An investigation commissioned by Jeff Bezos has concluded that Saudi Arabia hacked the CEO’s phone and accessed explicit texts and photos sent to woman with whom he was having an affair.
Saudi Arabia has been accused of hacking the phone of Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos to access explicit photos and texts that were leaked to American tabloid the National Enquirer.
A salacious story published by the gossip publication in January 2019 claimed Bezos had an extramarital affair with TV news anchor Lauren Sanchez, including text exchanges between the two. The story was released shortly after Jeff and MacKenzie Bezos announced their divorce. In response, Bezos swore to investigate how private information from his phone was unearthed.
The following month, Bezos claimed in an explosive Medium post that the National Enquirer’s parent company, American Media Inc (AMI), had attempted to blackmail him with the threat of a nude photos leak unless he dropped the investigation. According to Bezos, sources in AMI said that the company’s CEO, David Pecker, was “apoplectic” about the investigation. Bezos added: “For reasons still to be better understood, the Saudi angle seems to hit a particularly sensitive nerve.”
The Amazon CEO enlisted writer and security specialist Gavin de Becker, with whom he has worked for more than 20 years, to look into the leak. Writing for The Daily Beast, De Becker outlined his investigation and said that he concluded “with high confidence” that the information had been given to the National Enquirer by the kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
“We did not reach our conclusions lightly,” De Becker explained, claiming that the investigation included a “broad array of resources” and consulted with cybersecurity experts particularly well versed in tracking Saudi Arabian spyware. De Becker also stated that his team sought the advice of Middle Eastern intelligence experts, Saudi Arabian dissidents and advisers to US president Donald Trump, both current and former. De Becker added that the investigation findings have been passed on to the relevant federal authorities.
AMI has roundly denied the allegations and has said that the primary and sole source for its story was Lauren Sanchez’s now estranged brother, Michael Sanchez.
Jamal Khashoggi’s murder inspires online campaign
De Becker further alleges that the Saudi Arabian government has been gunning for Bezos since The Washington Post, which the Amazon CEO owns, began reporting relentlessly on the murder of Saudi Arabian journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Khashoggi had worked as a Washington Post columnist before he was assassinated in a Saudi consulate by agents of the Saudi government. Khashoggi had frequently criticised the kingdom and accused it of rampant corruption.
Since the murder and subsequent coverage, anti-Jeff Bezos posts have appeared on Saudi social media, as documented by journalist Iyad El-Baghdadi. Various tweets and hashtags have called called for users to boycott Amazon and and Souq, a Bezos-owned Middle Eastern e-commerce firm. Other posts include a cartoon depicting Bezos running away from a Saudi citizen throwing a shoe at him and a video calling Bezos a “spiteful racist”.
Jeff Bezos. Image: George W Bush Presidential Center/Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)