WASHINGTON (CN) — Months after billionaire Jeff Bezos stared down would-be extortion, U.N. investigators on Wednesday tied the hack of Bezos’ phone to The Washington Post’s connections with slain journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
The report from two special rapporteurs of the United Nations says Bezos was targeted as the owner of the Post and that Mohammad bin Salman, the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, infected Bezos’ phone with spyware in May 2018 by sending him a video file via the messaging service Whatsapp.
Khashoggi had been a columnist for the Post at the time, writing reports that regularly criticized the Saudi government.
When Khashoggi disappeared five months later, Oct. 2, from the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, the Post devoted substantial coverage to the ensuing investigation.
Bin Salman meanwhile continued to message Bezos on WhatsApp. The U.N. says a forensic analysis shows that the Crown Prince revealed his access to Bezos’ phone in messages dated November 2018 and February 2019 where he “revealed private and confidential information about Mr. Bezos' personal life that was not available from public sources.”
It was that same February that Bezos disclosed in a post on Medium.com that nude photos of himself had been leaked to the National Enquirer and that the tabloid’s editors allegedly used the photos and his private messages with a romantic partner to extort Bezos.
The Saudi government denied the hacking allegations Wednesday via Twitter.
"Recent media reports that suggest the Kingdom is behind a hacking of Mr. Jeff Bezos' phone are absurd," Saudi Arabia's U.S. consulate posted. "We call for an investigation on these claims so that we can have all the facts out."
U.N. investigators Agness Callamard and David Kaye say their forensic report on Bezos is part of a larger investigation into Khashoggi’s murder and allegations of strategic surveillance from the Saudi government.
The analysis found that Bezos and bin Salman exchanged WhatsApp numbers a few months before the hack. Shortly after, bin Salman sent Bezos a video file. Once Bezos accessed that file, his phone suddenly uploaded an extraordinary amount of data, indicating that spyware had been installed and activated.
“At a time when Saudi Arabia was supposedly investigating the killing of Mr. Khashoggi, and prosecuting those it deemed responsible, it was clandestinely waging a massive online campaign against Mr. Bezos and Amazon targeting him principally as the owner of The Washington Post,” the U.N. report states.
The experts say this case illustrates the need to curb the use of surveillance technology and to standardize regulations for private communication firms.
"This reported surveillance of Mr. Bezos, allegedly through software developed and marketed by a private company and transferred to a government without judicial control of its use, is, if true, a concrete example of the harms that result from the unconstrained marketing, sale and use of spyware,” the report states. “Surveillance through digital means must be subjected to the most rigorous control, including by judicial authorities and national and international export control regimes, to protect against the ease of its abuse. It underscores the pressing need for a moratorium on the global sale and transfer of private surveillance technology.”
Neither the Post nor Amazon has returned requests for comment on behalf of Bezos.
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