One of the United Nations investigators involved in assessing the hack of Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos’s telephone says other people in regular contact with the powerful Saudi Crown Prince – such as President Donald Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner – should be careful and replace their phones.
Agnes Callamard, one of two UN special rapporteurs who says they are “gravely concerned” by evidence which points to the involvement of Saudi’s crown prince Mohammed bin Salman in the phone hack, said others in touch with the Kingdom’s de facto leader must reassess their own cybersecurity.
“I will hope that Donald Trump’s son-in-law and anyone else is at the moment changing their phone, checking their phone and contacting the best cyber security experts so that we can get to the bottom of that hacking strategy and policy,” she said on CNN.
It was a stark warning to one of the most powerful officials in Trump’s administration and a reflection of the unorthodox way he’s chosen to communicate with the young Saudi prince.
At the White House, officials largely worked to downplay the hack and its reported Saudi origin.
“Saudi Arabia is obviously our partner and ally,” deputy White House press secretary Hogan Gidley told reporters on Thursday. “I’m aware of the reports. I don’t have any more information than that. We obviously take those situations seriously and so when we have something more I’ll let you know.”
In the past, Trump has come under scrutiny for an unwillingness to censure Saudi Arabia, even after US intelligence linked the murder of a Washington Post journalist to the crown prince.
Kushner, along with other high-profile US business leaders and politicians, have met and interacted with Prince Mohammed as he led a campaign to promote modernization efforts in the kingdom.
CNN has previously reported that Kushner and the prince used WhatsApp to communicate, according to a source close to the Saudi royal court. An administration official told CNN at the time that the White House counsel’s office had determined that WhatsApp is permitted under certain conditions, and that Kushner is aware of those rules and complies.
But his use of the messaging service still raised security concerns, including that sensitive national security information communicated by him may be vulnerable to hackers and foreign governments.
On Wednesday, the UN experts laid out information they received suggesting that a WhatsApp account belonging to Prince Mohammed was used to deliver spyware to a mobile phone belonging to Bezos.
The Saudi embassy in Washington said in a statement posted online that “recent media reports that suggest the Kingdom is behind a hacking of Mr. Jeff Bezos’ phone are absurd.”
Speaking to CNN, Callamard said there is a “medium to high probability that the source of the hacking as indeed the WhatsApp account of Mr. Mohammed bin Salman.”
“What is important with Jeff Bezos’ case is that we now have proof that the Saudis do not only target the phones of dissents living abroad – they also include the phones and the mobile technology in general of people of strategic interest to Saudi Arabia,” she said.