On November 8, 2018, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos received an unexpected text message over WhatsApp from Saudi Arabian leader Mohammed bin Salman. The two had exchanged numbers several months prior, in April, at a small dinner in Los Angeles, but weren’t in regular contact; Bezos had previously received only a video file from the crown prince in May that reportedly extolled Saudi Arabia’s economy. The November text had an attachment as well: an image of a woman who looked like Lauren Sanchez, with whom Bezos had been having an unreported affair.
That message appears to have been a taunt; American Media Inc., publisher of The National Inquirer, would several months later make details of the affair public. But it’s the initial contact, in May, that has set off another firestorm with MBS at the center. That video file was likely loaded with malware, investigators now say. The crown prince’s own account had been used to hack Bezos’ phone.
Such brazen targeting of a private citizen—the richest man in the world, no less—is alarming to say the least. It underscores the dangers of an unchecked private market for digital surveillance, and raises serious questions about other prominent US figures who have known relationships with the crown prince, like White House adviser Jared Kushner and President Donald Trump himself.