Lord Of The Flies: An Open-Source Investigation Into Saud Al-Qahtani
Before tuning in via Skype to oversee the murder and dismemberment of Saudi Arabian journalist Jamal Khashoggi, Saud al-Qahtani, a high-level adviser to the crown prince of Saudi Arabia, Mohammed bin Salman (MBS), was best known for running social media operations for the royal court and serving as MBS’s chief propagandist and enforcer. His portfolio also included hacking and monitoring critics of the Kingdom and MBS.
What follows below is a summary of this investigation’s findings into al-Qahtani’s activities. The full report can be viewed
In 2012 and again in 2015, someone identifying themselves as al-Qahtani attempted to procure surveillance tools from controversial Italian spyware vendor Hacking Team. On July 5, 2015, this correspondence was unknowingly exposed by a hacker using the handle “Phineas Phisher,” who stole and published approximately 400 gigabytes of Hacking Team’s internal documents, source code and emails.
Al-Qahtani’s outreach to the spyware vendor appear to have gone unnoticed for years until August 29, 2017, when an Arabic-language Twitter account was created and began publicizing excerpts of al-Qahtani’s emails to Hacking Team.
The account, which used the username @HIAHY and the display name تاريخ وذكريات (History and Memories), also tied the email addresses used by al-Qahtani to several online accounts. @HIAHY pointed out that an email address used by the individual purporting to be al-Qahtani to communicate with Hacking Team — [email protected] — was also used to register an account under the handle nokia2mon2 on the popular hacking website Hack Forums, which itself was breached in June 2011 by hacktivist group LulzSec.
Additional reporting by Motherboard in August 2018 revealed that the leaked Hacking Team correspondence included two additional email addresses used by the person purporting to be al-Qahtani: [email protected] and [email protected]
Neither @HIAHY nor Motherboard were able to definitively prove that al-Qahtani …read more