- United Nations human rights investigators said they received information suggesting a WhatsApp account belonging Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was used to hack Jeff Bezos in 2018.
- After the hack, the account sent Bezos a picture of a woman who looked like the woman Bezos was having an affair with “months before the Bezos affair was known publicly.”
- The report comes from an analysis of an investigation into how the National Enquirer obtained Bezos’ private text messages and photos that the outlet threatened to leak.
UN Investigator’s Release Statement
United Nations human rights investigators said in a statement Wednesday that they received information suggesting a WhatsApp account belonging Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was used to hack Amazon CEO and Jeff Bezos in 2018.
In the statement, the investigator’s detail alleged efforts by the Crown Prince, also known as MBS, to target Bezos due to his ownership of the Washington Post, which has published extensive coverage of the murder of its columnist Jamal Khashoggi.
“The information we have received suggests the possible involvement of the Crown Prince in surveillance of Mr. Bezos, in an effort to influence, if not silence, The Washington Post’s reporting on Saudi Arabia,” the investigators said.
“These allegations are relevant as well to ongoing evaluation of claims about the Crown Prince’s involvement in the 2018 murder of Saudi and Washington Post journalist, Jamal Khashoggi,” the statement continued.
The investigators also noted that the report was based on forensic analysis from an investigation ordered by Bezos, and called for further investigations of the matter.
National Enquirer & Bezos Leaks
Bezos called for the investigation early last year after the National Enquirer published text messages between himself and a woman named Lauren Sanchez, with whom he was allegedly having an affair.
Following that publication, Bezos published a Medium post where he argued that the leaks were a politically motivated hit job because he owns the Post, and accused the National Enquirer of “extortion and blackmail.”
In the post, Bezos describes the relationship between President Donald Trump and David Pecker, who owns American Media Incorporated (AMI) which in turn owns the National Enquirer.
In 2016, AMI spent $150,000 to buy the story of former Playboy model Karen McDougal, who claimed she had an affair with Trump, so that the story would not be made public— a practice called catch and kill.
Bezos mentions McDougal, adding that Pecker and his company have been “investigated for various actions they’ve taken on behalf of the Saudi Government.”
He also cited an excerpt from a New York Times article that said Trump invited Pecker to a White House dinner, and Pecker brought “a guest with important ties to the royals in Saudi Arabia.”
Bezos argued that because of his ownership of the Post, people the newspaper covers might “conclude I am their enemy.”
“President Trump is one of those people, obvious by his many tweet,” he elaborated. “Also, The Post’s essential and unrelenting coverage of the murder of its columnist Jamal Khashoggi is undoubtedly unpopular in certain circles.”
He noted that there were several investigations into how his texts were obtained and that he was also launching his own investigation.
“Several days ago, an AMI leader advised us that Mr. Pecker is ‘apoplectic’ about our investigation,” he wrote. “For reasons still to be better understood, the Saudi angle seems to hit a particularly sensitive nerve.”
The Amazon CEO went on to say that AMI told him they had more of his messages and photos and that they would publish them if he did not stop his investigation.
He then provided what appeared to be a series of copy-paste of emails from AMI. One of those emails described the content they would leak, including “a d*ck pick” and “a naked selfie in a bathroom” of Bezos, as well as several personal pictures of Sanchez.
Another email contained a list of “proposed terms” from AMI, which basically said they would not publish the content if Bezos agreed to a number of things.
This included making a public statement “affirming that they have no knowledge or basis for suggesting that AM’s coverage was politically motivated or influenced by political forces.”
Bezos refused to end his investigation or back down from the claim that AMI’s coverage was politically motivated.
In March 2019, Gavin De Becker, the man Bezos chose to lead his investigation, published an op-ed in the Daily Beast.
In the article, De Becker said that he had concluded the investigation and handed it over to federal officials, and while he wrote that he would not disclose details, he said he would confirm one key fact from the investigation.
“Our investigators and several experts concluded with high confidence that the Saudis had access to Bezos’ phone, and gained private information,” he wrote. “As of today, it is unclear to what degree, if any, AMI was aware of the details.”
But De Becker did note that when AMI was threatening to release the photos and texts, they sent him a contract that would require him to publicly say his investigation had concluded there was not “any form of electronic eavesdropping or hacking in their news-gathering process.”
After both Bezos’ Medium post and De Becker’s op-ed, Saudi Arabia denied the allegations, as did AMI.
Following De Becker’s article, AMI told CNN in a statement that it only had one source, Lauren Sanchez’s brother, Michael Sanchez, and that there “was no involvement by any other third party whatsoever.”
