The media has been set ablaze by an “exclusive” report in The Guardian, a United Nations report, and even a documentary film, all dropped at once, alleging that Mohammed Bin Salman (MBS) of Saudi Arabia is personally responsible for “hacking” into a personal phone belonging to Jeff Bezos, one of the world’s richest men and the owner of Amazon and The Washington Post.
The “bombshell” report in The Guardian, published Tuesday evening, was responsible for the word “Bezos” quickly becoming the number one trending U.S. Twitter search. The report alleged that Bin Salman, the heir to the throne of Saudi Arabia, infiltrated Bezos’s phone through sophisticated malware in text communications between the two on the messaging application WhatsApp. Hordes of legacy media journalists and commentators reacted, expressing extreme disdain for the Saudis, lashing out at Riyadh, and tearing into MBS.
The Guardian story had zero sources on the record, and no actual evidence to back its claims, which align with Bezos-related accusations over the past year. The reporter who wrote the story has a history of publishing false information and an overt bias against Saudi Arabia. Additionally, the article is rife with qualifiers such as “may have had a personal involvement,” “apparently been sent,” “probable,” and “believed to have included.”
This did not seem to affect the commentariat’s condemnation campaign. Of course it made sense that MBS would go after Bezos, many rationalized. After all, thanks to one of the most successful foreign disinformation operations of all time, the press believes Riyadh murdered Jamal Khashoggi, who had once been a contributor to the Bezos-owned Washington Post.
Nothingburgers Dressed Up as Bombshells
The Guardian story was followed up by articles in the Washington Post and other major outlets, which said the United Nations was going to release a report confirming the story, and that a documentary film would be released to add to the evidence against Saudi Arabia.
The U.N. evidence and documentary film raise more questions than answers. On Wednesday, the United Nations demanded an “immediate investigation” into the Bezos “hacking” affair, adding that Saudi Arabia is apparently engaged in a cover up of the murder of Khashoggi, the deceased Islamist activist and Washington Post columnist. But the U.N. did not claim to discover any particular evidence, and it uses qualifiers such as “alleged,” “possible involvement,” and “if true” in discussing the claimed Saudi role in the cyber intrusion.
The U.N.’s own investigation, which came by way of a strange, extremely short report, accompanied by a timeline of events, found no evidence to corroborate Team Bezos’s claims. The U.N. report is mostly a timeline of events that starts with Khashoggi’s critical commentary about President Trump. There is no explanation why the timeline starts where it does.
Now, to the hyped documentary cited in the press. This film, titled “The Dissident,” is a coming hagiography of Khashoggi, a deceased Islamist activist. It relies exclusively on the Turkish government, a fierce rival of Saudi Arabia, for the “evidence” against Riyadh.
The So-Called Forensic Report Offers Poor Evidence
These outlets cited a forensic report on the matter conducted by FTI Consulting, which failed to corroborate any elements of the Hillary Clinton campaign’s “Trump-Russia” dossier. Yet the FTI conclusion notes that the firm “does not claim to have conclusive evidence,” and “could not ascertain what alleged spyware was used,” which is not exactly a ringing endorsement that there is a Saudi smoking gun in this case.
In addition to FTI’s uncertain conclusions about the alleged cyber espionage campaign, its forensics report evidence file is rife with factually inaccurate and misleading information on the alleged hack. FTI claimed to find two instances “in which texts sent to Bezos from MBS’ WhatsApp account may reveal an awareness of private information that was not known publicly at the time.”
The first piece of evidence cited is a meme (yes, a meme) MBS sent to Bezos with the caption: “Arguing with a woman is like reading a Software License agreement. In the end you have to ignore everything and click I agree.” The meme has been publicly available for years and was created well before MBS sent it to Bezos, so it’s very unlikely that Bin Salman created the meme.
FTI, however, claimed that this was no casual meme, alleging that the millennial-looking brunette woman in it resembled the 50-year-old Lauren Sanchez, who at the time was Bezos’ mistress, and that this was evidence that MBS knew Bezos was involved in an extramarital affair.
Exhibit B in FTI’s “evidence” file is a February 16, 2019 text from MBS to Bezos, in which MBS denies allegations that the Saudis were behind the leaking of his texts. “Jeff what you hear or told to it’s not true and it’s matter of time tell you know the truth,” MBS wrote. “There is nothing against you or Amazon from me or Saudi Arabia.”
FTI claims that the text “evinces an awareness” of a private briefing Bezos received on the leaks. However, the Bezos Medium.com post was posted publicly on February 7, 2019. This timeline calls into question the claim made by FTI that somehow the MBS text showed he was privy to private information.
His Own Text Messages Made Jeff Bezos Lose His Mind
Almost exactly one year ago, The National Enquirer famously obtained evidence that Bezos had been engaging in adultery with and sent lewd images to Sanchez. Around the same time, Bezos posted an out-of-the-blue Twitter post announcing his divorce.
The Amazon founder then attempted to redirect questions about his personal life in an accusation-laden post on Medium.com, in which he entertained the idea that several governmental entities were out to ruin his reputation and blackmail him. All of the accused entities immediately denied having anything to do with the stories concerning Bezos.
Bezos seemed to believe that the Trump administration and the Saudis were out to get him, citing his employment of Khashoggi as an incentive for the Saudis. At the time, I analyzed the evidence for this and found that there was none. Bezos was simply floating ideas and turning them into serious accusations.
He appeared to be inventing a baseless grand conspiracy—a Trump-Saudi collusion hoax. Since then, Bezos-tied individuals, such as his investigative lead Gavin de Becker and PR man Iyad el-Baghdadi, have continued his campaign against Saudi Arabia, continuously alleging, without evidence, that Riyadh is responsible for “hacking” into his communications devices.
So why did Team Bezos appeal to the United Nations and foreign entities, and not the U.S. government? Well, it appears that the U.S. government already took up the case, shortly after Bezos released the scorched-earth Medium post. After Bezos met with federal prosecutors in New York City, the U.S. Southern District of New York reportedly investigated the matter last year and found “no evidence” that the Saudis had anything to do with Bezos’ personal affairs.
As for the leaked text messages, several media outlets have already confirmed that the Saudis had nothing to do with the leaking of the specific lewd messages from Bezos to Sanchez. It was confirmed last year with first-hand sources that Mark Sanchez, Lauren Sanchez’s brother, leaked the messages.
This trail of evidence concludes that the leaks, in all likelihood, did not even come from a personal device belonging to Bezos. So even if the Saudis did indeed somehow infiltrate Bezos’s phone, nothing public has ever surfaced from this alleged sophisticated cyber espionage attack supposedly devised by the de facto leader of Saudi Arabia.
Once again, we are back to square one. Jeff Bezos, one of the world’s most powerful and richest men, is levelling severe allegations against the Saudis, and once again, he has nothing to show for them.
Jordan Schachtel is an investigative journalist and foreign policy analyst based in Washington, D.C.