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February 12, 2019 - The Jeff Bezos / National Enquirer American Media Publishing scandal involving alleged blackmail, extortion, racy texts and compromising photographs continues to escalate. - File Photo by: zz/Dennis Van Tine/STAR MAX/IPx 2017 12/14/17 Jeff Bezos at the premiere of "The Post" in Washington, DC.
Dennis Van Tine/Star Max via Associated Press
Jeff Bezos is in the middle of a tangled web.
CEO SURVEILLANCE

Jeff Bezos’ security chief says the Saudi government spied on Bezos’ personal phone

By Kevin J. Delaney

Jeff Bezos’ security chief Gavin de Becker is now alleging that the Saudi Arabia government had been surveilling the Amazon CEO’s personal mobile phone.

The possibility that Saudi officials had access to private communications of the world’s richest man is a new twist in the already-incredible story surrounding a tabloid newspaper’s threat to publish racy texts and photos sent between Bezos and his girlfriend Lauren Sanchez.

Bezos in February published allegations that American Media Inc.’s (AMI) National Enquirer tabloid tried to blackmail him in return for not releasing the compromising photos of him. Bezos said he was entrusting de Becker to investigate the matter “with whatever budget he needed.”

Now, writing in the Daily Beast, de Becker says his investigation has concluded, and his findings are with US officials. He said he wouldn’t share details except for one blockbuster allegation: “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.”

De Becker doesn’t provide specifics behind the surveillance allegations apart from references to spyware and his consultation with cybersecurity experts.

The Saudi allegation brings the story to the Washington Post, which Bezos owns. Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi was murdered inside Saudi Arabia’s consulate in Istanbul in October 2018 by a team of killers linked to Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman. It was “done on his behalf and perhaps his orders,” according to the latest reporting (paywall) by the Post’s David Ignatius.

De Becker says that the Saudi government “has been intent on harming Jeff Bezos since last October” because of the Post’s reporting on the ties between the murder of Khashoggi, who was a critic of Saudi officials, and Saudi Arabia’s rulers. As Ignatius reports, the traditionally close relationship between the US and Saudi Arabia around defense and intelligence has been severely damaged by the murder.

In his latest statement, de Becker repeats earlier allegations by Bezos about Saudi government business ties to AMI. In its dealings with Bezos, AMI has said that it acted in good faith and believed that it didn’t break any laws.

The Wall Street Journal reported on March 18 (paywall) that Michael Sanchez, the brother of Lauren Sanchez, was the National Enquirer’s source for the racy texts and photos from Bezos. Michael Sanchez has acknowledged helping the Enquirer but said he didn’t leak some of the more revealing photos of Bezos.

Update: AMI issued a statement saying de Becker’s allegations are false. “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,” the statement reads. “There was no involvement by any other third party whatsoever.”