazon CEO adviser says Saudis ‘got private information’