SAN FRANCISCO — Was he a artful spy who traveled the world To fulfill Collectively with his handlers and established a shell agency To cowl his money? Or was he a dutiful Twitter worker who dealt with requests from V.I.P. clients And have become a scapegoat when The federal authorities allowed the true spies To slip by way of its fingertips?
These are the central questions Inside the trial that started on Thursday for Ahmad Abouammo, a former Twitter worker accused of spying on clients on behalf of Saudi Arabia. In 2019, Mr. Abouammo was arrested and charged with committing wire fraud and appearing as an agent of a overseas authorities with out disclosing that work.
In opening statements in federal courtroom in San Francisco, the Justice Division described Mr. Abouammo as an agent of Saudi Arabia who had used his inner entry to dig up The private information of dissidents on Twitter. He needed money and proximity to power, prosecutors said. However regulationyers for Mr. Abouammo argued that he had referred to as up clients’ information as An factor of his regular duties and had not provided it to Saudi officers.
“Power. Greed. Lies. This Is in a place to be the story informed by the proof,” said Colin Sampson, an assistant U.S. lawyer.
Mr. Abouammo maintained An in depth relationship with Bader Binasaker, who was a prime adviser of Saudi Arabia’s Crpersonal Prince Mohammed bin Salman, The federal authorities said. Prosecutors displayed A photograph of Mr. Abouammo and Mr. Binasaker standing in entrance of a picket sculpture of the Twitter emblem all by way of a tour of The agency’s San Francisco headquarters. The lads additionally met in London, the place Mr. Binasaker gave Mr. Abouammo a luxurious watch.
“He needed to recruit a mole,” Mr. Sampson said of Mr. Binasaker. After receiving the watch, Mr. Abouammo started wanting up Particulars A few pseudonymous Twitter account that was essential of the Saudi authorities, Mr. Sampson said.
When he give up his job at Twitter in 2015, Mr. Abouammo related Mr. Binasaker with ancompletely different worker, Ali Alzabarah, who would proceed sharing dissidents’ information, prosecutors said. He additionally contacted completely different Twitter staff to move alongside requests from Saudi officers.
However regulationyers for Mr. Abouammo argued that he had been entitled To take a Take A look at account information as An factor of his job at Twitter, and that he had not acknowledged about Mr. Binasaker’s affiliation with the Saudi authorities.
His actions have been “completely authorized, completely right and, Most significantly, An factor of Mr. Abouammo’s job,” said Jerome Matthews, a federal public defender who recurrents Mr. Abouammo.
Twitter directed Mr. Abouammo to look into complaints Regarding the pseudonymous Twitter account, a critic of the Saudi authorities Usually acknowledged as Mujtahidd, Mr. Matthews said. The authorities had no proof that Mr. Abouammo handed Particulars Regarding the account to Mr. Binasaker, he added.
“There’s An monumental distinction between Taking A look at an account After which offering Particulars about it to somebody,” Mr. Matthews said.
Whereas Mr. Abouammo spoke with regulation enforcement officers who questioned him about his involvement with Mr. Binasaker, his former co-worker Mr. Alzabarah fled the nation, Mr. Matthews said.
In 2018, The mannequin Ny Occasions reported that Western intelligence officers had suspected Mr. Alzabarah was working with the Saudis in 2015 and warned Twitter authoritiess about it. Mr. Abouammo’s former boss, Katie Stanton, testified that she texted the article to Mr. Abouammo when it was revealed.
“I did know Ali Alzabarah,” Mr. Abouammo wrote again. “Truthfully by no means suspected him but how this reads, Is sensible. Seems that this started after I left. Not sure.”
Ms. Stanton additionally testified that, while he labored at Twitter, Mr. Abouammo had emailed her to say he was constructing a “strong relationship” with the group of Prince Mohammed.
Legal professionals for Mr. Abouammo Recognized that completely different Twitter staff responded to The e-mail thread, pelevating Mr. Abouammo for his work and elevating no alarms. Additionally they questioned Ms. Stanton about her personal connections with Saudi royalty, together with Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, A huge investor in Twitter.
Ms. Stanton said That in her time working at Twitter, she attended a taco buffet dinner at Prince Alwaleed’s property, took a camel journey and accepted A current bag from him. “It was a bag of articles about himself. He had a e-book about himself After which Pretty A pair of inserts about himself,” Ms. Stanton said. “It was in An monumental inexperienced bag with a emblem of the Saudi Arabian authorities.”
Ancompletely different Twitter authorities spoke Regarding the significance of Twitter to dissidents.
“Partially as a Outcome of Twitter doesn’t require you To make the most of your exact identify, Twitter Is usually Utilized by people engaged in dissent and political criticism,” said Yoel Roth, The prime of safety and integrity at Twitter. “That’s a excellent use of our service by A lot Of people Throughout the globe.”
In 2014 and 2015, all by way of Mr. Abouammo’s tenure at Twitter, about six million people in Saudi Arabia used the social media service, making up about 4 % of its clients worldwide, the Justice Division said.
The trial Is predicted to proceed for about two weeks.