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Saudi Murder Suspect Trained in Offensive Spying

by Oui Mon Oct 29th, 2018 at 08:04:50 PM EST

See also my previous diary - Pegasus: Saudi Tracking Software for Dissidents.

Jamal Khashoggi: Saudi murder suspect had spy training | BBC News |

Turkish media identified Maher Abdulaziz Mutreb as being part of a 15-member team of suspected Saudi agents who flew into and out of Istanbul on the day of Mr Khashoggi's disappearance from the city's Saudi consulate on 2 October.

He is said to have spent two years working in London, with a source describing him as a colonel in Saudi intelligence to US news network CNN. And now BBC Arabic can reveal he was trained how to use offensive spyware technology on behalf of the Saudi state.

The European surveillance expert described how Mr Mutreb spent two weeks on a course with him in 2011, learning how to use the technology his company was providing the Saudi government so that it could carry out targeted attacks on the phones and computers of its own citizens.

"The training involved things like infecting a computer from potential targets of interest for intelligence and extracting information, so digital evidence, information about this person of interest.

Continued below the fold ...

"This information might have been basically everything from [their] GPS position, conversation, microphone audio around the device itself, camera pictures, files on disk, emails, contacts, everything that was on the device itself."

Paper trail

Mr Mutreb is believed to have spent two years working at the Saudi embassy in London. A document published by the British government in 2007 listed a man with that name as first secretary.

However, he has also been named as a Saudi intelligence officer by several individuals, and some leaked documents.

CNN spoke to a Saudi source in London who said he knew Mr Mutreb, describing him as a colonel in Saudi intelligence, while the popular Arabic app MenoM3ay - which enables users to see the names people have linked to phone numbers - lists a man with that name as a colonel in the royal court.

On October 12 Wikileaks tweeted the Khashoggi Files, which included emails with the name of Mutreb and five other men who were supposed to have attended a course in Italy in 2011, run by an Italian company called Hacking Team.

Saudi Crown Prince's men in Khashoggi killing |Anadolu Agency |

Arab media said Mutreb served as a security attaché at the Saudi consulate in London in 2007 and met Khashoggi in the UK capital.

He was assigned to a brigade in the Saudi Royal Guard to protect senior figures and became a frequent companion of the crown prince.

Mutreb travelled with bin Salman to the U.S. in March and was alongside him during trips to Spain and France.

A BBC story said Mutreb was trained by a European hacker group in hacking and cyber spying in 2011 in Riyadh.

Arab media reported that he was the leader of the 'hit team' that came to Istanbul in private jets that had been rented in his name.

Mutreb was thought to have received electronic information about Khashoggi and interrogated the Saudi journalist.

Arab media added that Mutreb called Saudi Arabia 19 times - including four phone calls to the office of bin Salman's secretary - on the day of Khashoggi's murder.

Hacking a Prince, an Emir and a Journalist to Impress a Client | New York Times - Aug. 31, 2018 |

The rulers of the United Arab Emirates had been using Israeli spyware for more than a year, secretly turning the smartphones of dissidents at home or rivals abroad into surveillance devices.

So when top Emirati officials were offered a pricey update of the spying technology, they wanted to make sure it worked, according to leaked emails submitted Thursday in two lawsuits against the spyware's maker, the Israel-based NSO Group.

Could the company secretly record the phones of the emir of Qatar, a regional rival, the Emiratis asked? How about the phone of a powerful Saudi prince who directed the kingdom's national guard? Or what about recording the phone of the editor of a London-based Arab newspaper?

"Please find two recordings attached," a company representative wrote back four days later, according to the emails. Appended were two recordings the company had made of calls by the editor, Abdulaziz Alkhamis, who confirmed this week that he had made the calls and said he did not know he was under surveillance.

The NSO Group's actions are now at the heart of the twin lawsuits accusing the company of actively participating in illegal spying -- part of a global effort to confront the growing arms race in the world of spyware.

As private companies develop and sell cutting-edge surveillance technology to governments for tens of millions of dollars, human rights groups say the scant oversight over the practice invites rampant misuse. And no company is more central to the battle than the NSO Group, one of the best-known creators of spyware that invades smartphones. [All 3 links are NY Times]


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