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Twitter staffer turned Saudi spy jailed for 3.5 years

Tweeter, tailor, soldier, bye

A Twitter employee who spied for the Saudi government and royal family has been sentenced to three and half years behind bars in America.

Ahmad Abouammo, 45, was in August convicted by a jury of acting as an unlawful foreign agent, and committing conspiracy, wire fraud, international money laundering, and falsification of records in a federal investigation.

At the time, Abouammo was facing up to 20 years behind bars for, while working for Twitter in the US, leaking to Saudi Arabia sensitive information about 6,000 Twitter accounts that could be used to identify and locate users who were of interest to the Saudi royals.

Instead, a judge this week sentenced Abouammo to 42 months in federal prison followed by three years of supervised release. The judge also ordered him to forfeit $242,000 — the monetary value of a luxury Hublot watch and cash Abouammo received as bungs for passing on the info. He'll begin serving his prison sentence on March 31, 2023.

"Mr Abouammo violated the trust placed on him to protect the privacy of individuals by giving their personal information to a foreign power for profit," Assistant Attorney General Matthew Olsen said in a statement. "His conduct was made all the more egregious by the fact that the information was intended to target political dissidents speaking out against that foreign power." 

According to the criminal complaint [PDF] filed in 2019, Abouammo, who worked at Twitter in its San Francisco HQ from 2013 to 2015, started receiving bribes from Saudi officials as early as December 2014 in exchange for info on its users.

At the time, he was working as a media partnership manager for Twitter's Middle East and North Africa region. 

In December 2014, Abouammo met in London with the head of the "private office" of a Saudi Arabia royal family member who, during the relevant time, was a minister of state and then became the minister of defense and deputy crown prince, according to the Feds. At the meeting, the Saudi official gave Abouammo the expensive watch, valued at $42,000 according to Abouammo, and he later tried to sell it on Craigslist.

From that time on, Abouammo began repeatedly accessing private information about several Twitter accounts, at least one of which belonged to a user who was critical of the kingdom and its royal family. These records contained users' personal information, such as email addresses and phone numbers, which Abouammo then handed over to the foreign official. 

Evidence presented at trial showed that Abouammo traveled to Lebanon in February 2015, opened a bank account there in his father's name, it received a $100,000 deposit from an account in from Saudi Arabia, and then another $100,000 after he left Twitter in May 2015. 

Abouammo subsequently moved to Seattle to join Amazon, and later quit the cloud giant to co-found a marketing startup in the area, we're told.

In October 2018, FBI agents interviewed Abouammo at his residence about his involvement in the scheme. During the interview, Abouammo reportedly provided false information to the investigators along with a phony invoice for one of the payments he received from the foreign official. ®

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