Exclusive: investigation suggests Washington Post owner was targeted five months before murder of Jamal Khashoggi
The Amazon billionaire Jeff Bezos had his mobile phone “hacked” in 2018 after receiving a WhatsApp message that had apparently been sent from the personal account of the crown prince of Saudi Arabia, sources have told the Guardian.
The encrypted message from the number used by Mohammed bin Salman is believed to have included a malicious file that infiltrated the phone of the world’s richest man, according to the results of a digital forensic analysis.
This analysis found it “highly probable” that the intrusion into the phone was triggered by an infected video file sent from the account of the Saudi heir to Bezos, the owner of the Washington Post.
The two men had been having a seemingly friendly WhatsApp exchange when, on 1 May of that year, the unsolicited file was sent, according to sources who spoke to the Guardian on the condition of anonymity.
Large amounts of data were exfiltrated from Bezos’s phone within hours, according to a person familiar with the matter. The Guardian has no knowledge of what was taken from the phone or how it was used.
The extraordinary revelation that the future king of Saudi Arabia may have had a personal involvement in the targeting of the American founder of Amazon will send shockwaves from Wall Street to Silicon Valley.
It could also undermine efforts by “MBS” – as the crown prince is known – to lure more western investors to Saudi Arabia, where he has vowed to economically transform the kingdom even as he has overseen a crackdown on his critics and rivals.
The disclosure is likely to raise difficult questions for the kingdom about the circumstances around how US tabloid the National Enquirer came to publish intimate details about Bezos’s private life – including text messages – nine months later.
It may also lead to renewed scrutiny about what the crown prince and his inner circle were doing in the months prior to the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, the Washington Post journalist who was killed in October 2018 – five months after the alleged “hack” of the newspaper’s owner.
Saudi Arabia has previously denied it targeted Bezos’s phone, and has insisted the murder of Khashoggi was the result of a “rogue operation”. In December, a Saudi court convicted eight people of involvement in the murder after a secret trial that was criticised as a sham by human rights experts.
Digital forensic experts started examining Bezos’s phone following the publication last January by the National Enquirer of intimate details about his private life.
The story, which included his involvement in an extramarital relationship, set off a race by his security team to uncover how the CEO’s private texts were obtained by the supermarket tabloid, which was owned by American Media Inc (AMI).
While AMI insisted it was tipped off about the affair by the estranged brother of Bezos’s girlfriend, the investigation by the billionaire’s own team found with “high confidence” that the Saudis had managed to “access” Bezos’s phone and had “gained private information” about him.
Bezos’s head of security, Gavin de Becker, wrote in the Daily Beast last March he had provided details of his investigation to law enforcement officials, but did not publicly reveal any information on how the Saudis accessed the phone.
He also described “the close relationship” the Saudi crown prince had developed with David Pecker, the chief executive of the company that owned the Enquirer, in the months before the Bezos story was published. De Becker did not respond to calls and messages from the Guardian.
The Guardian understands a forensic analysis of Bezos’s phone, and the indications that the “hack” began within an infected file from the crown prince’s account, has been reviewed by Agnès Callamard, the UN special rapporteur who investigates extrajudicial killings. It is understood that it is considered credible enough for investigators to be considering a formal approach to Saudi Arabia to ask for an explanation.
Callamard, whose own investigation into the murder of Khashoggi found “credible evidence” the crown prince and other senior Saudi officials were responsible for the killing, confirmed to the Guardian she was still pursuing “several leads” into the murder, but declined to comment on the alleged Bezos link.
When asked by the Guardian whether she would challenge Saudi Arabia about the new “hacking” allegation, Callamard said she followed all UN protocols that require investigators to alert governments about forthcoming public allegations.
Saudi experts – dissidents and analysts – told the Guardian they believed Bezos was probably targeted because of his ownership of the Post and its coverage of Saudi Arabia. Khashoggi’s critical columns about Mohammed bin Salman and his campaign of repression against activists and intellectuals rankled the crown prince and his inner circle.
Andrew Miller, a Middle East expert who served on the national security council under President Obama, said if Bezos had been targeted by the crown prince, it reflected the “personality-based” environment in which the crown prince operates.
