SAN FRANCISCO (CN) — The government’s case against an accused Saudi spy hit a stumbling block Monday as a lead FBI investigator testified she found no written correspondence confirming that ex-Twitter employee Ahmad Abouammo passed any private user information to Bader Al-Asaker, a close associate of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman.
“I did not see any written correspondence where Mr. Abouammo directly provided private user information to Mr. Binasaker [Al-Asaker],” Special Agent Letitia Wu said.
Under cross-examination by Abouammo’s public defender Angela Chuang, Wu said she reviewed tens of thousands of pages of records from over 30 entities that turned over documents during the FBI’s investigation. “Of the warrants that were issued, I did not see written correspondence where that information was transferred,” she said. “I also believe there were other ways of communication where Mr. Abouammo communicated with Mr. Binasaker.”
Wu did not identify those other ways of communication.
During direct examination, prosecutors unfurled a trove of digital evidence connecting Abouammo to Al-Asaker, from their first meeting in June 2014 when Al-Asaker toured Twitter’s headquarters, to a meeting in London on Dec. 5, 2014, when the pair allegedly discussed @Mujtahidd, the handle of an anonymous activist and rumored royal insider who tweets gossip and criticism of the Saudi royal family.
Abouammo, a former manager of media partnerships for the Middle East and North Africa region at Twitter, stands accused of using his inside access to gather private data on the @Mujtahidd account that he gave to Al-Asaker in exchange for $300,000 and a luxury watch.
Wu and her partner Special Agent Jonathan Kingsley confronted Abouammo in the driveway of his Seattle home on Oct. 20, 2018. Wu would later testify during cross-examination that Assistant U.S. Attorney Colin Sampson was also there as an observer, but that he identified himself only as an attorney.
She said Abouammo immediately asked if they were there because of a New York Times article where anonymous sources said intelligence officers warned Twitter in late 2015 about Saudi Arabia operatives grooming another Twitter employee called Ali Alzabarah to spy on certain accounts.
Wu said Abouammo then “said something to the effect that he felt bad because he had introduced Ali Alzabarah to KSA officials. At the time he specified that it was Mr. Binasaker."
Alzabarah was charged in 2019 with acting as an unregistered foreign agent, but had fled to Saudi Arabia after he was confronted by his employer in 2015.
Wu said during their interview she and her partner asked Abouammo if he accessed the account.
“He indicated he had looked into the account but stated that he did not have access to any of the technical details such as the IP address affiliated with the account,” Wu said. “However, later in the interview he admitted that he had accessed the account. We showed him an exhibit where it listed that he accessed the @Mujtahidd account more than 20 times.”
She continued: “The defendant indicated that Binasaker was persistent in trying to find someway to shut down or suspend the account. It was clear this account was irking Mr. Binsaker and had asked Mr. Abouammo repeatedly to access the account.”
Sampson asked Wu if Abouammo passed any details about the account to Al-Asaker. She answered, “When we asked if he passed any information to Mr. Binasaker he responded, ‘You tell me. Did I?’ And we responded, ‘We're asking you.’ And to that statement he responded, ‘I didn’t.’”
Wu testified that Abouammo said he left Twitter for three reasons. Twitter wanted him to relocate to Dubai to run its fledgling Middle East office. He also did not get along with his supervisor. “And then the third reason was the mounting pressure from contacts within Kingdom of Saudi Arabia government,” Wu said. "He specifically mentioned Mr. Binasaker.”