Saudi Arabia hacked the phone of Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos and appears to be the source of private information about a sexual affair that ended up in the pages of The National Enquirer, according to Gavin de Becker, the veteran security consultant who works for Bezos.
In a first-person essay in The Daily Beast on Saturday, de Becker said he and other experts investigated how anyone could get access to Bezos’ private phone messages to his lover, Lauren Sanchez, after some messages were published in The National Enquirer and others became the subject of an extortion plot by the publication.
The answer, he said, was surprising:
“Our investigators and several experts concluded with high confidence that the Saudis had access to Bezos’ phone, and gained private information. As of today, it is unclear to what degree, if any, AMI was aware of the details.”
The reason, he said, was that Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was furious at The Washington Post’s intensive coverage of the murder of Saudi dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who was cut into pieces at the Saudi embassy in Turkey in October 2018. Intelligence reports indicate that MbS was likely implicated in the murder. Bezos owns The Post, along with his day job as CEO of Amazon.
De Becker wrote: “Some Americans will be surprised to learn that the Saudi government has been very intent on harming Jeff Bezos since last October, when The Post began its relentless coverage of Khashoggi’s murder.”
Saudi Arabia denies involvement in the Bezos affair.
The National Enquirer got a massive array of texts and photos from Bezos’ phone revealing his private affair with Sanchez, who was then married to top Hollywood agent and WME co-CEO Patrick Whitesell.
De Becker notes that although the National Enquirer publisher, American Media Inc. (AMI), spread the story that Sanchez’s brother was the source of the photos and texts, it never made sense, citing reporting in the Wall Street Journal: “It was the Enquirer who first contacted Michael Sanchez about the affair, not the other way around.”
The steamy texts and private semi-clad photos were published by the National Enquirer. When parent company American Media Inc (AMI) threatened to publish even more salacious messages, Bezos turned the tables and wrote about the planned extortion, revealing the content of the photos and texts himself.
But throughout, many have wondered how a tech mogul with a massive security coterie could have been vulnerable to such a hack.
Meanwhile, the Journal has reported that AMI paid Michael Sanchez $200,000 for the private texts.
De Becker wrote:
“We did not reach our conclusions lightly. The inquiry included a broad array of resources: investigative interviews with current and former AMI executives and sources, extensive discussions with top Middle East experts in the intelligence community, leading cyber security experts who have tracked Saudi spyware, discussions with current and former advisers to President Trump, Saudi whistleblowers, people who personally know the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman (also known as MBS), people who work with his close associate Saud al-Qahtani, Saudi dissidents, and other targets of Saudi action, including writer/activist Iyad el-Baghdadi.
Experts with whom we consulted confirmed New York Times reports on the Saudi capability to “collect vast amounts of previously inaccessible data from smartphones in the air without leaving a trace–including phone calls, texts, emails”–and confirmed that hacking was a key part of the Saudi’s ‘extensive surveillance efforts’ that ultimately led to the killing of [Washington Post] journalist Jamal Khashoggi.”
Sunday, AMI Media refuted de Becker’s accusation, saying in a statement obtained by CNN’s Brian Stelter:
“Despite the false and unsubstantiated claims of Mr. de Becker, American Media has, and continues to, refute the unsubstantiated claims that the materials for our report were acquired with the help of anyone other than the single source who first brought them to us. The fact of the matter is, it was Michael Sanchez who tipped the National Enquirer off to the affair on Sept. 10, 2018, and over the course of four months provided all of the materials for our investigation. His continued efforts to discuss and falsely represent our reporting, and his role in it, has waived any course confidentiality. There was no involvement by any other third party whatsoever.”