“He probably believed that if he got something on Bezos it could shape coverage of Saudi Arabia in the Post. It is clear that the Saudis have no real boundaries or limits in terms of what they are prepared to do in order to protect and advance MBS, whether it is going after the head of one of the largest companies in the world or a dissident who is on their own.”
The possibility that the head of one of America’s leading companies was targeted by Saudi Arabia could pose a dilemma for the White House.
Trump and his son-in-law Jared Kushner have maintained close ties with the crown prince despite a US intelligence finding – reportedly with a medium–to–high degree of certainty – that Mohammed bin Salman ordered Khashoggi’s murder.
Both Saudi Arabia and AMI have denied that the kingdom was involved in the publication of the Bezos story.
A lawyer for Bezos who was contacted by the Guardian said: “I have no comment on this except to say that Mr Bezos is cooperating with investigations.”
The Guardian asked the Saudi embassy in Washington about the claims. It did not immediately return a request for comment.
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A recent interview given by a former high-ranking official in Israeli military intelligence has claimed that Jeffrey Epstein’s sexual blackmail enterprise was an Israel intelligence operation run for the purpose of entrapping powerful individuals and politicians in the United States and abroad.
Ben-Menashe says that well after the introduction, though again he does not specify what year, Ghislaine Maxwell and Jeffrey Epstein began a sexual blackmail operation with the purpose of extorting U.S. political and public figures on behalf of Israeli military intelligence. He stated:
In this case what really happened, my take on it, in the later thing, is that these guys were seen as agents. They weren’t really competent to do very much. And so they found a niche for themselves — blackmailing American and other political figures.”
He then confirmed, when prompted, that they were blackmailing Americans on behalf of Israeli intelligence.
In response to his statement, Zev Shalev replied, “But, you know, for most people it’s hard for them to think of Israel as being … blackmailing their leaders in the United States, it’s a very …” at which point, Ben-Menashe interrupted and the following exchange took place:
Ari Ben-Menashe: You’re kidding? [laughs]…. It was quite their M.O. Sleeping around is not a crime, it may be embarrassing, but it’s not a crime, but sleeping with underage girls is a crime.
Shalev: It was a crime in 2000 as well, but they let him off that…
Ben-Menashe: And that it is [why] always so he [Epstein] made sure these girls were underage.
In addition, when Shalev asked Ben-Menashe about the relationship between Jeffrey Epstein and former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak, Ben-Menashe stated “After a while, you know, what Mr. Epstein was doing was collecting intelligence on people in the United States. And so if you want to go to the U.S. if you’re a high-profile politician you want to know information about people.” Ben-Menashe subsequently stated that Barak was obtaining compromising information (i.e., blackmail) that Epstein had acquired on powerful people in the United States.
PROMIS, sex, and blackmail
If Robert Maxwell did recruit Epstein and bring him into the “family business” and the world of Israeli intelligence, as Ben-Menashe has claimed, it provides supporting evidence for information provided to MintPress by a former U.S. intelligence official, who chose to remain anonymous in light of the sensitivity of the claim.
This source, who has direct knowledge of the unauthorized use of PROMIS to support covert U.S. and Israeli intelligence projects, told MintPress that “some of the proceeds from the illicit sales of PROMIS were made available to Jeffrey Epstein for use in compromising targets of political blackmail.” As was noted in a Mintpress series on the Epstein scandal, much of Epstein’s funding also came from Ohio billionaire Leslie Wexner, who has documented ties to both organized crime and U.S. and Israeli intelligence.
After the PROMIS software was stolen from its rightful owner and developer, Inslaw Inc., through the collusion of both U.S. and Israeli officials, it was marketed mainly by two men: Earl Brian, a close aide to Ronald Reagan, later U.S. envoy to Iran and close friend of Israeli spymaster Rafi Eitan; and Robert Maxwell. Brian sold the bugged software through his company, Hadron Inc., while Maxwell sold it through an Israeli company he acquired called Degem. Before and following Maxwell’s acquisition of Degem, the company was a known front for Mossad operations and Mossad operatives in Latin America often posed as Degem employees.
With Maxwell — Epstein’s alleged recruiter and father of Epstein’s alleged madam — having been one of the main salespeople involved in selling PROMIS software on behalf of intelligence, he would have been in a key position to furnish Epstein’s nascent sexual blackmail operation with the proceeds from the sale of PROMIS.
