A former Twitter employee was convicted in federal court last week of charges related to spying for the royal family of Saudi Arabia by passing along confidential information about users who criticized the regime.
A jury in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California found Ahmad Abouammo guilty of acting as an unregistered foreign agent, conspiracy, wire fraud, money laundering, and falsifying records.
Former Twitter Employee Found Guilty of Acting as an Agent of a Foreign Government and Unlawfully Sharing Twitter User Information: Ahmad Abouammo was convicted of acting as a foreign agent without notice to the Attorney General, conspiracy, wire fraud,… https://t.co/fcPbjF94ub
— FBI SanFrancisco (@FBISanFrancisco) August 11, 2022
Abauammo worked for Twitter as a Media Partnerships Manager for the Middle East/North Africa (MENA) region. He is a legal U.S. resident and a native of Egypt.
Prosecutors introduced evidence at trial showing Abouammo took bribes in exchange for “accessing, monitoring, and conveying” private user information maintained by Twitter to Saudi officials.
The defendant’s job duties included protecting Twitter user information and required him to disclose violations of the company’s security policies to management. He was also required to disclose gifts received from any entity doing business with the company.
When questioned by investigators about accepting the bribes and improperly disclosing user information, Abauammo lied and provided a falsified document.
The defendant began accepting payment for providing the user data as early as December 2014. Among other gifts, Abauammo was given a luxury Hublot watch worth at least $42,000. In return, the defendant provided information about an influential account that was critical of the Saudi government and royal family.
Abauammo then traveled in 2015 to Lebanon where a bank account was opened in his father’s name that he could access. The Saudi government deposited $100,000 to that account and Abauammo laundered the money by transferring it into his name in the U.S. using fraudulent information.
After Abauammo left his position at Twitter in May 2021, another $100,000 was deposited into the account by a Saudi official. The defendant sent messages to his Saudi contact at that time asking if he wanted any additional information.
A sentencing hearing has not yet been scheduled. Abauammo faces a sentence of up to 10 years in federal prison on the conviction for acting as a foreign agent and up to 20 years for the other convictions.
U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of California Stephanie M. Hinds said in a statement that a consequence of the district being home to the world’s most innovative tech companies is the risk involved in the sheer size of user data that is stored.
She said the jury agreed with prosecutors that Abauammo “violated a sacred trust” to protect that private data and profited by selling it to a foreign power. She said the trial shows the federal government will not condone the misuse of private information attempts by foreign governments to recruit agents inside tech firms.