In return for hefty amounts of money, a former Twitter employee was convicted guilty of spying for Saudi Arabia and selling private user information of those who openly opposed the nation.
Prosecutors alleged that Ahmad Abouammo, 44, exploited his position as an engineer at Twitter to get access to private information about users, including their email addresses, phone numbers, and IP addresses that may reveal their location.
Then, in return for a pricey watch and hundreds of thousands of dollars, he disclosed that information to a representative connected to the Saudi royal family.
Abouammo was found guilty on Tuesday by an 11-person jury of serving as an unregistered agent of a foreign government, money laundering, record-keeping fraud, and one count of wire fraud.
On five further charges of wire fraud, he was found not guilty.
Despite worries from the prosecution that Abouammo would attempt to leave the country, he was still at large on Tuesday while awaiting punishment.
He will be back in court on Wednesday for a hearing.
The kingdom, which has long been connected to the US via its enormous oil riches and regional security arrangements, was accused of eavesdropping in America for the first time in this case.
From 2013 through 2015, Abouammo, a dual citizen of the US and Lebanon, worked for the social networking platform.
He oversaw media alliances with well-known clients in the Middle East and North Africa.
According to the prosecution, Bader Al-Asaker, also known as Bader Binasaker, an aide to the then-Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, recruited the father of three into the espionage operation in 2014.
When Al-Asaker visited Twitter’s headquarters in San Francisco, California, the two connected and started dating soon after, according to The Wall Street Journal.
About six months later, in December, Abouammo encountered Al-Asaker in London while on a business trip.
According to authorities, he travelled back to the US after the trip while carrying a watch worth more than $40,000.
During last week’s closing statements, prosecutor Eric Cheng said, “That expensive watch—it wasn’t free.”
Now that its Twitter insider had been acquired, the kingdom.
Authorities claim that a week following his visit to England, Abouammo started using the anonymous user account “mujtahidd” to access data.
Al-Asaker allegedly desired the account’s suspension, but it is still online right now.
Additionally, Cheng said that Abouammo accepted bribes for nearly a year totaling almost treble his yearly salary:
He countered, “They paid for a mole.” “We all know that type of money isn’t wasted,”
In his closing arguments to the jury, US prosecutor Colin Sampson said, “The evidence demonstrates that, for a price and assuming no one was watching, the defendant sold his position to an insider of the crown prince.”
Angela Chuang, the defence counsel, said that while there seemed to be a plot to use Twitter to get incriminating material on Saudi critics, prosecutors were unable to establish Abouammo’s involvement.
She maintained that while working for Twitter, her client was carrying out his duties and that the US “government hadn’t shown beyond a reasonable doubt” that Abouammo was serving as a Saudi spy.
However, the prosecution emphasised that Abouammo had been paid many times in the amount of $100,000 each into a bank account opened in Lebanon in his father’s name. After that, he sent $10,000 to a US account.
Additionally, he disregarded company policy that requires employees to declare any gifts worth more than $100 by failing to reveal the watch or monetary payments to Twitter.
Chuang acknowledged that Abouammo ought to have informed his former employer about Al-gifts, Asaker’s but said that this’mistake wasn’t enough to indict him.’
In her testimony before the court, she said, “We basically spent the previous two weeks in a glorified HR investigation.”
She also stressed the need of drawing a line between breaching the law and disobeying company policy.
Prosecutors also claimed that Abouammo had brought Ali Alzabarah, a Twitter colleague, into the plot and presented him to Al-Asaker.
Alzabarah, a website maintenance worker, is accused of having accessed email addresses, birth dates, and other details of Twitter users who had posted criticisms of the Saudi royal family using his job credentials.
More than 6,000 users’ personal data, including at least 33 identities for which Saudi law enforcement had sent Twitter emergency disclosure demands, are believed to have been sent to the Saudi government by him in 2015.
Alzabarah left the country and sent his resignation letter over email before departing to Saudi Arabia when Twitter questioned him about why he was accessing the user data.
The US Justice Department filed charges against both Alzabarah and another individual, Ahmed Almutairi, for their participation in the conspiracy.
According to an FBI statement, lzabarah, a Saudi citizen, is wanted on suspicion of breaking federal law by failing to register in the US as a foreign government agent.
Chuang said in court that the prosecution was attempting to hold Abouammo accountable for Alzabarah’s acts.
As much as the government would want it to be, Mr. Alzabarah is not really seated at the table right now, Chuang informed the jury.
And it is on them, they allowed Mr. Alzabarah to leave the country while he was being watched by the FBI,
Almutairi may have also travelled back to Saudi Arabia. Arrest warrants have been issued for both men by the FBI.
In 2018, the FBI conducted Abouammo’s first interrogation at his Seattle residence.
After almost three years of employment at Amazon, he was then engaged as a social media consultant.
Agents allege that he “lied” to them during the interrogation about his participation with the plan and gave them a “fake invoice” he had “just seconds before.”
He was detained in November 2019 and accused of espionage on 11 charges. He had entered a not guilty plea to the accusations and was let out on bail.
About two weeks of testimony from current and former Twitter workers, FBI agents, and the defendant’s sister were presented during the defendant’s trial, which took place this summer.
Abouammo remained silent throughout his trial.
In letters, his friends and family described him as a “loyal and respectable family guy” who supported his niece throughout her operation.
The panel took over three hours to agree that Abouammo was guilty of spying, the jurors admitted after reading the judgement.