The phone of Amazon founder and Washington Post owner Jeff Bezos was hacked after receiving a file sent from an account used by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, United Nations experts said Wednesday.
The two experts called for an “immediate investigation” by the United States into information that suggests that Bezos’ phone was likely hacked after he received an MP4 video file sent from the Saudi prince’s WhatsApp account in May 2018, after the two exchanged phone numbers at a dinner in California.
The file was sent to Bezos’ phone five months before Saudi critic and Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi was killed by Saudi government agents inside the Saudi consulate in Turkey in October. At the time, the crown prince was being widely hailed for ushering in major social reforms to the kingdom, but Khashoggi was writing columns in the Post that highlighted the darker side of the crown prince’s simultaneous clampdown on dissent.
The Post was harshly critical of the Saudi government after Khashoggi’s killing and demanded accountability in a highly public campaign that ran in the paper for weeks after his death.
“The information we have received suggests the possible involvement of the Crown Prince in surveillance of Mr. Bezos, in an effort to influence, if not silence, The Washington Post’s reporting on Saudi Arabia,” the independent U.N. experts said.
They said that 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. experts published their statement after reviewing a full report conducted by a team of investigators hired by Bezos. The experts said they reviewed the 2019 digital forensic analysis of Bezos’ iPhone, which was made available to them as U.N. special rapporteurs. The independent experts are appointed by the U.N. Human Rights Council.
The digital forensic investigation that was commissioned by Bezos and shared with the U.N. experts assessed with “medium to high confidence” that his phone was infiltrated on May 1, 2018, via the MP4 video file sent from the crown prince’s WhatsApp account.
The experts said that records showed that within hours of receiving the video from the crown prince’s account, there was “an anomalous and extreme change in phone behavior” with enormous amounts of data being transmitted and exfiltrated from the phone, undetected, for several months.