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Two former Twitter employees charged with spying for the Saudi government and digging into accounts of critics

This is the first time the Justice Department has publicly accused Saudi Arabia of running agents in the US.

Two former Twitter employees have been charged with accessing the information of thousands of Twitter users including critics of the Saudi kingdom.

One of the former Twitter employees named in the court documents, Ahmad Abouammo, is a US citizen. He was arrested yesterday on charges of spying on the accounts of three Twitter users and falsifying a document to obstruct an FBI investigation. One of the accounts he is accused of spying on posted about the inner workings of the Saudi leadership.

The second former Twitter employee accused of spying is Ali Alzabarah, a Saudi citizen. He is accused of accessing information from more than 6,000 Twitter accounts for Saudi Arabia in 2015. One of the accounts he is alleged to have spied on is that of Omar Abdulaziz, a critic of the Saudi Arabian government with more than 400,000 followers. Abdulaziz later became close to Jamal Khashoggi who was murdered by Saudi agents in Istanbul last year.

A third individual, Saudi citizen Ahmed Almutairi, was also charged with spying and acting as an intermediary between the former Twitter employees and Saudi officials.

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Both Alzabarah and Almutairi are currently believed to be in Saudi Arabia. The charges represent the first time the Justice Department has publicly accused Saudi Arabia of running agents in the US.

The court documents also allege that these former Twitter employees were given a designer watch worth around $20,000 and paid hundreds of thousands of dollars for spying on these Twitter accounts.

Twitter has responded to the charges with the following statement.

“We would like to thank the FBI and the U.S. Department of Justice for support with this. We recognize bad actors will go to try and undermine service. Our company limits access to sensitive account information to a limited group of trained and vetted employees. We understand the incredible risks faced by many who use Twitter to share their perspectives with the word and to hold those in power accountable. We have tools to protect their privacy and their ability to do vital work. We’re committed to protecting those who use our service to advocate for equality, individual freedoms, and human rights.”

The announcement of these charges comes months after concerns about Twitter’s security practices hit the headlines after several prominent Twitter users, including CEO Jack Dorsey, had their accounts hacked as a result of SIM swapping.

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