- 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)
Amazon Backs GOP Bill to Legalize Marijuana in Effort to Ramp Up Lobbying
The proposal is the first Republican-sponsored marijuana bill Amazon has backed since the company first began lobbying for legalization last summer.
Amazon Endorses States Reform Act
Amazon announced Tuesday that it is endorsing a Republican-backed proposal to legalize marijuana.
The move comes as the e-commerce giant has ramped up its efforts to legalize cannabis on the federal level since it came out in support of the idea last summer. Amazon argues that the move would remove hiring barriers — which disproportionately impact people of color — and, in turn, could increase the company’s application pool and boost employee retention.
The company has previously backed similar proposals by forward by Democrats, but Tuesday’s announcement marks the first time Amazon has put its support behind a Republican-sponsored bill aimed at addressing the issue.
The legislation, called the States Reform Act, was authored by Rep. Nancy Mace (R-S.C.). Among other measures, it would remove cannabis as a Schedule I substance, allow states to create their own laws, impose an excise tax, and regulate the drug in a similar fashion to alcohol.
While Mace’s bill is fundamentally very similar to others put forth by Democrats, by proposing it herself, the Republican hopes to rally other members of her party around the idea that legalization is pro-business, pro-state’s rights, and anti-big government.
The measure has already received support from the highly influential conservative group, American’s for Prosperity, which is funded by the Koch brothers.
Mace and Amazon have painted the company’s endorsement as a game-changer for garnering more support — both from other large corporations and politicians on either side of the aisle. Mace specifically told reporters she believes Amazon’s decision will push other companies to do the same. If more major corporations like Amazon back the effort, other Republicans may be more persuaded to jump on board.
That sentiment was echoed by Brian Huseman, Amazon’s vice president of public policy, who said in an interview with The Washington Post that the company was “particularly excited by Congresswoman Mace’s bill” because “it shows that there’s bipartisan support for this issue.”
Huseman also emphasized that, as part of its decision to back her bill, Amazon will use its powerful influence in Washington to try and drum up bipartisan support.
“We are talking with members of both parties, including Republicans, about why we think this is the right thing to do, especially from the standpoint of a major employer and what this means for our business and our employees and broadening the employee base,” he continued.
See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (Forbes) (Marijuana Moment)
CDC Data Shows Booster Shots Provide Effective Protection Against Omicron
Public health experts have encouraged Americans to get boosted to protect themselves against the omicron variant, but less than 40% of fully vaccinated people who are eligible for their third shot have received it.
A First Glimpse of Official Data on Boosters and Omicron
COVID-19 booster shots are effective at preventing Americans from contracting omicron and protecting those who do become infected from severe illness, according to three reports from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) published Friday.
The reports mark the first real-world data regarding the highly infectious variant and how it has impacted the U.S.
One of the CDC reports, which studied data from 25 state and local health departments, found that there were 149 cases per 100,000 people among those had been boosted on average each week.
In comparison, the figure was 255 cases per 100,000 people in Americans who had only received two shots.
Another study that looked at nearly 88,000 hospitalizations in 10 states found that the third doses were 90% effective at preventing hospitalization.
By contrast, those who received just two shots were only 57% protected against hospitalization by the time they were eligible for a booster six months after their second dose.
Additionally, the same report also found that the boosters were 82% effective at preventing visits to emergency rooms and urgent care centers, a marked increase from the 38% efficacy for those who were six months out from their two-shot regime and had not yet received a third.
Low Booster Shot Vaccination Rates
Public health officials hope that the new data will urge more Americans to get their booster shots.
Since the emergence of omicron, experts and leading political figures have renewed their efforts to encourage people to get their third shots, arguing they are the best form of protection.
The CDC currently recommends that everyone 12 and older get a booster shot five months after their second shot of Pfizer and Moderna or two months after receiving the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine. Still, in the U.S., less than 40% of fully vaccinated individuals eligible for a third shot have gotten one.
While COVID cases in the country have begun to drop over the past several days from their peak of over 800,000 average daily infections, the figures are still nearly triple those seen in the largest previous surges.
