Two former Twitter employees charged with espionage on behalf of the government of Saudi Arabia last fall may be prosecuted against them on the recommendation of US prosecutors, according to Bloomberg. It is currently unclear why the US is pushing to dismiss the case against the two men, Ahmad Abouammo and Ali Alzabarah. But San Francisco lawyers presented the recommendation to a judge on Tuesday. It has yet to be approved.
A third man, a Saudi citizen named Ahmed Almutairi, was also involved in the operation as the recruiter who convinced Abouammo and Alzabarah to spy on Saudi dissidents using internal Twitter tools. Prosecutors also recommend that charges against him be dropped, Bloomberg reports.
Twitter declined to comment on this story.
The operation would run from November 2014 to May 2015, involving Abouammo and Alzabarah who used Twitter credentials to collect email addresses, phone numbers, IP addresses and other data from the accounts of those who were critical of the Saudi kingdom and crown prince Mohammed bin Salman. Bin Salman would later be held responsible ordering the murder of critics and Washington Post employee Jamal Khashoggi.
Bloomberg reports that only Abouammo, a US citizen, has been detained for pleading innocently after being arrested in Seattle, where he was working for Microsoft at the time, in November. Alzabarah fled the country in July 2015, while Almutairi remains in Saudi Arabia. All three were charged with acting as illegal foreign agents and the FBI last fall released sought-after posters for both at-large men believed to live in Saudi Arabia.
At the time, Twitter said that it “restricts access to sensitive account information to a limited group of trained and vetted employees”, and understands “the incredible risks many people use using Twitter to share and hold their perspectives with the world in power responsible. We have tools to protect their privacy and their ability to do their essential work. We are committed to protecting those who use our service to advocate for equality, individual liberties and human rights. “
Earlier this month, Twitter suffered a colossal breach that allowed hackers to use internal business tools to reset and then take control of high-profile accounts, including those of leading tech entrepreneurs, politicians and large companies. The company and external investigators are now trying to find out how the attack happened. But Twitter’s internal security has now come under fire for the number of employees who may have had access to such privileges and how employees and contractors may have abused these tools in the past to spy on users, including celebrities such as Beyoncé, according to a report published earlier this week from Bloomberg.
Twitter has so far admitted that the hackers have used a “coordinated social engineering attack” on its employees to access its systems, but it has not yet released additional information about the attack, who committed it and how.