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Convicted Saudi Twitter Spy Sentenced to More Than Three Years in Prison

The former employee allegedly collected the personal information of royal family critics and shared it with Saudi Arabian government officials.

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Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia takes his seat ahead of a working lunch at the G20 Summit on November 15, 2022 in Nusa Dua, Indonesia
Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia takes his seat ahead of a working lunch at the G20 Summit on November 15, 2022 in Nusa Dua, Indonesia
Photo: Leon Neal (Getty Images)

While newly named Twitter CEO Elon Musk continues to explore new ways to flush out leakers from companies, the U.S. government’s been busy closing out a court case against actual Twitter spies. Now, according to NBC, a former Twitter employee convicted of exposing dissidents’ personal information on behalf of the Saudi Royal family in exchange for over a quarter of a million dollars and a luxury watch could spend more than three years behind bars.

Ahmad Abouammo, a dual U.S.-Lebanese citizen who worked at Twitter between 2013 and 2015, was sentenced to three and half years in prison for his spycraft by the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California. Abouammo reportedly worked at Twitter as a media partnerships manager for the Middle East and North Africa where he promoted the company while engaging with journalists and celebrities in the region. Between 2014 and 2015, federal prosecutors allege Abouammo used that role to obtain the phone numbers, IP addresses, birthdates, and other personal information of royal family critics and then delivered that information to Saudi government officials.

In exchange, the Saudi government rewarded Abouammo with a $300,000 wire transfer and flashy Hublot watch. Abouammo, who allegedly continued to pry old co-workers to verify certain Twitter users’ personal information even after he left the company in 2015, reportedly used part of those briefs to put down a down payment for a house in Seattle.

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Exposed Twitter account details can mean the difference between freedom and incarceration for Saudi political dissidents. Last year, a U.S. national was reportedly detained while visiting family in Saudi Arabia and received a 16 year jail sentence after posting a series of tweets critical of the ruling family. More recently, Salma al-Shehab, a 34-year-old Saudi citizen who was studying for a doctoral degree at the University of Leeds in the U.K. was arrested while visiting family over tweets reportedly commenting on human rights abuses in her home country. The mother of two now potentially faces 34 years in prison.

The nearly four year prison sentence might sound steep, but it’s actually just a fraction of the 20 years Abouammo could have potentially spent behind bars after being convicted on six counts earlier this year. Prosecutors convicted Abouammo of being a foreign agent and on charges of money laundering and conspiracy to commit wire fraud for his attempts to wire money to Saudi accounts. The Justice Department, according to NBC, alleges another former Twitter employee and man accused of passing that data to Saudi officials have fled to Saudi Arabia for safety.

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Twitter did not immediately respond to Gizmodo’s request for comment, though it’s worth noting Twitter’s communications team reportedly endured major cuts as part of the company’s estimated 3,700 personal layoffs.

The dramatic prison sentence comes just months after former Twitter head of safety turned whistleblower Peiter “Mudge” Zatko told reporters he believed government agents from India and China had managed to infiltrate the company. Zatko later appeared before a Senate Judiciary Committee where he alleged Twitter had, “at least one agent” from a Chinese intelligence service on its payroll.