Jeff Bezos Responds To MBS Phone Hack By Setting Saudi Arabia On Fire
Cheeky bastards! Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) seems to have personally sent malware to Jeff Bezos's phone after the Washington Post, which Bezos owns, hired Saudi critic Jamal Khashoggi as a columnist. The Saudi government then stole all Bezos's data. Then, after Khashoggi was murdered by MBS's assassins provoking outrage at the Post, the crown prince texted Bezos a photo which strongly resembled the woman he was having an affair with. So it looks like Bezos was exactly right when he accused the National Enquirer of conspiring with the Saudi government to blackmail him with details of the affair. And if, as it would not be crazy to speculate, Mohammed bin Salman used Israeli malware to hack not just Jeff Bezos but Jared Kushner as well, then he will be responsible for the murder of Jamal Khashoggi and irony itself.
Got all that? No? Okay, let's unpack.
This morning, the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights issued a report on the Saudi hack of Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos's phone. Agnes Callamard, UN Special Rapporteur on summary executions and extrajudicial killings, and David Kaye, UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of expression, described "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." Which sounds somewhat speculative, but their timeline is highly specific.
After meeting Bezos at a dinner party in Los Angeles on April 4, 2018, the Crown Prince and Bezos began to exchange WhatsApp messages. On May 1, MBS sent Bezos an encrypted video file infected with Pegasus-3 spyware bought from Israel's NSO Group. After which the Saudis stole all Bezos's data.
Records showed that within hours of receipt of the video from the Crown Prince's WhatsApp account, there was an anomalous and extreme change in phone behavior, with cellular data originating from the phone (data egress) increasing by 29,156 per cent. Data spiking then continued over the following months at rates as much as 106,031,045 per cent higher than the pre-video data egress base line.
The UN confirmed that several other phones belonging to critics of the Saudi government were similarly hacked, and in October 2019, Facebook sued NSO Group for trying to compromise the devices of up to 1,400 WhatsApp users in just two weeks using the same type of corrupted MP4 file.
But a year before that, in the furor after MBS sent a team of bonesaw-wielding assassins to murder Post reporter Jamal Khashoggi in Turkey, the crown prince WhatsApp messaged Bezos on November 8 "an image of a woman resembling the woman with whom Bezos is having an affair, months before the Bezos affair was known publicly" with a "sardonic caption."
The UN report doesn't reveal the wording of this "sardonic caption,"
or if the photo was one that Bezos would recognize as having been stolen from his phone. [Edit: The Wall Street Journal now reports that MBS texted "a photo resembling Ms. Sanchez and references to him having a conflict with a woman."] But whatever it was, in January, when his texts and photos started appearing in the Enquirer, Jeff Bezos was pretty sure he knew where the tabloid got them. Particularly in light of the public efforts of David Pecker, owner of the Enquirer's parent company AMI, to curry favor with the deep-pocketed Saudis who he hoped would bail out his cash-starved company. These efforts had already drawn scrutiny from federal prosecutors, who already had AMI, Pecker, and Enquirer editor Dylan Howard under a plea agreement for their involvement in the scheme to help Trump's 2016 presidential campaign by buying up stories that might harm him, which amounted to an illegal campaign contribution.
On February 5, Howard sent Bezos a thinly veiled blackmail threat to publish his stolen dick pics without, as his lawyer demanded, "A public, mutually-agreed upon acknowledgment from the Bezos Parties, released through a mutually-agreeable news outlet, affirming that they have no knowledge or basis for suggesting that AM's coverage was politically motivated or influenced by political forces, and an agreement that they will cease referring to such a possibility."
Only Bezos called AMI's bluff with a February 7 Medium post entitled "No thank you, Mr. Pecker," which seems extraordinarily prescient in light of today's UN report. In it, he said that the mere mention of Saudi Arabia caused Pecker and Howard to flip their shit, insisting that only a public proclamation from Bezos that none of AMI's coverage was "instigated, dictated or influenced in any manner by external forces, political or otherwise" could save him from public humiliation. As he wryly noted, "For reasons still to be better understood, the Saudi angle seems to hit a particularly sensitive nerve."
At the time, security consultant Gavin de Becker claimed Bezos's phone was hacked and implied a Saudi connection. But the picture was further complicated by the fact that Michael Sanchez, the weird-ass brother of the woman Bezos was having an affair with, had been a prior source for AMI. And indeed he acknowledged to Fox News that he made a "deal with the devil" to cooperate with AMI, although he denies giving the tabloid his sister's texts and says the Wall Street Journal report that AMI paid him $200,000 is false. AMI was apparently happy to lay the whole thing on Sanchez, sending their lawyer Elkan Abramowitz to assure George Stephanopoulos that they got Bezos's texts from "a reliable source who had been giving information for years prior to the story."
In retrospect, this assertion looks somewhat ... less than credible.
The UN report calls for an in-depth investigation of Saudi hacking of its political enemies abroad and at home. But it makes no mention of AMI's apparent attempt to extort Bezos with the stolen photos. Nor does it discuss the regular WhatsApp texts between MBS and Jared Kushner, the indispensable man in Trumpland. But if the Saudi government was brazen enough to pull this with Jeff Bezos, it beggars belief that they wouldn't try it with Kushner, who is attempting to singlehandedly rearrange the Middle East and is also DUMB AS DIRT.
So ... yeah. It's a lot. And PS, don't fuck with Jeff Bezos.
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Liz Dye lives in Baltimore with her wonderful husband and a houseful of teenagers. When she isn't being mad about a thing on the internet, she's hiding in plain sight in the carpool line. She's the one wearing yoga pants glaring at her phone.