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Former Twitter employee sentenced to 3.5 years in jail for spying on behalf of Saudi Arabia


An ex Twitter employee has been sentenced to three-and-a-half years in prison for spying on individuals on behalf of Saudi Arabia.

On august 2022, the former Twitter employee, Ahmad Abouammo (44), was found guilty of gathering private information of certain Twitter users and passing them to Saudi Arabia.

Now Abouammo was has been sentenced to three-and-a-half years in prison for spying on individuals on behalf of Saudi Arabia.

“A California man was sentenced yesterday to 42 months in federal prison for his role in accessing, monitoring and conveying confidential and sensitive information that could be used to identify and locate Twitter users of interest to the Saudi Royal Family.” reads the press release published by DoJ. “Ahmad Abouammo, 45, formerly of Walnut Creek and currently residing in Seattle, was convicted of acting as a foreign agent without notice to the Attorney General, conspiracy, wire fraud, international money laundering and falsification of records in a federal investigation on Aug. 9 following a two-week jury trial.”

In November 2019, the former Twitter employees Abouammo and the Saudi citizen Ali Alzabarah have been charged with spying on thousands of Twitter user accounts on behalf of the Saudi Arabian government. The two former Twitter employees operated for the Saudi Arabian government with the intent of unmasking dissidents using the social network.

Representatives of the Saudi Arabian government recruited the duo in 2014, their mission was to gather non-public information of Twitter accounts associated with known prominent critics of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the Royal Family.

Abouammo and Alzabarah had unauthorized access to information associated with some profiles, including email addresses, devices used, user-provided biographical information, birth dates, logs that contained the user’s browser information, a log of all of a particular user’s actions on the Twitter platform at any given time, and other info that can be used to geo-locate a user such as IP addresses and phone numbers.

According to the indictment, Alzabarah joined Twitter in August 2013 as a “site reliability engineer,” he worked with the Saudi officials between May 21 and November 18, 2015. He is accused of allegedly spied on more than 6,000 Twitter accounts, including tens of users for which Saudi Arabian law enforcement had submitted emergency disclosure requests to Twitter.

Abouammo was charged with acting as a foreign agent on US soil, it also provided falsified records to feds to interfere with their investigation.

The man also deleted certain information from the social media platform and in some cases, he shut down Twitter accounts at the request of Saudi government officials. Of course, he was also able to unmask the identities of some users on behalf of the Saudi Arabian Government.

Saudi officials paid up to $300,000 to Abouammo for his work, the indictment explained that it was possible by masquerading the payments with faked invoices. The document also states that the man received a Hublot Unico Big Bang King Gold Ceramic watch. The watch was sold at $42,000 on Craigslist. 

“Mr. Abouammo violated the trust placed on him to protect the privacy of individuals by giving their personal information to a foreign power for profit. His conduct was made all the more egregious by the fact that the information was intended to target political dissidents speaking out against that foreign power,” said Assistant Attorney General Matthew G. Olsen of the Justice Department’s National Security Division. “We are committed to holding accountable those who act unlawfully as unregistered foreign agents and advance hidden influence campaigns on behalf of foreign regimes.”

Evidence presented during the August trial revealed that Abouammo received cash from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia for his activity. The man opened a bank account in the name of his father in Lebanon and used it to receive $200,000 in two transfers.

Abouammo has also been ordered to forfeit $242,000 and surrender on March 31, 2023, to begin serving his prison sentence.

The development comes as Peiter “Mudge” Zatko, Twitter’s former head of security, blew the whistle on serious security failings at the company, in addition to alleging that Chinese and Indian governments had forced the firm to hire one of their agents, and likely had access to sensitive user data.

Follow me on Twitter: @securityaffairs and Facebook and Mastodon

Pierluigi Paganini

(SecurityAffairs – hacking, Saudi Arabia)

The post Former Twitter employee sentenced to 3.5 years in jail for spying on behalf of Saudi Arabia appeared first on Security Affairs.

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