David Pecker’s National Enquirer attempts to expose Jeff Bezos’s affair, with text messages obtained from the Amazon CEO’s phone. The texts came from Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) hacking the phone in May 2018.
In the weeks that follow, Bezos accuses the National Enquirer and its parent company American Media, Inc. of blackmail, extortion, and working for the Saudi government. He also announces he’s turned over his phone for an independent investigation. Pecker’s team panics and tries to blackmail him.
Enquirer editor Dylan Howard allegedly sent an email warning of nine intimate images in excruciating detail. They included a “below the belt selfie — otherwise colloquially known as a dick pick”.
By Bezos’s account, Pecker’s team made an offer: the Enquirer would agree to not publish the photos if Bezos and his investigators released a public statement “affirming that they have no knowledge or basis” to suggest the tabloid’s coverage was “politically motivated or influenced by political forces”.The Guardian
Investigations over the next year determine that the hack was indeed the work of Saudi Arabia, using spyware created by Israeli surveillance and technology firm NSO Group. Israel has been selling the smartphone spyware, named Pegasus, to foreign governments since at least 2011. Dylan Howard, mentioned above, and another writer on the Bezos story are working on a book with a former Israeli intelligence agent at the same time as the hack and blackmail.
Palestinian activist Iyad El-Baghdadi and others have accused Jared Kushner of facilitating the Pegasus deal between Israel and Saudi Arabia. Kushner began exchanging WhatsApp messages with bin Salman the same year as Bezos.
Another Trump official, Michael Flynn, has worked for NSO’s US-based parent company Francisco Partners and a NSO subsidiary, OSY Technologies.
Donald Trump shares the Saudi regime’s disdain for Jeff Bezos, so it would not come as a shock to learn that the Trump White House was involved in or had knowledge of the hack. Trump is also longtime friends with Pecker and the National Enquirer. Pecker helped Michael Cohen pay Stormy Daniels during the 2016 campaign and helped promote Trump as a presidential candidate in 2011.
Trump uses Twitter to bash Bezos after the National Enquirer piece.
“So sorry to hear the news about Jeff Bozo being taken down by a competitor whose reporting, I understand, is far more accurate than the reporting in his lobbyist newspaper, the Amazon Washington Post,” he gloated on Twitter. “Hopefully the paper will soon be placed in better & more responsible hands!”The Guardian
In 2021, a former Enquirer journalist named Nikolaos Hatziefstathiou claims he has over a million documents related to American Media, Inc. and the Bezos affair. If true, those documents may reveal more about the hack in the future.
In 2017, Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi published criticisms of Saudi Arabia and bin Salman’s regime. In April 2018, Bezos, who owns the Washington Post, sat with MBS at a small dinner. It wasn’t the first time they’d met, but this time they exchanged phone numbers and began messaging on WhatsApp.
A month later, MBS sent a video to Bezos that, when downloaded, infected his phone with spyware. Pegasus gave the Saudis access to the CEO’s text messages (and probably other content). When MBS had Khashoggi murdered in October, the news outlet blamed MBS and increased criticism of Saudi Arabia. MBS sent Bezos a photo of his mistress as a subtle threat to ease up on the outlet’s criticism.
Photo: Joshua Roberts/Reuters and Mandel Ngan/Reuters via Business Insider