When I say “hacked by the crown prince of Saudi Arabia,” I don’t mean by Saudi state intelligence services in the prince’s employ.
I mean by the prince himself. If you believe the Guardian’s sources, Mohammed bin Salman was the operative who delivered the virus that infiltrated Bezos’s phone.
Someone on Twitter a few days ago remarked that the virtual reality which we all now inhabit seems to have only 40 or so major characters. The cast of players in every major news story is drawn from that same pool of 40: Trump, Rudy Giuliani, Hillary, James Comey, about 35 others. Somehow, at some point, Michael Avenatti made it into the group; there’s a new story about him on the wires right now, naturally. This Bezos/MBS thing seems to confirm the theory. Whoever’s writing this sh*tshow we now live in wanted a plot line in which one character hacks another character’s phone. And they had only 40 possibilities to choose from.
This is the pairing we got.
Be grateful. It could have been Taylor Swift hacking Putin’s phone or something like that.
The encrypted message from the number used by Mohammed bin Salman is believed to have included a malicious file that infiltrated the phone of the world’s richest man, according to the results of a digital forensic analysis.
This analysis found it “highly probable” that the intrusion into the phone was triggered by an infected video file sent from the account of the Saudi heir to Bezos, the owner of the Washington Post.
The two men had been having a seemingly friendly WhatsApp exchange when, on 1 May of , the unsolicited file was sent, according to sources who spoke to the Guardian on the condition of anonymity.
Large amounts of data were exfiltrated from Bezos’s phone within hours, according to a person familiar with the matter. The Guardian has no knowledge of what was taken from the phone or how it was used.
Does any of this ring a bell? It should. Almost a year ago, Bezos published a strange post on Medium about the fact that some of his texts to his mistress had shown up in the National Enquirer. Bezos hired investigators to find out how those messages had ended up in the Enquirer’s hands. Allegedly, the Enquirer got wind of that investigation and threatened to publish more texts — and embarrassing photos taken by Bezos — if Bezos didn’t call a halt to it. In particular, Bezos claimed, the Enquirer’s parent company, AMI, wanted him to say that he had “no knowledge or basis for suggesting that AMI’s coverage was politically motivated or influenced by political forces.”
But Bezos couldn’t and wouldn’t say that. Instead, his post on the matter is filled with hints about some sort of connection between AMI and … Saudi Arabia. “Mr. Pecker and his company have also been investigated for various actions they’ve taken on behalf of the Saudi Government,” he notes at one point in reference to Enquirer chief — and Trump pal — David Pecker. He flags a news story noting that Pecker had attended a dinner at the Trump White House with a guest who had “important ties to the royals in Saudi Arabia.” He points to the strange but true fact that in 2018 AMI published a glossy 97-page piece of propaganda aimed at American newsstands entitled “The New Kingdom” that celebrated bin Salman’s agenda for Saudi Arabia. And he emphasizes that the paper he owns, the Washington Post, had been unsparing in its coverage of the Saudi operation to murder WaPo columnist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Turkey. “For reasons still to be better understood, the Saudi angle seems to hit a particularly sensitive nerve” with Pecker, Bezos claimed, theorizing about why the Enquirer would attempt to blackmail him.
And now here we are with the Guardian proposing that the hacking of Bezos’s phone was in fact a Saudi operation led by MBS himself. Is that how the Enquirer ended up with the texts and racy photos on Bezos’s phone?
Maybe not. Daily Beast reporter Lachlan Markay tweeted this afternoon that his site is very confident in its previous reporting that the brother of Bezos’s mistress leaked the texts to the Enquirer. But there’s a catch:
BUT: Michael Sanchez maintained to the end that he did not leak what he called Bezos' "below the belt selfies." And we never reported that he did. So yeah, this could certainly explain how those got out.
— Lachlan Markay (@lachlan) January 21, 2020
Did the richest man in the world have his dick pics forward to Trump’s favorite tabloid by the de facto king of Saudi Arabia?
More importantly: Can you read that sentence and not be completely convinced that we’re living in an increasingly stupid simulation of reality?
It’s worth your time to read these two posts from February of last year to get up to speed on the Bezos/Enquirer/Saudi triangle, since there’s destined to be tons of follow-up coverage of today’s Guardian scoop. As for motive, those in the know were apparently unanimous in their best guess for the paper: “Saudi experts – dissidents and analysts – told the Guardian they believed Bezos was probably targeted because of his ownership of the Post and its coverage of Saudi Arabia.” Not only did WaPo publish Khashoggi’s columns criticizing MBS, they led the charge in exposing the Saudi plot to murder him. If the Guardian story is true then it was probably a revenge op.
And if it can be proved it’ll certainly be blamed on “rogue actors” in the Kingdom who’ll be scapegoated for the prince’s misdeeds. The same playbook as in the Khashoggi murder.
The funniest line in the Guardian piece: “The possibility that the head of one of America’s leading companies was targeted by Saudi Arabia could pose a dilemma for the White House.” For a normal White House, yes. America’s richest man being hacked by America’s foremost Sunni ally would be a diplomatic pickle. Given the White House we have, though, Trump will surely allow his own antipathy to Bezos and the Washington Post and his fondness for MBS and the Saudi royals (they buy lots of weapons from us, you know) to guide his judgment on whether the evidence of bin Salman’s guilt is solid or not. A guy who could stand next to Putin in Helsinki and contradict the entire U.S. intelligence community on whether Russia hacked the Democrats during the 2016 campaign will have no difficulty concluding that the Saudis are being framed, that maybe some 400-pound Iranian sitting in his basement somewhere is the real culprit. There’s no “dilemma” for Trump or MBS’s buddy, Jared Kushner, on how to handle this.
Although there may be a dilemma in how to handle their own communications with bin Salman going forward. MBS and Kushner are buddies, after all; Jared is the White House’s unofficial liaison to the royal family. I wonder if he’s experiencing any nervous moments this afternoon scrolling through his archived text messages with bin Salman and looking for any unusual files that his friend Mo might have slipped into their chats. If the Saudis are willing to mess with the world’s richest man for blackmail leverage, they’d certainly look for leverage over the world’s most powerful man. Is that why Trump is always so solicitous towards the Saudis, refusing to condemn the Khashoggi operation and duly dispatching more American troops to the Kingdom when he’s supposed to be “ending endless wars”? He knows better than most humans from his long friendship/partnership with Pecker and the Enquirer how dirt can be weaponized to impugn others. Conveniently in this case, the Saudis may have weaponized some dirt against his enemy Bezos. What if the next target is closer to home?