Ahmad Abouammo, who worked at Twitter over seven years ago, has been convicted in federal court on charges relating to spying for the Saudi Arabian government.
After a lengthy federal legal process that began with his arrest in 2019, Ahmad Abouammo has now been tried and convicted of taking bribes from the Saudi government to access and share with them private information from anonymous Twitter users critical of Saudi leaders. Abouammo, a U.S. citizen who worked at Twitter from mid-2014 to mid-2015 as a media partnership manager focused on the Middle East and North Africa, was found by federal investigators to have met with a close associate of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salmon (MBS), Bader Al Asaker, and to have accepted an expensive watch and $300,000 cash for his spying services.
A jury found Abouammo guilty of two counts of wire fraud or conspiracy to commit wire fraud, two counts of money laundering, one count of falsifying records, and one count of acting as an agent of a foreign government without properly disclosing that work. He will now face sentencing.
As the New York Times reports, one of the Twitter accounts MBS and the Saudi government were interested in was one with the handle Mujtahidd, which is highly critical of the Saudis and which has more than 2 million followers. And Abouammo shared location and other information on that account as well as those of other dissidents.
After taking power in June 2017, MBS would go on to (allegedly) order the killing of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018. Khashoggi, who worked for the Washington Post and lived in the U.S., was last seen entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on October 2, 2018.
President Joe Biden had previously pledged to make the Saudis "pay the price" for the Khashoggi assassination, calling the country a "pariah," but like other presidents before him he has instead turned tail and made nice because of the Saudis' oil resources. Biden exchanged a fist bump with MBS last month prior to a sit-down meeting in which he confronted him about the Khashoggi killing, and MBS continues to deny any responsibility, calling the crime "abhorrent." MBS also brought up American atrocities against prisoners at Abu Ghraib, in his defense.
Abouammo was accused alongside another former Twitter employee, Saudi national Ali Alzabarah, who investigators say looked up real-time location data on one dissident identified as Omar Abdulaziz, a close friend of Khashoggi. Alzabarah fled the U.S. before federal authorities could arrest him in 2019.
Abouammo was acquitted of several charges relating to his communications with Alzabarah, as the Times notes, likely because jurors were unconvinced that Alzabarah didn't act of his own volition.
One juror reportedly told Abouammo's lawyers that they wished Twitter had to bear "a little more responsibility" for the case.
"In this case, the government demonstrated, and the jury found, that Abouammo violated a sacred trust to keep private personal information from Twitter’s customers and sold private customer information to a foreign government," said U.S. Attorney Stephanie Hinds in a statement. "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."
A Twitter security executive, Seth Wilson, tweeted today about the case, "Been a long road to get to this conviction. Appreciate the efforts of so many to see that justice was done."
Been a long road to get to this conviction. Appreciate the efforts of so many to see that justice was done. https://t.co/0UWomhsdkC— Seth Wilson (@srw) August 9, 2022