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Former Twitter employee convicted of spying for Saudi government sentenced to prison — but for fewer years than prosecutors asked

A former Twitter employee convicted of spying for Saudi Arabia has been sentenced to prison.

What is the background?

Ahmad Abouammo, a dual U.S.-Lebanese citizen, worked for Twitter from 2013 to2015 as a media partnerships manager for the Middle East and North Africa.

In August, Abouammo was found guilty of using his access to spy on Twitter users on behalf of the Saudi Arabian government to help them stamp out dissent. He received gifts and money in return.

NBC News explains:

According to testimony from an FBI agent presented to the Northern District of California, a Saudi government agent began courting Abouammo in 2014 by buying him gifts and depositing money in his cousin’s bank account. Abouammo then began secretly accessing accounts of users who were critical of the Saudi government and sharing their email addresses and phone numbers with the government agent.

Then, after leaving Twitter, Abouammo used access with friends who still worked at Twitter to carry out requests from the Saudi government. He was arrested in 2019.

Officially, Abouammo was convicted on charges of acting as agent of a foreign government, fraud, money laundering, and falsification of records. He faced 10 to 20 years of prison.

How many years did he receive?

According to Reuters, prosecutors asked a judge to sentence Abouammo to just over seven years in prison, arguing for a “sentence strong enough to deter others in the technology and social media industry from selling out the data of vulnerable users.”

Instead, a judge sentenced Abouammo to just 3.5 years in federal prison.

Anything else?

Foreign governments infiltrating Twitter through its employees are apparently a known problem.

Peiter “Mudge” Zatko, the former security chief at Twitter, testified at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing in September that China and India have embedded agents in Twitter, which the company failed to detect.

“We simply lacked the ability to hunt for foreign intelligence agents and expel them on our own,” he admitted.