Here’s a weird story. The de facto leader of Saudi Arabia, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, has been accused of hacking into Jeff Bezos’ iPhone. According to reports, Bezos’ phone was hacked in May 2018 after he opened a video file sent by a number belonging to the crown prince. The video was sent via WhatsApp. Apparently the Amazon billionaire and the crown prince were quite chummy on the app in those days.
The video file contained a virus. After Bezos opened it his phone began sharing tons of data. What exactly was exfiltrated and how much has not been revealed. But we do know that in February 2019 the National Enquirer published information about Bezos’ personal life, specifically some embarrassing text messages between him and his girlfriend. Bezos accused the tabloid paper of “extortion and blackmail.” At this point we can safely assume that the Enquirer obtained the information from Saudi Arabia.
Everyone knows that Bezos founded Amazon. Not everyone realizes that he owns the Washington Post. His ownership of that newspaper is central to this unfolding scandal. On 2 October 2018, Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi walked into the Saudi consulate in Istanbul and was never seen again. The Saudis played dumb and swore he left the consulate. But it didn’t take long before the truth was known. Khashoggi had been murdered by a Saudi hit squad.
After weeks of denials and absurd explanations, Saudi Arabia came clean—sort of. They admitted that a group of Saudi operatives murdered Khashoggi, but maintained that the crown prince knew nothing about it, despite evidence to the contrary. The murderers have since been prosecuted in Saudi Arabia and some of them will be put to death.
Saudi Arabia murdered Khashoggi—a Saudi national who fled the country in 2017—because he was a prominent critic of the crown prince. The Washington Post gave him a platform to do this. That would explain why the crown prince targeted Bezos’ phone, and perhaps why he got close to him to begin with. To influence him, and the Post, through blackmail.
The phone hacking story was first reported in the Guardian, which quoted experts involved in the investigation of the hack.
Saudi Arabia was quick to deny any involvement, with its US embassy writing on Twitter:
“Recent media reports that suggest the Kingdom is behind a hacking of Mr. Jeff Bezos’ phone are absurd. We call for an investigation on these claims so that we can have all the facts out.”
But the United Nations has responded by calling for a comprehensive investigation; not only into the infiltration of Bezos’ phone, but also the crown prince’s “continuous, direct and personal efforts to target perceived opponents.”
“The information we have received suggests the possible involvement of the crown prince in surveillance of Mr Bezos, in an effort to influence, if not silence, the Washington Post’s reporting on Saudi Arabia,” stated Agnes Callamard and David Kaye, both experts at the UN.
Given the crown prince’s track record, which includes abduction, extortion, murder and war crimes, it would be shocking if an investigation found that he didn’t order Bezos’ iPhone to be hacked.