Michael Sanchez, however, has repeatedly denied that gave the Enquirer all of the content they claimed to have.
“I had nothing to do with leak of the dick pics. That’s the important thing,” he told Variety in an interview last year. “I never had access.”
However, the findings released in the UN report once again bring up questions about how AMI obtained the text messages and photos.
The timeline of events after the alleged hack and leading up to the National Enquirer securing the texts and pictures raises some red flags
In an analysis of the report, the UN experts found that in April 2018, Bezos and MBS exchanged phone numbers that corresponded with their WhatsApps accounts.
Then, a month later, a message was sent “from the Crown Prince account is sent to Mr. Bezos through WhatsApp. The message is an encrypted video file. It is later established, with reasonable certainty, that the video’s downloader infects Mr. Bezos’ phone with malicious code.”
The report then continues to go through the timeline of events, noting Khashoggi’s death on October 2, 2018.
Then, about a month later, “A single photograph is texted to Mr. Bezos from the Crown Prince’s WhatsApp account, along with a sardonic caption. It is an image of a woman resembling the woman with whom Bezos is having an affair, months before the Bezos affair was known publicly.”
Because the details of the affair were not public yet, these allegations indicate that MBS could have gotten the information from Bezos’ texts with Sanchez.
While this does not directly tie AMI or the National Enquirer to the hack or to the Saudi’s, if true, it would mean that MBS had in his possession text messages and photos sent between Bezos and Sanchez, including potentially incriminating photos like the ones mentioned in the AMI email.
Of course, that does not rule out the possibility that AMI did, in fact, receive the texts from Sanchez’s brother as they claim. But it does call into question Pecker’s relationship with Saudi Arabia, especially when paired with Bezos’ allegation that AMI was trying to kill the Saudi Arabia angle of the story.
Regardless, the claim that the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia hacked Jeff Bezos because of the Post’s coverage of the Khashoggi killing is chilling on its own.
Saudi Arabia, for its part, denied the allegations in a tweet on Tuesday, when the story first surfaced before the UN report was released.
“Recent media reports that suggest the Kingdom is behind a hacking of Mr. Jeff Bezos’ phone are absurd,” the Embassy said. “We call for an investigation on these claims so that we can have all the facts out.”
See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (The Guardian) (The Daily Beast)
University of Georgia Walks Back on Decision to Get Rid of On-Campus Voting
- On Wednesday, UGA Votes, a student-run voting organization at the University of Georgia, announced that in-person early voting would not be allowed on campus because of the coronavirus pandemic.
- This led to frustrations from students and others in the community who felt it was outrageous that in-person classes and fans at school football games would be allowed but voting would not.
- The school initially responded by saying that football games and voting are different and that it had plans to shuttle students to polling locations, but this only resulted in more outrage.
- On Thursday morning, UGA fully reversed its decision and said it is working with local officials to use Stegeman Coliseum as an early voting location.
UGA To Allow Early Voting on Campus
After a wave of criticism, the University of Georgia said Thursday that it was walking back on its decision to cut in-person voting on campus due to the coronavirus pandemic.
In an official statement, the school said is now working with local officials to have in-person voting at its Stegeman Coliseum.
“UGA was pleased this morning to offer Athens-Clarke County and the Georgia Secretary of State’s office the use of Stegeman Coliseum as a site for early voting,” the school said.
“We look forward to working with state and local election officials to facilitate on-campus voting in this indoor venue, which is large enough to support safe social distancing.”
UGA’s Initial Plan
The announcement comes just 24 hours after the school was faulted for saying it could not hold early in-person voting on its campus, which it had done at the Tate Student Center in 2016 and 2018.
When revealing that initial plan, the school cited the coronavirus pandemic as the reason behind the move. According to UGA Votes, a student-run voting organization, the school believed social distancing at the location would be impossible. UGA Votes did bring up the possibility of using the Coliseum but were initially told it would not work.
“UGA Votes is deeply saddened to announce that there will be no on-campus early voting for the 2020 presidential election,” the group said in their statement, still encouraging students to vote despite this obstacle.
One of the main reasons students and others were frustrated with this choice was because while the school rejected the notion of hosting early voting, which begins on October 12, the school’s Sanford Stadium will allow fans in for UGA football games starting October 3. The stadium will fill seats to 20-25% of its nearly 93,000 person capacity.
Many students, UGA community members, and others took to Twitter to express their dissatisfaction with the school’s decision. Some suggested that the school use its football stadium as an early voting location.
The issue also caught the attention of Stacey Abrams, Georgia’s 2018 Democratic gubernatorial candidate and founder of Fair Fight, an organization devoted to fighting voter suppression.
