Former Twitter Employees Charged With Spying for Saudi Arabia

Former Twitter Employees Charged With Spying for Saudi Arabia


Mr. Alzabarah had joined Twitter in 2013, rising through the ranks of the engineering division to a position that gave him access to personal information and account data of Twitter customers. That included users’ telephone numbers and I.P. addresses — unique identification numbers for internet-connected devices.

During his employment at Twitter, Mr. Alzabarah had grown increasingly close to Saudi intelligence operatives, Western intelligence officials told executives. The operatives eventually persuaded Mr. Alzabarah to peer into the accounts of users they sought information on, including dissidents and activists who spoke against the crown, multiple people have told The Times.

Once Twitter was notified of the breach of security, it placed Mr. Alzabarah on administrative leave while it investigated the matter. Though Twitter did not find direct evidence that Mr. Alzabarah had handed data over to the Saudi kingdom, he left the company in December 2015.

Mr. Alzabarah eventually returned to Saudi Arabia, where he joined the MiSK Foundation, a tech-centric nonprofit.

Mr. Abouammo, a media partnerships manager at Twitter, began getting access to user data within a week after meeting with an unnamed Saudi official in London in 2014, according to the complaint. One of the users was a prominent critic of the Saudi royal family and had more than one million followers on Twitter.

Mr. Abouammo looked up the user’s email address, according to the complaint. He later got the email addresses and phone numbers of other Saudi critics, the complaint said.

The Saudi government compensated Mr. Abouammo for his work in a series of wire transfers to him and a member of his family, the complaint said. He and his family members received at least $300,000. Mr. Abouammo quit his job at Twitter in May 2015 but continued to pass on requests to his former colleagues at the behest of the Saudi official, according to the complaint. He has since moved to Seattle for a marketing job at Amazon.

Kate Conger and Mike Isaac reported from San Francisco, and Katie Benner from Washington. Nicole Perlroth contributed reporting from San Francisco.



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