This link between Epstein’s sexual blackmail operation and the PROMIS software scandal is notable given that the illicit use of PROMIS by U.S. and Israeli intelligence has been for blackmail purposes on U.S. public figures and politicians, as was described in a recent MintPress report.
Can an ex-spy be trusted?
When dealing in the world of deception and intrigue that defines intelligence operations, it is often difficult to determine whether any individual linked to an intelligence agency is telling the truth. Indeed, in the United States, there are examples of elected intelligence officials committing perjury and lying to Congress on several occasions with no consequences, and of intelligence officials feeding politically motivated and untrue information to agency assets in the media.
So, are Ari Ben-Menashe’s claims regarding Epstein and the Maxwells trustworthy? In addition to the aforementioned, corroborating information for his claims, a review of Ben-Menashe’s post-intelligence career suggests this is the case.
Prior to his arrest in November 1989, Ben-Menashe was a high-ranking officer in a special unit of Israeli military intelligence. He would later claim that his arrest for attempting to sell American-made weapons to Iran was politically motivated, as he had threatened to expose what the U.S. government had done with the stolen PROMIS software if the U.S. did not cease providing Saddam Hussein’s Iraq with chemical weapons. Ben-Menashe was later acquitted when a U.S. court determined that his involvement in the attempted sale of military equipment to Iran was done on behalf of the Israeli state.
After his arrest, Ben-Menashe was visited in prison by Robert Parry, the former Newsweek contributor and Associated Press reporter who would later found and run Consortium News until his recent passing last year. Parry remembered that, during that interview, “Ben-Menashe offered me startling new information about the Iran-Contra scandal, which I thought that I knew quite well.”
Israel’s government immediately began to attack Ben-Menashe’s credibility following his interview with Parry, and claimed that Ben-Menashe had never worked for Israeli intelligence. When Parry soon found evidence that Ben-Menashe had indeed served in Israeli military intelligence, Israel’s government was then forced to admit that he had worked for military intelligence, but only as a “low-level translator.” Yet, the documentation Parry had uncovered described Ben-Menashe as having served in “key positions” and performed “complex and sensitive assignments.”
A year later, Ben-Menashe would be interviewed by another journalist, Seymour Hersh. It would be Ben-Menashe who first revealed to Hersh secrets about Israel’s nuclear program and the fact that British media mogul Robert Maxwell was an Israeli spy, revelations that Hersh would not only independently corroborate but include in his book The Samson Option: Israel’s Nuclear Arsenal and American Foreign Policy. Hersh was then sued by Robert Maxwell and the Maxwell-owned Mirror Group for libel. The case was later settled in Hersh’s favor, as the claims Hersh had made were true and not libelous. As a result, the Mirror Group paid Hersh for damages, covered his legal costs, and issued him a formal apology.
After Ben-Menashe’s interviews by Hersh and Parry, Israel’s government was apparently concerned enough about what Ben-Menashe would tell congressional investigators that it attempted to kidnap him and bring him back to Israel to face state charges, much like Israeli intelligence had done to Israel’s nuclear-weapons whistleblower Mordechai Vanunu. The plan was foiled largely thanks to Parry.
Parry, who broke many key stories related to the Iran-Contra scandal in the 1980s and beyond, was tipped off by a U.S. intelligence source about a joint U.S.-Israel plan to have Ben-Menashe first be denied entry to the United States on his planned trip to give congressional testimony. Per the plan, Ben-Menashe would be denied entry to the U.S. in Los Angeles and then be deported to Israel, where he would have stood trial for “exposing state secrets.” Parry called Ben-Menashe and convinced him to delay his flight until he secured a guarantee for safe passage from the U.S. government.
Ben-Menashe subsequently gave a sworn statement to the House Judiciary Committee that mostly focused on U.S.-Israel collusion regarding the theft and creation of a “backdoor” into the PROMIS software. Ben-Menashe offered to name names and provide corroborating evidence for several of his claims if he was offered immunity by the committee, which, for whatever reason. declined that request.
