A former Twitter employee who was found guilty of spying on behalf of Saudi Arabia by sharing data pertaining to specific individuals has been sentenced to three-and-a-half years in prison.
Ahmad Abouammo, 45, was convicted earlier this August on various criminal counts, including money laundering, fraud, falsifying records, and being an illegal agent of a foreign government.
Abouammo was arrested on November 5, 2019, after being accused of abusing his access to Twitter’s internal systems to gather information about Saudi Arabia’s critics on the social media platform. He was employed at Twitter from 2013 to 2015.
“Mr. Abouammo violated the trust placed on him to protect the privacy of individuals by giving their personal information to a foreign power for profit,” said Assistant Attorney General Matthew G. Olsen of the Justice Department’s National Security Division.
“His conduct was made all the more egregious by the fact that the information was intended to target political dissidents speaking out against that foreign power.”
Evidence presented during the August trial revealed that Abouammo, who worked as a Media Partnerships Manager for the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, received cash from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in return for conveying identifying information related to its dissidents and critics, potentially exposing them to persecution.
A bank account opened by Abouammo in the name of his father in Lebanon was credited with $200,000 in two transfers, half of which was laundered in the form of small wire transfers to the U.S. with false descriptions. He also received a luxury watch that was subsequently sold on Craigslist for $42,000.
As part of the sentencing, Abouammo has also been ordered to forfeit $242,000 and surrender on March 31, 2023, to begin the jail term.
Another ex-Twitter employee, Ali Alzabarah, who has also been accused of acquiring private information on accounts that were critical of the regime, fled the U.S. in December 2015 before being charged.
The development comes as Peiter “Mudge” Zatko, Twitter’s former head of security, blew the whistle on serious security failings at the company, in addition to alleging that Chinese and Indian governments had forced the firm to hire one of their agents, and likely had access to sensitive user data.