Twitter employees charged with spying for Saudi Arabia

Two former Twitter employees were allegedly recruited by the Saudi government to spy on critics.
7:41 | 11/07/19

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Transcript for Twitter employees charged with spying for Saudi Arabia
And we moved to some disturbing unused out of Twitter two men were that were former employees have been federally charged. With working for the Saudi government spies and giving them access to private Twitter accounts of you can believe that's I'm joined by our air into terror ski. To help us understand what happened here yet we how often if we talked about social. Media disseminating. A bad information but that was over this is much different here. Twitter employees former employees have been accused by federal prosecutors in San Francisco of spying. For Saudi Arabia they were recruited by someone who was allegedly close to the Saudi royal family. And they were able through fair access as employees. To have a peek at the private information of more than 6000. Users and these weren't just any users can really. These were known critics of the Saudi government. OK so this is a little bit disturbing considering. You know the recent death of jamarcus OK no question yeah and we know that that that the Saudi. Ruling prince Mohamed bin Solomon has been accused of being behind. Should you killing. And this also shows that his effort to identify. And perhaps silence critics has gone back. Even further because this began 20142050. And so as soon as he's coming into power. There's an effort underway to try and identify and and get at critics including some rather prominent ones. So you're saying 20152014. Twin fifteen but now this is a few years later. So were the men still working at Twitter as of now or when when when was our last date of employment. If these were former employees and in fact the the trajectory of their career shows a rather ordinary career path that Twitter they rose through the ranks. And given their positions. They had access to some sensitive user information. They had access to not only names and emails but also IP addresses and devices. So in theory they could identify. Where a tweet critical of the Saudi government was sent from wow so if the saudis then wanted to track that person. Through this data they could do it. One of those whose charged is. No longer with the company. Twitter became suspicious of why he was suddenly accessing all this user information. Put him on leave. And federal prosecutors said as soon as he left the building he went straight to the airport boarded a flight to Saudi Arabia and did not come back. That's unbelievable so. Did these men accomplish what they wanted to accomplish well it's a good question and it seems as if according to court records they were able to get the information. That did the Saudi government one of them to get and they they were put an intermediary who's known to prosecutors. Took to funnel the information. One of the men was recruited during a trip to London. Given a watch worth about 35000. Dollars a court record says and other times money was deposited into an account that was then. A move through a bank in Lebanon to try and concealed leave the origin of the money so this the seemed to be an active spying effort by the saudis. And in particular targeted Twitter because in a country like Saudi Arabia Twitter is often the only outlet that dissidents have to express their views. What do you think this means for the privacy when I mean we're always worried about people. I'm externally the what does it mean when people are hacking from the inside. Look he's in that interest and we've been so worried about. Social media companies and their influence on on elections and countries just through the information that they spread. Here now is an American ally. Trying to use twitters own employees for their own hands inside the United States it's a case kind of case that's never been for. March before unreal unreal very frightening arrogant or ski with the and to continue this conversation I want to bring in John telling he's a former official of national homeland security and he joins us on the phone. John so happy that you're with us because is this a larger problem when I'm not only Saudi Arabia but other countries as well. Yeah hey Kimberly I think this case illustrates. Growing issue and issued a really got counterintelligence and law enforcement authorities concerned. Which is that we have a growing number of countries like Saudi Arabia Iran China who are going after people they view of the dissidents. Who may be living in Europe and United States. And is there going after them to either try to. To undermine their ability to criticize it beat the administration will their administration or to actually have those people. Repatriated back to their countries so they can be the target some type of activity by the government of being criticized. But it also gives us insight on how foreign intelligence operate at our agencies are recruiting sources and operatives. You know they were crude people who work in companies or group people who work in the government. And Aaron pointed out it's got to describe how they illustrate how social media platforms have become sort of ground zero. For the intelligence collection and operational activities. He's in tough regions organization. But you ought to raise a really important question you know what is what exactly are companies like Twitter and FaceBook. Doing to better safeguard that he personal information of the people who use those platforms. And why are being held more to account when we have incidents such as best. Current whereas the information especially safeguarding. Is actually being viewed. Yeah it's a good question and makes it makes you wonder if everything is being compromised. Yeah it really doesn't if you think about it just based on the type of information that. They that the saudis were able to gain access came by these two individuals. You know in an unauthorized accepting me and it raises the question where they simply trying to collect information. On the end of these individuals were potentially dissident. Or were they looking to compromise their accountants are concerned about the message that these individuals who debut as dissidents are putting out there and the information that they're putting other. How it's being viewed and respond attempts hero with the information parent described that they are collecting. It would aid if you could facilitate. This Saudi intelligence services were gaining control of the account and putting out information debut as useful to the Saudi government. Over the you know I basically assuming the big persona of these dissident. So would there be any chance that America American officials are doing the same thing spying. More on these accounts and and how would we know if that was happening. God I mentioned before. You know as we look at how intelligent service says whether it's the US intelligence community or foreign intelligence services operate. Information collection and and there activities. You know include I'd be hit you know pick either include focusing on social media platforms it's a way to. Spread information it's a way to gather information individuals you may want to target for recruitment. It's a way to look at the activities. Of entities are they be military entities or. Cold War people who who you're interested in monitoring shout. You know without going into detail you know I'm sure that justice foreign intelligence services are looking to leverage what goes on. And that they on the social media platforms are intelligence services are as well. Well we hope so definitely disturbing though I'm John kinda wanna thank you for joining us today we appreciate it.

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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