Prior to the conclusion of the Hersh “libel” trial, which would later uphold Ben-Menashe’s claims regarding Robert Maxwell’s Mossad activities as true, there was a concerted effort in the U.S. press to downplay Ben-Menashe’s credibility. For instance, Newsweek — in an article on Ben-Menashe entitled “One Man, Many Tales” — claimed that “inconsistencies may undermine Ben-Menashe’s testimony in the British courtroom proceedings,” citing inconsistencies from sources in Israel’s government and Israeli intelligence as well as Ben-Menashe’s ex-wife and Israeli journalist Shmuel (or Samuel) Segev, a former IDF colonel. It goes without saying that such sources had much to gain from any effort to discredit Ben-Menashe’s claims.
According to Parry, this media campaign, which employed American journalists with close ties to Israel’s government and intelligence agencies, was very successful “in marginalizing Ben-Menashe by 1993, at least in the eyes of the Washington Establishment.” After a years-long media campaign to discredit Ben-Menashe, “the Israelis seemed to view him as a declining threat, best left alone. He was able to pick up the pieces of his life, creating a second act as an international political consultant and businessman arranging sales of grain.” The effort to marginalize Ben-Menashe has continued well into recent years, with mainstream news outlets still referring to him as a “self-described ex-Israeli spy” — despite the well-documented fact that Ben-Menashe worked for Israeli intelligence — as a means of downplaying his claims regarding his time in Israel’s intelligence service.
After the conclusion of the Hersh libel trial, Ben-Menashe became an international political consultant who “surrounded his far-flung business activities in secrecy and got involved with some controversial international figures, such as Zimbabwe’s leader Robert Mugabe,” and
“conducted his international consulting business … in a wide variety of global hotspots, including conflict zones,” according to Parry. In addition to Mugabe, Ben-Menashe has also recently come under fire for his consulting work on behalf of Sudan’s military junta and Venezuelan opposition politician Henri Falcón.
Ben-Menashe has also maintained ties to several different intelligence services and eventually became a controversial whistleblower whose information led to the arrest of the former head of Canada’s Security Intelligence Review Committee, Arthur Porter.
As far as his character is concerned, Parry noted that Ben-Menashe could often be “his own worst enemy” and that, even though Parry considered his information regarding Iran-Contra and PROMIS reliable and noted that much of it was later corroborated, he “often compound[ed] his media problem by treating journalists in a high-handed manner, either due to his suspicions of them or his arrogance.”
Bill Hamilton, the original developer of the PROMIS software and head of Inslaw Inc., also found Ben-Menashe’s claims regarding the illicit use of PROMIS by U.S. and Israeli intelligence agencies to be credible, though he expressed doubts about Ben-Menashe’s character.
Hamilton told MintPress the following about Ben-Menashe:
Ari Ben Menashe was the first source to tell us reliable information about the role of Rafi Eitan and Israeli intelligence vis-a-vis PROMIS but, in the end, of course, he was a clandestine services-type guy whose official duties include the ability and willingness to lie, cheat, and steal.”
A threat revived
While Ben-Menashe may have been viewed as a “declining threat” after the early 1990s, his plans to meet with Robert Parry of Consortium News years later in 2012 to discuss Iran-Contra and other covert dealings of the 1980s appeared to change that. Right before he planned to travel from Canada to the United States to meet with Parry and “finally prove” the truthfulness of his past claims, a fire-bomb was thrown into his Montreal home, destroying it.
Though Canadian media referred to the incendiary device as a “molotov cocktail,” Consortium News reported that “the arson squad’s initial assessment is said to be that the flammable agent was beyond the sort of accelerant used by common criminals,” leading to speculation that the accelerant was military-grade.
Had it not been for the bomb, the origins of which Canadian police failed to determine, Ben-Menashe would have traveled to the U.S. alongside a “senior Israeli intelligence figure” to be interviewed by Parry. The other intelligence-linked individual, according to Parry, “concluded that the attack was meant as a message from Israeli authorities to stay silent about the historical events that he was expected to discuss.”
Though neither Ben-Menashe nor Parry directly blamed Israel’s government for the destruction of Ben-Menashe’s home, Parry noted that the bombing did succeed in “intimidating Ben-Menashe, shutting down possible new disclosures of Israeli misconduct from the other intelligence veteran, and destroying records that would have helped Ben-Menashe prove whatever statements he might make.”
