Nothing too interesting here, just the United Nations accusing the de facto king of Saudi Arabia of cyberstalking the world’s richest man as if he were a psycho ex-girlfriend.
Perfectly normal international news fare in the year of our lord 2020.
After thinking about last night’s revelations some more, I’ve concluded that there has to be a Trump angle here somewhere that hasn’t been uncovered yet. Has to be. Granted, yes, at the moment there’s not a lick of evidence to support that theory.
But I know how the writers of this show think. It’s too much of a coincidence that all of the major players in this plot arc occupy prominent space in the president’s imagination — his old buddy David Pecker and the National Enquirer; his new buddy Mohammed bin Salman, his closest Muslim ally; and the dreaded Jeff Bezos, whose newspaper torments POTUS with unflattering coverage. They’re setting us up for a big reveal. I can feel it.
All political plotlines nowadays somehow lead back to Trump, remember. That’s how this virtual reality works. Stay tuned!
In the meantime, the most gripping thing you’ll read online today is the UN timeline sketching out how Bezos allegedly came to be targeted by Mohammed bin Salman. It’s three pages long and will take you three minutes to read and is worth every second, I promise. Click here and scroll down to page 4 to start. The UN’s theory is that hacking Bezos was a Saudi revenge operation aimed at punishing him for publishing Jamal Khashoggi, a strident critic of MBS, on the Washington Post’s op-ed page. It wasn’t limited to Bezos, either: Other Saudi dissidents also mysteriously ended up with malicious code on their phones, and one critic based in Norway had to be moved to a safe location last year because the CIA feared the Saudi government might be targeting him.
It wasn’t limited to hacking, either, according to the UN. Apparently a massive anti-Bezos campaign was launched in Saudi social media two weeks after Khashoggi’s killing, coincidentally around the same time WaPo was accusing the Saudi government of murder. That campaign reportedly persisted for months — then stopped on a dime the following April, the day after Bezos investigator Gavin de Becker publicly accused the Saudis of hacking Bezos’s phone. (It resumed later.)
But here’s where it really gets weird:
That was six months after MBS’s WhatsApp account had reportedly texted Bezos a video containing malware that allowed for huge reams of data to be lifted remotely from his phone. Bezos and bin Salman had apparently met at a dinner in L.A. the month before and exchanged phone numbers, as the rich and powerful are known to do. Little did Bezos know what was coming:
On Nov. 8, 2018, the report said, Mr. Bezos received a message from the account that included a single photo of a woman who strongly resembled Lauren Sanchez, with whom Mr. Bezos was having an affair that had not been made public. The photo was captioned, “Arguing with a woman is like reading the software license agreement. In the end you have to ignore everything and click I agree.”
At the time, Mr. Bezos and his wife were discussing a divorce, which would have been apparent to someone reading his text messages.
The second occasion, on Feb. 16 of last year, came two days after Mr. Bezos took part in phone conversations about the Saudis’ alleged online campaign against him. The message he received read, in part, that “there is nothing against you or Amazon from me or Saudi Arabia.”
The bar is almost impossibly high, but even in 2020 there are still stories that compel you to pause and say: Really?
Really, says the UN in announcing the results of their investigation today, although they’re relying on the findings of private cybersecurity experts. They want the U.S. government to launch its own investigation of the hacking, which is … not going to be a priority for our president, I’m thinking, given his strange reluctance to criticize the Saudi government for its misdeeds and his well-known grudge against Bezos, which may have already influenced official federal policy towards Amazon. Trump doesn’t draw sharp lines between his personal interest and the national interest, as we saw in his “see no evil” attitude towards Russian interference in 2016 and, if you believe the Democrats’ theory, his interest in the Ukraine quid pro quo. He’s not going to crack down on the Saudis for hacking a prominent American if that particular prominent American has business interests that have been known to make trouble for him.
One last point. I didn’t realize it when I wrote last night’s post but MBS’s alleged hacking of Bezos’s phone didn’t happen after the Saudis killed Jamal Khashoggi and WaPo began exposing the plot. It happened months before, after Khashoggi began writing columns critical of bin Salman for the paper. Which raises the question: How many other prominent people have the Saudis “preemptively” hacked, just in case those people cause headaches for them later and need to be extorted? Certainly no one in the U.S. government, right?
Exit question: Does this sound like a guy who’s going to take Bezos’s side against the Saudi government?