Ex-Twitter employee headed to prison for leaking information to Saudi Arabia

A California man has been sentenced to 3 ½ in federal prison for his role conveying confidential and sensitive information that could be used to identify and locate Twitter users of interest to the Saudi Royal Family.

Ahmad Abouammo, 45, formerly of Walnut Creek and currently living in Seattle, was sentenced on Dec. 15. in U.S. District Court in Oakland. He was ordered to surrender on March 31. 

"This case revealed that foreign governments, here, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia will bribe insiders to obtain the user information that is collected and stored by our Silicon Valley social media companies," U.S. Attorney Stephanie M. Hinds for the Northern District of California said in a statement. "This sentence sends a message to insiders with access to user information to safeguard it, particularly from repressive regimes, or risk significant time in prison." 

U.S. attorneys had sought a prison term of more than seven years, saying they wanted a "sentence strong enough to deter others in the technology and social media industry from selling out the data of vulnerable users." 

Abouammo's attorneys had asked U.S. District Judge Edward Chen for a probationary sentence at his home in Seattle with no prison time. They cited Abouammo's ongoing health problems, lack of other convictions and family issues that had affected him during his time at Twitter, which spanned 2013 to 2015.

During his sentencing, Chen described Abouammo’s conduct as "serious" and "consequential" and stated that, "exposing dissident information is a serious offense." 

MORE: Elon Musk largely silent, after Twitter poll showed users want him to leave

In August, a jury convicted Abouammo of acting as a foreign agent without notice to the Attorney General, conspiracy, wire fraud, international money laundering and falsification of records. 

According to the evidence presented at trial, Abouammo began receiving bribes from an official of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia as early as December 2014. 

At the time, Abouammo was employed at Twitter as a Media Partnerships Manager for the Middle East and North Africa region. 

Twitter policies required Abouammo to protect Twitter user information, as well as disclose conflicts of interest and report gifts from those with business with Twitter. 

Nevertheless, a jury found that Abouammo accepted bribes from Saudi Arabian officials in exchange for accessing Twitter user accounts and conveying information on dissidents and the Saudi Royal family, then lied to the FBI investigators and falsified a document when questioned about the transactions in October 2018. 

The evidence showed that the foreign official met with Abouammo in London in December 2014 and provided Abouammo with a $42,000 luxury Hublot watch, which he later referenced when offering it for sale on Craigslist. 

After the meeting in London, Abouammo began repeatedly accessing private information about several Twitter accounts, at least one of which was the account of an influential user who was critical of members of the Saudi Royal Family and the KSA government. 

The jury also was convinced that when Abouammo traveled to Lebanon in February 2015, a bank account was opened in the name of his father in Lebanon, which he obtained access to. 

The account then received $100,000 in February 2015 from the foreign official and Abouammo laundered the money by sending it into the United States in small wire transfers with false descriptions, a jury found. 

The account received another $100,000 shortly after Abouammo left Twitter for other employment, accompanied by a note from the official apologizing for the delayed payment.