While Ben-Menashe’s post-intelligence associations with controversial governments and individuals have given plenty of fodder to the still thriving media campaign to discredit his claims about covert U.S.-Israel operations in the 1980s, there remain troubling indications that the Israeli government sees his information on decades-old events as a threat.
Now, with the major efforts by powerful Americans and Israelis to distance themselves from Jeffrey Epstein and other figures associated with his depraved sex trafficking operation, Ben-Menashe may soon again find his reputation — and perhaps more — under fire.
And a story that — if true — could be deadly for Jared Kushner
Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. The Magnificent Seven. Seven Samurai. The Seven Year Itch. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Hollywood loves stories and film titles with seven in them. So how about Seven Whistleblowers? It has a nice ring to it. Because a source tells Cockburn that House Democrats trying to impeach Donald Trump have no less than seven intelligence whistleblowers willing to give evidence, or who have already given evidence, about President Trump’s dealings with foreign governments.
Some we know about already. There’s the original whistleblower, the CIA officer at the White House who first reported Trump’s call to the Ukrainian president. Republicans are now pushing to ‘unmask’ him, though his name is already all over the internet. He is, supposedly, a 33-year-old graduate of Yale, a registered Democrat who had worked for both Joe Biden and John Brennan. These facts, so helpful to the White House, are in a ‘dossier’ circulated on Capitol Hill by the president’s allies. A second Ukraine whistleblower has come forward. We know this because the lawyer for the first whistleblower, Mark Zaid, told ABC News that he was representing a second. In fact, Zaid’s co-counsel said that they were representing ‘multiple’ whistleblowers. Two? More than two? Seven?
Cockburn wondered if one of the whistleblowers could possibly be Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, the senior Ukraine expert on the National Security Council, who came to the US from Ukraine — to Little Odessa in Brooklyn — as a child aged three. He arrived to give evidence to the House Intelligence Committee wearing his dark blue Army dress uniform and military ribbons. He said that the White House transcript of the call between Trump and Ukraine’s president had important gaps — and that his attempts to include ‘crucial words and phrases’ had been rebuffed. ‘I am a patriot and it is my sacred duty and honor to advance and defend our country irrespective of party or politics.’
Or perhaps Tim Morrison, the NSC’s director for European and Russian Affairs, who was one of the small group to have listened to the call. He told the committee that Trump’s ambassador to the EU, Gordon Sondland, had said Ukraine wouldn’t get US arms unless it investigated Biden. But the British Daily Mail has pointed out that both officials testified under subpoena and so — Lord Rothermere’s organ states, correctly — neither is legally a whistleblower.
However many Ukraine whistleblowers there may or may not be, Cockburn’s source says that at least one of the (purported) seven has nothing to do with Ukraine at all. Instead, it’s claimed that this whistleblower reported a call between Trump and the Saudi ruler, Mohammed bin Salman. He or she is said to have had ‘concerns’ about what was said on the call about the president’s son-in-law and adviser, Jared Kushner. Kushner himself is known to have a very close relationship with MBS. Cockburn has previously written that Kushner may have been what Cosmo would call an ‘oversharer’ when it came to MBS. Unfortunately, it’s claimed that what he was sharing was American secrets: information Kushner had requested from the CIA would (allegedly) be echoed back in US intercepts of calls between members of the Saudi royal family. One source said this was why Kushner lost his intelligence clearances for a while.
According to Cockburn’s source about the seven whistleblowers, there’s more. It is that Kushner (allegedly) gave the green light to MBS to arrest the dissident journalist, Jamal Khashoggi, who was later murdered and dismembered in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. A second source tells Cockburn that this is true and adds a crucial twist to the story. This source claims that Turkish intelligence obtained an intercept of the call between Kushner and MBS. And President Erdogan used it to get Trump to roll over and pull American troops out of northern Syria before the Turks invaded. A White House official has told the Daily Mail that this story is ‘false nonsense’. However, Cockburn hears that investigators for the House Intelligence Committee are looking into it. Who knows whether any of this is true…but Adam Schiff certainly seems to be smiling a lot these days.
Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos accuses the National Enquirer of trying to blackmail with compromising photos unless the Washington Post ended an investigation into how the magazine obtained private texts related to his divorce