Without explanation, US dismisses charges against Saudis caught spying on US soil

Twitter IAIn a surprising move, the United States government is seeking to dismiss espionage charges it filed last year against three men, including a member of staff of Saudi Arabia’s royal family, who were caught spying on American soil. Last November, the Federal Bureau of Investigation filed a complaint in San Francisco, accusing the three men of “acting as unregistered agents” of Saudi Arabia. The phrase is used in legal settings to refer to espionage.

According to the FBI, the charges stemmed from an investigation that lasted several years and centered on efforts by the oil kingdom to identify and silence its critics on social media. In 2015, the Saudi government allegedly reached out to Ali Alzabarah, a 35-year-old network engineer working for Twitter, who lived in San Francisco. The complaint alleges that Ahmed Almutairi (also known as Ahmed Aljbreen), who worked as a “social media advisor” for Saudi Arabia’s royal family, arranged for Alzabarah to be flown from San Francisco to Washington to meet with an unidentified member of the Saudi dynasty.

Alzabarah, along with another Twitter employee, 41-year-old Ahmad Abouammo, were allegedly given money and gifts by the Saudi government in return for supplying it with private information about specific Twitter users, according to the FBI complaint. The information provided by the two Twitter employees to the Saudi authorities allegedly included the email addresses, IP addresses and dates of birth of up to 6,000 Twitter users, who had posted negative comments about the Saudi royal family on social media. Special Agents from the FBI’s Settle field office arrested Abouammo at his Seattle home. However, Alzabarah managed to flee the United States along with his family before the FBI was able to arrest him, and is believed to be in Saudi Arabia. The FBI issued a warrant for his arrest.

In a surprising move, however, US government prosecutors have now filed a motion to drop the charges against the three men. The motion, filed on Tuesday in San Francisco, is asking for permission from the judge in the case to have all charges against the three men dismissed “without prejudice”, meaning that the US government could decide to file new charges against them in the future. The two-page filing does not offer a reason behind this sudden decision by the US government. The Bloomberg news service, which reported the news on Tuesday, said it inquired about this case by calling and emailing the Saudi Embassy in Washington, the San Francisco US Attorney’s office, and Twitter. It received no responses.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 29 July 2020 | Permalink

3 Responses to Without explanation, US dismisses charges against Saudis caught spying on US soil

  1. Pete says:

    The FBI is no doubt angry that its multi-year investigation has taken this turn. But the FBI again learns that Saudi citizens, especially Royal Family members, enjoy a privileged status above ordinary Americans.

    Such matters as Saudi Arabia being a major oil price setter and the largest buyer of US arms gives the Saudis a special bilateral status in the D.C. foreign policy community.

    This status is even impressed upon the CIA, leading to adversarial CIA-FBI relationships (recalling “Alec Station”).

    Needless to say this dynamic of Saudi privilege and influence has had life shortening impacts on many Americans http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hijackers_in_the_September_11_attacks#Before_the_attacks

  2. EB says:

    @Pete, it seems you spoke too soon, though I don’t blame you for your cynicism — new charges have been filed. https://www.cbsnews.com/news/us-charges-ex-twitter-employees-spying-for-saudi-arabia-royal-family/

  3. Pete says:

    Thanks EB. It will be interesting to see if these new charges are also eventually dismissed. Cheers Pete

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