UN wants investigation into hack Jeff Bezos via WhatsApp of Saudi crown prince

Two United Nations Special Rapporteurs want further investigation into the hack of Amazon founder Jeff Bezos’ phone. The phone is said to have been hacked after Bezos received a video from the crown prince of Saudi Arabia via WhatsApp.

These are the UN Special Rapporteur against and extrajudicial killings and the UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of expression. They state that the forensic report states that the hack probably used spyware that ‘also occurs in other Saudi surveillance cases’. By this, the report probably means the Pegasus-3 malware, which the Israeli NSO Group made. That malware, and the method of sending it via WhatsApp, has in the past been more often associated with the Saudi investigation and intelligence services. The Saudi Embassy denies on Twitter any involvement in the hack.

The reporters reacted strongly to the news. “UN human rights experts are very concerned about information they have received that suggests that the Saudi Crown Prince’s WhatsApp account was used to send digital spyware to Jeff Bezos,” the agency said in a statement.

The UN says it has information that “suggests that The Washington Post’s coverage of Saudi Arabia may have been influenced or even silenced” by the hack. Bezos owns The Washington Post. Journalist Jamal Khashoggi also worked there, who was murdered in the Saudi embassy in Turkey last year. Most intelligence agencies believe that the Saudi crown prince personally knew about the murder. “The circumstances and timing of Bezos’ hack and surveillance reinforce calls for further investigation into allegations that the Crown Prince was at least aware of the assassination,” the UN writes. The agency is not basing itself on its own research, but on the report that has now been released by FTI.

Bezos’ phone is said to have been hacked in 2018 after he had a conversation with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman via WhatsApp. Bezos ordered a forensic analysis of the incident. The New York Times saw the report and states with “medium to high certainty” that the phone was hacked after Bezos received a video from the crown prince’s account.

It’s not clear whether the Crown Prince himself was involved in the hack, but investigators believe his account was used to make it look less suspicious, according to the New York Times. The latter says an anonymous source to the newspaper. A month after Bezos and Bin Salman exchanged phone numbers, Bezos unexpectedly received a video file via WhatsApp. Immediately afterwards, the phone’s data usage would have been more than 300 times higher than normal, the report says.

Bezos had the report prepared by FTI Consulting. He did so after being previously extorted for an affair he was said to be having. Bezos also allegedly received a photo from Bin Salman’s account of a woman who “looked very similar to the woman he had an affair with,” the report said.

Update, 18.10: Motherboard has published the entire report.

Update: the article initially referred to ‘the United Nations’, but it concerns two UN special rapporteurs.