Shock Claim: Saudia Arabia Hacked Amazon Founder to Expose Sexts
In an article penned by Gavin De Becker, a private security consultant hired by Bezos to probe the leak of his intimate messages, the investigator concludes that the Saudi regime unlawfully gained access to the tech mogul’s phone and tipped off the National Enquirer about his extramarital affair with news anchor Lauren Sanchez.
De Becker does not provide evidence to support his claims, but says his inquiry:
“included a broad array of resources: investigative interviews with current and former AMI executives and sources, extensive discussions with top Middle East experts in the intelligence community, leading cybersecurity experts who have tracked Saudi spyware, discussions with current and former advisers to President Trump, Saudi whistleblowers, people who personally know the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (also known as MBS), people who work with his close associate Saud al-Qahtani, Saudi dissidents, and other targets of Saudi action.”
De Becker says he has submitted his findings to US government officials for potential criminal prosecution.
Saudi Arabia and AMI Deny De Becker’s Allegations
Both Saudi Arabia’s minister of state for foreign affairs and American Media Inc (the Enquirer’s parent company) have denied that the kingdom was the source that exposed Bezos’s private messages.
After the Daily Beast ran De Becker’s article, AMI issued a statement saying:
“Despite the false and unsubstantiated claims of Mr. de Becker, American Media has, and continues to, refute the unsubstantiated claims that the materials for our report were acquired with the help of anyone other than the single source who first brought them to us.”
Here’s a brand new statement from American Media Inc. refuting Gavin de Becker’s Saudi claims: “It was Michael Sanchez who tipped the National Enquirer off to the affair… There was no involvement by any other third party whatsoever.” pic.twitter.com/Iaktcwt3ej
— Brian Stelter (@brianstelter) March 31, 2019
The single source to which AMI is referring is Michael Sanchez, the now-estranged brother of Bezos’s mistress, who received $200,000 for his role in exposing the affair, according to a Wall Street Journal report.
“The fact of the matter is, it was Michael Sanchez who tipped the National Enquirer off to the affair on Sept. 10, 2018, and over the course of four months provided all of the materials for our investigation,” says AMI’s statement.
A Convenient Scapegoat?
While media outlets typically make some effort to protect source confidentiality in clandestine reports, De Becker says that AMI took no such precautions in the Bezos sex scandal.
“What was unusual, very unusual, was how hard AMI people worked to publicly reveal their source’s identity,” writes De Becker. “AMI practically pinned a “kick me” sign on Michael Sanchez.”
However, the WSJ discovered that it was the Enquirer which first contacted Michael Sanchez, not the other way around.
Motives for Saudi Interference
According to De Becker, the kingdom wanted to harm Bezos, who also owns the Washington Post, as retribution for the newspaper’s relentless coverage of journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s gruesome murder by Saudi government operatives.
The kingdom unleashed its social-media cyberarmy on Bezos last November, with operatives posting thousands of tweets urging Saudi citizens to boycott Amazon.
Citing the “well-documented and close relationship” between Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and AMI chairman David Pecker, De Becker claims that the kingdom leveraged this tabloid-media relationship to damage the Amazon founder’s reputation.
How Would the Saudis Have Hacked Jeff Bezos?
De Becker doesn’t identify the mechanism by which the kingdom could have hacked Bezos’s phone but says that the Saudis have the capability to:
“collect vast amounts of previously inaccessible data from smartphones in the air without leaving a trace—including phone calls, texts, emails.”
If De Becker’s conclusions are correct, then the cyber-weapon the Saudis most likely used against Bezos is NSO Group’s Technologies’ Pegasus spyware.
According to the Washington Post, Israel approved the sale of cyber-espionage technology from NSO Group to Saudi Arabia to hack dissidents and enemies of MBS. The kingdom reportedly used Pegasus to spy on Khashoggi and other critics of the Saudi regime.
In media interviews, NSO Group representatives have refused to confirm or deny that Saudi Arabia is a client.
As the conflict between the richest man in the world and the sovereign leader of Saudi Arabia threatens to escalate into a major diplomatic row, the Bezos scandal is a chilling reminder that no one is safe from modern surveillance technology.