After the news of former Twitter employees charged with spying for information for critics of the government of Saudi Arabia came out, Saudi Arabia’s King Salman hosted the Central Intelligence Agency’s director on Thursday.
Three people were charged in the United States with spying on Twitter users critical of the royal family. The king and Gina Haspel “discussed a number of topics of mutual interest”, the official Saudi Press Agency said, without offering details.
#Riyadh: King Salman received Gina Haspel, Director of the U.S Central Intelligence Agency, to discuss the longstanding Saudi-US partnership, and review a number of regional and international developments. pic.twitter.com/WRXuIpW4RX
— Saudi Embassy (@SaudiEmbassyUSA) November 7, 2019
The meeting in Riyadh was attended by a number of Saudi officials including Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan and intelligence chief Khalid al-Humaidan. Haspel’s visit comes after a US court on Wednesday charged three people, including two Saudis, with spying on Twitter users critical of the kingdom’s royal family. A senior Saudi official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that the kingdom had not yet looked at the criminal complaint.
“But what I can tell you is that we expect all our citizens to abide by the laws of the countries in which they live,” the official told reporters in Washington.
The trio, including two former Twitter employees Ahmad Abouammo and Ali Alzabarah, allegedly worked to unmask the ownership details behind dissident Twitter accounts on behalf of someone prosecutors designated “Royal Family Member-1.” One of them, Ahmad Abouammo, a US citizen, was arrested on Tuesday on charges of spying and falsifying an invoice to obstruct an FBI investigation.
In a statement, Twitter thanked the FBI and the US Department of Justice for supporting the investigation. “We recognize the lengths bad actors will go to try and undermine our service,” Twitter said. “We understand the incredible risks faced by many who use Twitter to share their perspectives with the world and to hold those in power accountable.”
The Washington Post reported the “Royal Family Member-1” to be Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the kingdom’s de facto ruler. Ties between allies Washington and Riyadh have been strained over the brutal murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018.
A critic of Prince Mohammed, Khashoggi was killed and dismembered by Saudi agents inside the kingdom’s consulate in Istanbul. The CIA has reportedly concluded that the prince himself was closely linked to the murder, a charge vigorously denied by Riyadh.
The Saudi official said that President Donald Trump’s administration was aware that “Saudi Arabia is taking steps to deal with this issue.”
“I think people are recognising that a trial is underway, recognising that it was a mistake that should not have happened,” he said of Khashoggi’s killing.