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Ex-Twitter staffer convicted of spying for Saudi Arabia

Ahmad Abouammo is facing 10-20 years in prison for leaking PII from 6,000 Twitter accounts

A former Twitter employee faces up to 20 years in prison after being convicted of spying for Saudi Arabia and its royal family.

Ahmad Abouammo was charged in 2019 with spying for the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) during his tenure at Twitter from 2013 to 2015.

During that time, Abouammo was said to have leaked internal information about accounts critical of the Saudi royal family to KSA, allegedly earning him an expensive Hublot watch and $300,000 in wire payments.

Abouammo wasn't the only person charged in the case, but is the only case to have gone to trial. Abouammo's Twitter coworker and Saudi national Ali Alzabarah fled to Saudi Arabia in 2015 when Twitter began asking questions, while Ahmed Almutairi, a Saudi social media strategist allegedly linked to Saudi prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) is also wanted by the FBI for involvement. KSA and the US do not have an extradition agreement.

Throughout the trial, Bloomberg noted, Abouammo maintained he was performing his job as a Twitter media partnership manager by promoting the social media site in the Middle East.

On the other hand, prosecutors reportedly alleged at trial that an aide to MBS, Bader Al-Asaker, bribed Abouammo and Alzabarah to hand over sensitive details for as many as 6,000 Twitter accounts.

The jury in Abouammo's trial returned a guilty verdict on six of 11 counts: acting as an unregistered foreign agent, wire fraud, honest services wire fraud against Twitter, conspiracy, money laundering, and fabricating evidence.

The DoJ has confirmed the jury acquitted Abouammo of five of the counts pertaining to wire fraud and honest services fraud.

Amongst the five counts that were dismissed was an accusation that Abbouammo was culpable for Alzabarah's actions.

The culpability charge stems from allegations Abouammo brought Alzabarah into the conspiracy to leak Twitter account details. Abouammo worked at Twitter prior to Alzabarah and left the company in 2015, the same year Twitter's suspicions led it to question Alzabarah.

Twitter doesn't actually need someone as dangerous as a foreign spy to lose track of account information. In late July, claims surfaced that a seven-month-old vulnerability allowed a bad actor to siphon details from 5.4 million accounts.

The attacker behind the incursion is selling the alleged stolen account details on a cybercrime forum, but may want to be careful, especially if US Attorney for Northern District of California Stephanie Hinds is on the case.

Of Abouammo's conviction, Hinds said others should beware, especially if foreign governments are involved: "As this case demonstrates, we will not tolerate the misuse of personal information or attempts by foreign governments to recruit secret, malign agents at American technology companies. Where such misuse violates the federal law, offenders will be prosecuted."

A sentencing hearing has not yet been scheduled yet but Abouammo faces a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison for the charge of acting as an agent of a foreign government and 20 years in prison each for the other counts. The DoJ says each count for which Abouammo was found guilty also carries up to a $250,000 fine, meaning he's potentially on the hook for $1.5 million. ®

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