A former Twitter employee suspected of spying on behalf of Saudi Arabia was found guilty, Bloomberg reported Tuesday. The employee, U.S. resident Ahmad Abouammo, was also convicted by a jury of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, falsifying records and money laundering. He faces up to 20 years in prison.
Abouammo worked on media partnerships in the Middle East at the company from 2014 to 2015. According to the federal complaint, he and another Twitter employee, Ali Alzabarah, were approached by the Saudi government and offered cash and luxury goods for their cooperation collecting personal information on Twitter users of interest. Alzabarah, an engineer at the company, fled to Saudi Arabia and evaded trial. In light of his connection to the Saudi government, Twitter sent out warnings to some users that their accounts had been targeted by state-sponsored actors in 2015.
In the trial, the prosecution argued that a prominent member of Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman’s government tapped Abouammo for help investigating his enemies. In the course of that cooperation, Abouammo allegedly collected personal information including birth dates, email addresses and phone numbers of the Saudi government’s critics and sent that data to his contacts there. Abouammo’s defense maintained that he only accessed the information as part of his regular work duties at Twitter.
In 2018, Saudi government agents murdered and dismembered Jamal Khashoggi, a Washington Post journalist, Virginia resident and frequent critic of the regime. In spite of the abundance of evidence that the crown prince ordered the killing to silence a political enemy, the U.S. maintains a cordial relationship with the Saudi government.
According to Bloomberg, the prosecution was not allowed to instruct the jury directly about the brutal punishment that Saudi Arabia doles out to its critics, but they were able to gesture toward that reputation through witnesses, including a woman who described how her brother disappeared in 2018 after criticizing the country on Twitter.