UN links alleged Saudi hacking to effort to silence Washington Post

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The United Nations on Wednesday drew a line between the hacking of Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos’s phone and coverage of Saudi Arabia’s involvement in the killing of a Washington Post journalist, calling for a further investigation.
Two United Nations human rights experts said a deeper probe was needed to look into allegations that Saudi Arabia’s crown prince was behind the alleged hack on Bezos, who owns The Washington Post. 
The UN’s statement comes a day after The Guardian first reported that Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman gained access to Bezos’s phone via a Whatsapp message.
“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,” the two human rights experts said in a statement on Wednesday.

The two tied the hacking to the 2018 murder of Jamal Khashoggi, which multiple international and American intelligence organizations have pinned on Saudi Arabia. Khashoggi was a journalist at the Post. 

Agnes Callamard, UN special rapporteur on summary executions and extrajudicial killings, and David Kaye, UN special rapporteur on freedom of expression, issued the joint statement on Wednesday. 

They emphasized that “the alleged hacking of Mr. Bezos’s phone, and those of others, demands immediate investigation by US and other relevant authorities, including investigation of the continuous, multi-year, direct and personal involvement of the crown prince in efforts to target perceived opponents.”

The two UN experts recently became aware of the alleged hacking of Bezos’s device through a 2019 forensic analysis of his phone that assessed with “medium to high” confidence that it was infiltrated in March 2018 through an MP4 file sent from bin Salman’s WhatsApp account to Bezos. According to the analysis, exfiltration of data from Bezos’s phone began within hours of the MP4 file being sent over. 

Kaye tweeted on Wednesday that “neither Agnes nor I are infosec experts,” noting that they “consulted independent experts” and that “based on their responses, which included questions about strength of forensics, we decided to raise concerns as we are today.”

Saudi Arabia has denied the hacking.

“Recent media reports that suggest the Kingdom is behind a hacking of Mr. Jeff Bezos’ phone are absurd,” the account tweeted. “We call for an investigation on these claims so that we can have all the facts out. 

Amazon did not immediately respond to a request for comment from The Hill on the allegations. 

The UN experts also cited concerns around the use of spyware and how this played into the alleged surveillance of Bezos, arguing that “surveillance through digital means must be subjected to the most rigorous control.”

They also called on U.S. authorities to further investigate Bin Salman’s involvement in the killing of Khashoggi in 2018, saying that the hacking and surveillance of Bezos “strengthen support” for allegations that the crown prince was involved in the death of Khashoggi. 

Saudi authorities in December gave five people connected to the killing death sentences, and jail sentences totaling 24 years for three other people.

The yearlong trial was closed to the public, and the names of those involved were not revealed.

The CIA has reportedly concluded that the crown prince ordered the killing, but Saudi officials have denied he had any knowledge of the plot.

Updated 11:38 a.m. 

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