07:21 GMT +312 November 2019
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    Arrest of Saudi Twitter Spies First for US, But Might Only Embarrass Riyadh

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    The US Justice Department on Wednesday charged two former Twitter employees with spying on behalf of the Saudi government, marking the first time that US officials have publicly accused the Middle Eastern country of spying via agents.

    Ali al-Ahmed, the director of the Institute for Gulf Affairs, who believes that the shutting down of his own Arabic-language Twitter account may be linked to this case, told Radio Sputnik’s Loud & Clear that cases of Saudi agents illegally operating in the US are frequently swept under the rug. 

    “This is the first time that the US government had the guts to name and prosecute Saudi agents in the state. It has never happened before … It is a change. I don’t know if it will bring other cases … [there are] people who are still here and who have done that [spied against the US government] … but the US government has not done anything yet on those other cases,” Ahmed told host Brian Becker.

    “A Saudi national was apprehended redhanded in the case of human trafficking, but then the case disappeared, and that was during the Obama administration,” Ahmed explained, providing an example of a case in which the US government turned a blind eye to a Saudi national’s wrongdoings. 

    “These people should be investigated and tried … I hope that the motive [for this current indictment] was not just to get back at [US President Donald] Trump and embarrass the Saudis,” Ahmed explained.

    Ahmad Abouammo, a US citizen, is one of the former Twitter employees who has been charged with spying on the accounts of three people. One of the accounts frequently commented on the inner workings of the Saudi leadership, Sputnik reported. 

    The other employee, Ali Alzabarah, has been charged with accessing the personal information of more than 6,000 Twitter accounts in 2015 on behalf of the Saudi Arabian regime. One of the accounts belonged to popular Saudi Arabian government critic Omar Abdulaziz, who has more than 1 million Twitter followers. According to the court documents, both men “acted within the United States under the direction and control of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and foreign officials working on behalf of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.” 

    The Washington Post reported that one of the two former Twitter employees is believed to be an associate of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, but did not say which.

    “The criminal complaint unsealed today alleges that Saudi agents mined Twitter’s internal systems for personal information about known Saudi critics and thousands of other Twitter users,” US Attorney David L. Anderson said in a statement Wednesday, the Washington Post reported. “We will not allow US companies or US technology to become tools of foreign repression in violation of US law.”

    According to court documents, another Saudi citizen, Ahmed Almutairi, is believed to have behaved as a go-between for the Saudi government and Twitter employees. He has also been charged with spying.

    As similar incidents have taken place in the past, Ahmed said he’s not sure why US officials have decided to take action now. The complaint was filed in the US District Court in San Francisco.

    “So the timing here - I really don’t know the timing, but it looks like it’s just a natural process investigation where people had the evidence at the DA [District Attorney’s Office] in California to go forward because maybe he is not a Trump appointee or loyal to Trump,” Ahmed explained. 

    “This is another embarrassing story for the Saudi ruling family, but they have assurances from the [Trump] administration that this is just a story, will be limited to these individuals. They will not care very much. Let’s see what happens,” Ahmed explained, also revealing that he has hired a lawyer to investigate the shutting down of his Twitter account, which he suspects may be related to this indictment.

    “My account was killed without a single reason. And I believe that was part of this case. So, I'm trying to get to the bottom of it … That account was verified, had thousands of followers, and it was an effective tool for us to write in Arabic to our people. And a lot of people followed, and it was getting a lot of attacks from the Saudi trolls. Then, in 2017 that account was just suspended. No warning, no explanation. Nothing,” Ahmed explained, also noting that users who reported that his account had been shut down also started getting their own accounts shut down.

    “My English account was suspended for a couple of weeks and then restored, but the Arabic one, no,” Ahmed added.

    The views and opinions expressed in the article do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.


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