“COVID19 must never be used as an excuse to limit voting access, including on college campuses,” she wrote. “Early voting at @universityofga has increased opportunity for participation among students in the past, and they should be safely given the same access this year.”
UGA’s chapter of Fair Fight also tweeted, “If we can have football, we should have voting, too.” Its account then shared a petition demanding that the school allow voting, which had over 2,300 signatures as of Thursday morning.
“We strongly urge the University to immediately change course and not be complicit in voter suppression,” the petition reads.
“We find it interesting that the Administration would use student safety as an excuse to limit access to democracy while disregarding student welfare in other regards,” it continued, potentially in reference to the large COVID-19 outbreak the school has seen.
Cases at the school are actually on the decline as of last week in comparison to the week prior. The school reported 421 cases between September 7-13, down from 1,490 cases between August 21-September 6. While it’s a significant decline for a week, overall, the outbreak at UGA is one of the largest college outbreaks across the country.
UGA’s Initial Response
As the backlash continued to pour in, the school tweeted out a statement explaining and defending its initial choice to not hold in-person early voting. UGA maintained that with the ongoing pandemic, the long lines would make it unsafe.
“Those comparing this matter to a football game should be able to recognize that football games will be played outdoors but we will still require social distancing by substantially reducing capacity in the stadium,” the statement said to specifically address those mad that football spectating was still on. “We have eliminated tailgating as well due to a desire to keep the campus as safe as possible and limit visitors during the pandemic.”
It also said it would provide a shuttle to send students to other voting locations, like Downtown Athens. However, this response was met with even more outrage as some thought that if social distancing to wait in line would be impossible, then social distancing in a shuttle would be even harder. Others said that the shuttle would just make lines at other polling places even longer.
Many also said that this was an attempt to suppress young voters.
Before the school released it’s Thursday statement fully reversing course, it tweeted later on Wednesday that it would look into the potential of using the Coliseum.
See what others are saying: (Atlanta Journal-Constitution) (CNN) (Athens Banner-Herald)
Trump Shares Doctored Video of Biden Which Replaces “Despacito” With N.W.A’s “F*** Tha Police”
- President Donald Trump shared a doctored video that showed his opponent Joe Biden dancing to “Fuck Tha Police” by N.W.A.
- Twitter flagged it as manipulated media with a warning label that redirects users to the real clip and information about it. Still, the doctored clip has been viewed 4 million times.
- The real video comes from a campaign event Biden held on Tuesday, celebrating the start of Hispanic Heritage Month. The song he actually played was “Despacito” by Luis Fonsi, who earlier introduced Biden to the stage.
- Still, Biden’s choice to play the song resulted in backlash from those who thought he was pandering to Hispanic voters. An NBC Marist poll currently shows Trump and Biden neck and neck in Florida, with Trump taking the Hispanic vote in the sought after state.
Trump Shares Doctored Video
President Donald Trump shared a doctored video of his Democratic opponent Joe Biden on Tuesday playing and dancing to “Fuck Tha Police” by N.W.A.
The real video comes from a campaign event Biden held in Florida to celebrate the start of Hispanic Heritage Month on Tuesday. He was actually playing “Despacito” by Luis Fonsi, who introduced him.
The doctored video was first posted by The United Spot, a conservative, pro-Trump parody account. Trump shared the video in the early hours of Wednesday morning asking “What is this all about?”
As of Wednesday morning, the clip had been viewed over 4 million times. Twitter added a “manipulated media” label to the post, which directs users to a Twitter events page that shows the real video. It also includes several tweets about what really happened, as well as a post mentioning that the video Trump shared was doctored.
Still, Trump shared the video again later on Wednesday saying “China is drooling, they can’t believe this!”
Trump’s repeated sharing of the fake video is part of his larger effort to center his campaign around law enforcement and to paint Biden as anti-police. Biden has said he does not support movements to defund the police, but this has not stopped Trump from trying to tie the former Vice President to protests and riots against police brutality across the country.
“Fuck Tha Police” has been a divisive song since it was released by N.W.A. in 1988. Over 30 years later, the messages in it remain as relevant as ever, and streams for the song have seen a significant boost since protests against police brutality spread across the country.
Joe Biden Accused of Pandering
But it wasn’t just the doctored version of the clip that drew attention and outrage. The original version had its own wave of backlash as many thought Biden’s choice to play “Despacito” was a cringe-worthy attempt to pander to Hispanic voters.