Hospitalizations have also slowly begun to level out over the last week in places that were hit first, such as New York City and Boston, but medical resources still remain strained in many parts of the country that experienced later surges and have not yet seen cases slow.
Some experts predict that the U.S. will see a sharp decline in omicron cases, as experienced in South Africa and Britain. Still, they urge American’s to get boosted to ensure their continued protection from the variant, as well as other strains that will emerge.
See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (CNN) (The New York Times)
California Bill Would Allow Kids 12 and Up to Get Vaccinated Without Parental Consent
Nearly one million California teens and preteens between the ages of 12 and 17 are not vaccinated against COVID-19.
State Senator Proposes Legislation
Legislation proposed in California on Thursday would allow children age 12 and up to get vaccinated without parental consent.
State Sen. Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) introduced Bill 866 in the hope it could boost vaccination rates among teenagers. According to Wiener, nearly one million kids aged 12- to 17-years old remain unvaccinated against COVID-19 in the state of California.
“Unvaccinated teens are at risk, put others at risk & make schools less safe,” Wiener tweeted. “They often can’t work, participate in sports, or go to friends’ homes.”
“Many want to get vaccinated but parents won’t let them or aren’t making the time to take them. Teens shouldn’t have to rely on parents’ views & availability to protect themselves from a deadly virus.”
Currently, teens in California can receive vaccines for human papillomavirus and hepatitis B without parental consent. They can also make other reproductive or mental healthcare choices without a guardian signing off. Wiener argues that their medical autonomy should expand to all vaccines, especially during a pandemic that has already killed roughly 78,000 Californians.
Vaccine Consent Across the U.S.
“Teens shouldn’t have to plot, scheme or fight with their parents to get a vaccine,” he said. “They should simply be able to walk in & get vaccinated like anyone else.”
Bill 866 would allow any kids ages 12 and up to receive any vaccine approved or granted emergency use authorization by the Food and Drug Administration and recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Currently, Pfizer’s COVID vaccine has been fully approved by the FDA for those 16 and older. It has received emergency authorization for ages five through 15.
Across the United States, vaccine consent ages vary. While the vast majority of states require parental approval for minors to be vaccinated against COVID-19, kids as young as 11 can get the jab on their own in Washington, D.C. In Alabama, kids can receive it without parental consent at 14, in Oregon at 15, and in Rhode Island and South Carolina at 16. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, providers can waive consent in certain cases in Arkansas, Idaho, Washington, and Tennesee.
In October, California became the first state to announce plans to require that students receive the COVID-19 vaccine to attend class. The mandate has yet to take effect, but under the guidelines, students will be “required to be vaccinated for in person learning starting the term following FDA full approval of the vaccine for their grade span.”
In other words, once the FDA gives a vaccine full approval for those aged 12 and up, it will be required the following session for kids in grades 7-12. Once it does so for kids as young as five, the same process will happen for children in kindergarten through sixth grade. There will also be room for exemptions from the mandate.
The Fight to Vaccinate California
This week, a group of California state legislators formed a Vaccine Work Group in order to boost public health policies in the state. Wiener is among the several members who are “examining data, hearing from experts, and engaging stakeholders to determine the best approaches to promote vaccines that have been proven to reduce serious illness, hospitalization and death from COVID-19.”
“Vaccines protect not only individuals but also whole communities when almost everyone is vaccinated at schools, workplaces and businesses, and safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines have already prevented the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Americans,” Sen. Dr. Richard Pan (D-Sacramento) said in a press release. “Public safety is a paramount duty of government, and I am proud to join a talented group of legislators in the pro-science Vaccine Work Group who want to end this disastrous pandemic and protect Californians from death and disability by preventable diseases.”
While vaccine policies have been a divisive subject nationwide, including in California, state politicians and leaders are hopeful public health initiatives will prevail.
“If we allow disinformation to drive our state policy making we will not only see more Americans needlessly suffer and die, but we will sacrifice the long term stability of our society having effectively abandoned the idea that we all must work together to protect each other in times of crisis.” Catherine Flores Martin, the Executive Director of the California Immunization Coalition, added.