Federal prosecutors have charged two former Twitter employees with spying on behalf of Saudi Arabia after an FBI investigation found that the workers accessed private user information and dug into the accounts of critics of the Saudi government.
Prosecutors said in a complaint released Wednesday that the Saudi government paid the Twitter employees hundreds of thousands of dollars and also gave one a luxury wristwatch worth an estimated $20,000, according to a copy of the complaint obtained by the Washington Post, which first reported the story.
The filing detailed a concerted effort by the Saudi government to recruit spies within the San Francisco-based social media company.
“The criminal complaint unsealed today alleges that Saudi agents mined Twitter’s internal systems for personal information about known Saudi critics and thousands of other Twitter users,” U.S. Attorney David L. Anderson said in a statement to multiple news outlets.
“We will not allow U.S. companies or U.S. technology to become tools of foreign repression in violation of U.S. law.”
One of the former Twitter employees charged with spying is Ahmad Abouammo, a U.S. citizen who was arrested earlier this week. He is accused of spying on the accounts of three Twitter users, including one whose posts discussed Saudi leaders.
Abouammo allegedly used his employee credentials to access the email addresses and phone numbers of Twitter users who were critics of the Saudi royal family, according to the filing.
After leaving Twitter in 2015, Abouammo allegedly continued to act on behalf of Saudi Arabia by contacting his former colleagues with requests including taking down and verifying certain account activities, the charges said.
The second employee, Ali Alzabarah, a Saudi citizen, is accused of accessing personal information of more than 6,000 Twitter accounts, including the account of Saudi dissident Omar Abdulaziz.
A third individual who didn’t work for Twitter has also been charged with spying and acting as an intermediary between Riyadh and the employees.
Abouammo was arrested in Seattle on Tuesday, while the other two suspects are believed to be in Saudi Arabia.