Fonsi, Eva Longoria, and Ricky Martin all spoke at the event, which was Biden’s first in Florida since he became the Democratic nominee. Some thought his choice to pull out his phone and play the hit song was a nod to Fonsi, but others compared it to comments Clinton made in 2016 about always keeping hot sauce in her bag, or encouraging people to “PokemonGo to the polls.”
Others pointed out the fact that “Despacito” means “slowly,” which plays right into Trump’s “Slow Joe” nickname for Biden.
Getting the Hispanic Vote
This comes amid a tight fight between Biden and Trump for Florida and the Latino vote in the high-stakes state. Some polling shows Biden a hair ahead of Trump in the state, but others show the two neck and neck. An NBC Marist poll has both candidates at 48% and shows Trump doing better amongst Latino voters.
This data actually speaks to a larger issue within the Biden campaign. On a national level, analysis from CNN has found that Trump has increased his standing with Hispanic voters during his four years in office. While he still trails behind Biden, their analysis finds that the former Vice President could win the Hispanic vote by 28 points, compared to Clinton’s 37 point lead in 2016.
See what others are saying: (Washington Post) (Forbes) (Variety)
House Investigation Faults Boeing and the Federal Aviation Administration for MAX 8 Crashes
- The Democratic majority on the House Transportation Committee released the results of their 18-month investigation into the Boeing 737 MAX 8 crashes.
- It has been described as the most comprehensive report yet that looks the roles Boeing and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) played.
- Among other information, the inquiry found that Boeing prioritized profit over public safety and that the FAA provided “grossly insufficient oversight.”
- The report comes as the FAA is expected to recertify the MAX 8 to fly within just a few months.
House Committee Report
A sweeping Congressional investigation released Wednesday directly blamed Boeing and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) for two 737 MAX 8 planes that crashed within five months of each other, killing 346.
The inquiry, which was released by the Democratic majority on the House Transportation Committee, has been described as the most comprehensive report yet regarding the role both Boeing and the FAA played in certifying the plane that caused two fatal crashes.
In October 2018, a MAX 8 operated by Lion Air crashed off the coast of Indonesia resulting in the death of 189 people. Then, in March 2019, another MAX 8 operated by Ethiopian Airlines crashed outside of Addis Ababa, killing all 157 people on board.
Drawing from interviews with two dozen Boeing and FAA employees and around 600,000 pages of records, the findings of the committee’s 18-month investigation paint a grim picture of the numerous issues with the development and certification of the MAX 8, and specifically, the software system faulted with bringing both planes down.
The Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS) was designed to automatically correct the level the plane was flying at to prevent it from stalling and falling out of the sky. However, investigations found that on both the Lion Air and Ethiopian Airlines flights, MCAS had pushed the planes’ noses down at a dangerous angle.
When the pilots tried to stabilize, the system kept pushing them down again and again until they eventually went into uncontrollable nose-dives and crashed. Further complicating matters was the fact that after the first crash, numerous pilots came forward and said they were never told about MCAS, were not trained on it, and that it had been left out of their flight manuals.
Five Key Themes
In their report, the Democrats explicitly state that the crashes were “the horrific culmination of a series of faulty technical assumptions by Boeing’s engineers, a lack of transparency on the part of Boeing’s management, and grossly insufficient oversight by the FAA.”
To illustrate their findings, the committee outlined five overarching themes that they say ultimately lead to such fundamental problems with the MAX 8’s design, construction, and certification.
The first theme is “Production Pressure.” Here the inquiry notes that there was significant financial pressure on Boeing to quickly build and certify the MAX 8 because the model was designed to compete with a new line of planes being developed by their biggest rival, Airbus.
This, the committee says, led Boeing to prioritize cost-cutting, production goals, and maintaining their schedule to meet certification deadlines over public safety.
The second theme the report outlines is “Faulty Design and Performance Assumptions.” Specifically, it says that Boeing made “fundamentally faulty assumptions about critical technologies on the 737 MAX, most notably with MCAS.”
The committee then goes on to list a handful of examples, like the fact that MCAS relied on only one sensor, so if that censor failed — as it did during both the crashes — it could cause MCAS to engage when it should not. It also says Boeing expected that pilots would be able to deal with that malfunction even though they did not know the system even existed.
Notably, the report claims that Boeing “failed to classify MCAS as a safety-critical system, which would have attracted greater FAA scrutiny during the certification process,” and that “the operation of MCAS also violated Boeing’s own internal design guidelines” regarding interactions with piloting and interfering in dive recovery.
The overarching problem the inquiry flagged was “Culture of Concealment.”
“In several critical instances, Boeing withheld crucial information from the FAA, its customers, and 737 MAX pilots,” it stated before going to provide examples.
