(DCWatchdog.com) – A former employee of Twitter has been sentenced to more than three years in prison on espionage charges for spying for Saudi Arabia’s royal family.
The convicted Saudi spy, Ahmad Abouammo, who holds citizenships of the United States and Lebanon, carried out espionage tasks at the microblogging social media platform in 2014-2015, NBC News reported, as cited by Breitbart News.
The Lebanese-American’s 3.5-year sentence was issued by a US District Court for the Northern District of California on Wednesday.
Abouammo was involved in a scheme for collecting the data of specific Twitter users targeted by the Saudi government.
The Saudis were after their targets’ birthdays and phone numbers, among other personal information. The data the spies at Twitter, like Abouammo, gathered was provided to an agent of the Saudi government.
The now-sentenced spy’s official job at Twitter was to oversee the social media platform’s media partnerships in the Middle East and North Africa region.
Testimony by an FBI agent revealed that the Saudi intelligence operative began trying to recruit Abouammo in 2014.
The future spy received gifts from the Saudis and a money deposit in a bank account belonging to his cousin.
After his recruitment, Abouammo used his position on Twitter to secretly access the accounts of users critical of the ruling regime in Saudi Arabia. He shared their personal data with the Saudi intelligence officer.
Besides that, Abouammo would contact other Twitter employees and ask them to remove specific Twitter posts and verify some Saudi accounts on the platform at the request of Saudi intelligence.
The report revealed that the convicted spy continued to engage in the latter type of activity even after he quit Twitter in May 2015.
It quoted the US Justice Department as saying that two more individuals, including another former Twitter employee, involved in the Saudi espionage scheme on the social media platform, have fled to Saudi Arabia to avoid prosecution in the United States.
Abouammo got hundreds of thousands of US dollars in espionage pay from the Saudi operative who recruited him. He used some of the dirty money for a down payment on a home in Seattle, Washington.
The regime in Saudi Arabia has been cracking down on freedom of speech and criticism of the royal family.
In one such case, in April, a Saudi court slapped a 34-year sentence on Salma al-Shehab, a 34-year-old mother of two, because she made Twitter posts protesting against the Saudi government.
With the sentence, Abouammo has become the first to be found guilty of foreign espionage at Twitter. The company’s former cybersecurity chief, Peiter “Mudge” Zatko, told the US Congress earlier this year that foreign spies, including Chinese operatives, had infiltrated the platform.
A former Twitter employee has been found guilty of spying on Twitter users on behalf of the Saudi royal family and has been sentenced to three years in prison. https://t.co/ysfApuUqmQ
— Breitbart News (@BreitbartNews) December 15, 2022