United Nations experts said on Jan. 22 that Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos’s phone wasn’t just hacked by the Saudi government, but by its Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, or MBS, who sent Bezos a WhatsApp message containing malware.
The targeting was likely done because of Bezos’s role as owner of the Washington Post, the paper that published Jamal Khashoggi, a columnist critical of the Kingdom who was killed and dismembered by a team of Saudi agents at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in 2018.
The fact that the hacking was done via malware through a WhatsApp message could mean that other high-profile individuals could have similar spyware on their phones.
As dozens of people all over Twitter noted, a lot of people could be nervous right now.
i wonder if all those startup bros with saudi money checking their phones— Farhad Manjoo (@fmanjoo) January 22, 2020
Here’s a list of people who have reportedly exchanged texts with the MBS.
Boris Johnson, British Prime Minister
“Boris Johnson communicated with Saudi crown prince on WhatsApp, ex-UK officials say.” (Telegraph)
Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and senior advisor to the president
“It was around the time of the White House visit in March 2017 that senior officials in the State Department and the Pentagon began to worry about the one-on-one communications between Prince Mohammed — who is known to favor the online messaging service WhatsApp — and Mr. Kushner.” (New York Times)
Richard Branson, billionaire and founder of Virgin
“Days later in a text message, Mr. Branson counseled the Saudi crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, to release female activists his country had imprisoned.” (The Wall Street Journal)
Lindsay Lohan, actor and socialite
“Indeed, ever since rumors first started to emerge of a friendship between Lilo and MBS—reports claimed they’ve become text buddies and that the Saudi ruler has been flying the actress around the world by private jet and even gave her a gift-wrapped credit card...” (The Daily Beast)
Bernard Haykel, professor at Princeton University
“Haykel has met M.B.S., communicated with him via WhatsApp, and voiced support for the crown prince’s agenda.” (The New Yorker)
Texting with the prince
While there are reports of the above people actually exchanging texts with Mohammed bin Salman, the Saudi leader’s circle and influence extends far beyond that.
The sociable crown prince has cultivated relationships with CEOs and business leaders and has been linked to Bill Gates, Tesla CEO Elon Musk, Blackstone CEO Stephen Schwarzman, BlackRock CEO Larry Fink, Michael Bloomberg, SoftBank CEO Masayoshi Son, Rupert Murdoch, Peter Thiel, Disney CEO Bob Iger, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, and others.
He’s also been reported to have met Oprah Winfrey, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Thomas Friedman, Glenn Close, Taylor Swift, Emilia Clarke, and Brie Larson.
Many of these business relationships make a lot of sense for MBS, given the fact that he has been working on the Aramco IPO and looking to diversify the oil-heavy portfolio of his family’s country. Furthermore, MBS has been looking to improve the Kingdom’s public relations image through modernization, hence the celebrity cultivation.
Given the Prince’s casual, modern way of life, it’s possible many people have exposure to his personal WhatsApp account. And given his authoritarian tendencies and recent statements by the UN’s special rapporteurs, it’s possible he may have leveraged these connections with spyware.