In addition to the fact that Boeing did not tell pilots about MCAS, the company also failed to disclose that a crucial safety feature was “inoperable on the vast majority of the 737 MAX fleet, despite having been certified as a standard aircraft feature.”
The safety feature in question informed pilots if the sensors that activated MCAS were feeding the system incorrect data, which is what happened in both the Lion Air and Ethiopian Airlines flights.
The investigation also found that Boeing concealed a flight simulation where it took a test pilot more than 10 seconds to respond to an unwanted MCAS activation — “a condition the pilot found to be ‘catastrophic’” — given the fact that federal guidelines assumed pilots would respond to massive system problems of that nature within four seconds.
While the report does note that Boeing was not legally required to disclose these things to the FAA or its customers, it still argued that it was “inconceivable and inexcusable that Boeing withheld this information from them.”
Under the fourth theme, “Conflicted Representation,” the committee reported that “the FAA’s current oversight structure with respect to Boeing creates inherent conflicts of interest that have jeopardized the safety of the flying public.”
It goes on to note several documented instances where Authorized Representatives, which are Boeing employees who were given the ability to act on behalf of the FAA and certify that some of the plane’s designs meet the agency’s requirements, “failed to disclose important information to the FAA that could have enhanced the safety of the 737 MAX aircraft.”
The inquiry also states that some of the concerns raised internally by those representatives that were not relayed to the FAA, not investigated, or dismissed by Boeing employees involved the same issues with MCAS that caused both the Lion Air and Ethiopian Airlines crashes.
The final theme the committee put forward in their report was “Boeing’s Influence Over the FAA’s Oversight Structure.”
There, the investigation found multiple instances documented by FAA officials where “FAA technical and safety experts determined that certain Boeing design approaches on its transport category aircraft were potentially unsafe and failed to comply with FAA regulations, only to have FAA management overrule them and side with Boeing instead.”
The last theme is extremely important in understanding both how Boeing got into this debacle and how the industry can move forward.
For years, the FAA — at the direction of Congress — has been giving more and more regulatory oversight powers to plane manufacturers like Boeing. That has been a win-win for both the FAA and Boeing.
The FAA is a government agency with very limited resources, so giving Boeing more authority over day-to-day safety assessments lets them focus their energy on the bigger picture safety aspects of the certification process.
For Boeing, which has lobbied Congress in favor of these practices, it cuts back a ton of red tape so they can speed up the certification of their planes and compete with foreign rivals like Airbus.
Both the FAA and plane manufacturers have said they are using this cooperation to make planes safer, but watchdog groups and unions have repeatedly expressed concerns that letting manufacturers self-regulate too much could compromise safety and allow plane manufacturers to act in their own self-interest.
Those concerns grew during the aftermath of the MAX 8 crashes and the mounting evidence from investigations and hearings. While the House committee’s report does not provide many new pieces of bombshell information, many believe it is the necessary first step in crafting legislation to better regulate the aerospace industry.
In a statement with the release of the inquiry’s findings, Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Or.), who chairs the House Transportation Committee, said it was “mind-boggling” that “both FAA and Boeing came to the conclusion that the certification of the Max was compliant.”
“The problem is it was compliant and not safe. And people died,” he said, adding that it is “clear evidence that the current regulatory system is fundamentally flawed and needs to be repaired.”
“This is a tragedy that never should have happened. It could have been prevented and we’re going to take steps in our legislation to see that it never happens again as we reform the system.”
While the Senate Commerce Committee is set to consider a bill this week to strengthen the airplane certification process, House Republicans on the Transportation Committee did not endorse the investigative report.
In a statement regarding the Democrat’s report, the committee’s ranking member Rep. Sam Graves (R-Mo.) criticized Democrats for an investigation that “began by concluding that our system was broken and worked backwards from there.”
“If aviation and safety experts determine that areas in the FAA’s processes for certifying aircraft and equipment can be improved, then Congress will act,” he added.
But Congress may be running out of time.
“The report was issued as the F.A.A. appeared close to lifting its grounding order for the Max after test flights this summer. F.A.A. clearance could lead aviation authorities elsewhere to follow suit and allow the plane to fly again as soon as this winter,” The New York Times noted in its coverage of the committee’s report on Wednesday
Boeing has been doing a lot of work to update the problems with the plane and make it flyable. However, there are still many concerns as to whether or not lawmakers, airlines, and customers should still trust the company to fix the flawed aircraft without an overhaul to the regulatory system — especially given all the flaws in the certification system that so many investigations have revealed.