FBI Issues Federal Warrants For Suspected Saudi Twitter Spies

KCBS Radio Afternoon News
November 07, 2019 - 2:35 pm
Ali Alzabarah and Ahmed Almutairi are suspected of acting as spies for the Saudi government



(KCBS Radio) — The FBI is releasing more details of three men accused of participating in a scheme to access private information on Twitter users critical of the kingdom of Saudi Arabia on behalf of the Saudi government.

Ahmad Abouammo, 41, is a U.S. citizen and former Twitter employee who was arrested in Seattle for his role in the scheme on Tuesday. He is charged, along with Ali Alzabarah, 35, and Ahmed Almutairi, aka Ahmed Aljbreen, 30, with acting as an illegal agent of a foreign government.

The FBI said Alzabarah and Almutairi are believed to be in Saudi Arabia and has issued federal warrants for their arrest, as well as wanted posters for the supposed spies.

Alzabarah is a Saudi national and former Twitter employee. He and Abouammo allegedly used their credentials between November 2014 and May 2015 to access private user information including email addresses, phone numbers, IP addresses and dates of birth, which could be used to identify and locate users.

Neither of the men needed to access user data in order to do their jobs, and Alzabarah allegedly quit his job and fled to the Saudi Arabia after company officials confronted him about violating their policies, officials claim.

“Aside from being criminal, their conduct was contrary to the free speech principles on which this country was founded,” said Assistant Attorney General for National Security John C. Demers.

The FBI says Almutairi acted as a go-between, arranging meetings and communications between the two men and the Saudi government.

In addition, the FBI says Abouammo lied to agents and gave them falsified evidence when they confronted him in October 2018 about the investigation, and he faces an additional charge of falsifying records.

“The FBI will not stand by and allow foreign governments to illegally exploit private user information from U.S. companies,” said FBI Special Agent in Charge John F. Bennett.  “Insider threats pose a critical threat to American businesses and our national security.”

Twitter says it is cooperating in the investigation and takes seriously "the length bad actors will go to try and undermine" its service. The company says there are tools in place to protect users with sensitive accounts.