An investigation into the leaking of Amazon CEO and Washington Post owner Jeff Bezos’ private phone data revealed that Riyadh hacked his phone, possibly because of the daily’s coverage of the state-sponsored murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
The finding was announced by Gavin de Becker, a security consultant and long-time associate of Bezos’ who was recently commissioned by him to find out how his text messages and photos had been obtained by American Media Inc (AMI), the publisher of the National Enquirer tabloid.
“Our investigators and several experts concluded with high confidence that the Saudis had access to Bezos’ phone, and gained private information,” de Becker wrote in an article for The Daily Beast website on Saturday.
On its front page in January, the National Enquirer said Bezos had been “caught cheating on his wife of 25 years with the spouse of a Hollywood mogul!”
A month after the publication of that alleged affair, Bezos accused the AMI of blackmail, saying it had threatened to publish his intimate photos unless he said publicly that the tabloid’s reporting was not politically motivated.
Bezos also stressed in a blog post that The Washington Post’s “unrelenting coverage” of the murder of Khashoggi was “undoubtedly unpopular in certain circles”, an apparent reference to the Saudi court and political groups within America allied to Riyadh.
Khashoggi — a late but vocal critic of Crown Prince Mohammad (MbS) — was killed and his body was dismembered by a Saudi hit squad after being lured into the kingdom’s consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, in October 2018. His fate was unknown for several days, until Saudi Arabia confirmed under rising international pressure that he had been murdered at the consulate. Riyadh has not produced Khashoggi’s body to this day.
In his last years, Khashoggi lived in the US and wrote a column for The Washington Post.
The administration of US President Donald Trump has sided with Riyadh in the scandal, despite a conclusion by the CIA that MbS personally ordered the murder — a development first reported by the Post.
In his Saturday article, de Becker added that his investigation had “studied the well-documented and close relationship” between MbS and AMI Chairman David Pecker.
“Some Americans will be surprised to learn that the Saudi government has been very intent on harming Jeff Bezos since last October, when the Post began its relentless coverage of Khashoggi’s murder,” he stated, adding, “It’s clear that MbS considers the Washington Post to be a major enemy.”
The security consultant announced that the AMI had previously demanded that he say his probe had concluded that the publisher had not relied upon “any form of electronic eavesdropping or hacking in their newsgathering process”, which he and Bezos refused to do.
De Becker also stressed that he had turned over the findings of his inquiry to US federal officials.
Ever since Khashoggi disappeared at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, The Washington Post has been producing near-constant coverage on the case. That reportage has partially helped attract international attention to the scandal.
Bits and pieces of reporting by various international media have depicted a picture of MbS as a publicly innocuous but privately power-hungry figure who resorts to cunning and aggressive means to reach his goals.
Reporting by The New York Times has revealed that MbS “authorized a secret campaign to silence dissenters — which included the surveillance, kidnapping, detention and torture of Saudi citizens — over a year before the killing of” Khashoggi. The newspaper has also reported how Saudi Arabia employed a troll farm to harass Khashoggi online before his death. The Riyadh regime also used a Saudi employee at Twitter to spy for it, according to the NY Times.
There was no immediate reaction to the revelation by de Becker from the Trump White House, which remains closely tied to Riyadh, including in the form of military contracts worth hundreds of billions of dollars.
In a sign of the magnitude of the latest scandal, de Becker wrote in his article, “For 40 years, I’ve advised at-risk public figures and government agencies on high-stakes security matters… I’ve seen a lot. And yet, I’ve recently seen things that have surprised even me, such as the National Enquirer’s parent company, AMI, being in league with a foreign nation that’s been actively trying to harm American citizens and companies.”