Two independent experts told the UN that Amazon CEO and Washington Post owner Jeff Bezos’ phone was likely hacked in 2018 after an account owned by Saudi Arabia crown prince Mohammed bin Salman sent him a WhatsApp message.
Agnes Callamard, UN Special Rapporteur on summary executions and extrajudicial killings, and David Kaye, UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of expression, said that the timing suggests an attempt from the crown prince to get some control over the Washington Post’s reporting.
Bezos and bin Salman exchanged WhatsApp numbers about a month before the alleged hack. In May, after bin Salman sent Bezos a message, there was a massive spike of data being removed from Bezos’ phone. The experts suspect that malware was embedded in the message.
Jamal Khashoggi, the columnist for the Washington Post who was murdered by Saudi Arabian agents in October 2018, saw his phone hacked right around the same time that Bezos’ was.
After Khashoggi’s murder, the Washington Post aggressively reported on the circumstances surrounding it and the involvement of Bin Salman. Accordingly, the crown prince started sending Bezos messages about his private life not available from public sources. At the same time, Bezos was being aggressively maligned in a Saudi social media campaign.
In January 2019, the National Enquirer exposed Bezos’ extramarital affair with Lauren Sanchez, a former TV host, with their private text messages. Bezos wrote a Medium post that February saying that he was investigating how the outlet obtained his texts and exposing exchanges with the Nation Enquirer where an editor blackmailed him with explicit photos traded between him and Sanchez.
The UN experts pledged to continue their investigations into Khashoggi’s murder as well as the “growing role of the surveillance industry in permitting the unaccountable use of spyware to intimidate journalists, human rights defenders, and owners of media outlets.”