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With the latest spurious allegations concerning the alleged
hack of his phone by the Saudis, Jeff Bezos brought himself back into an
unwelcome and embarrassing spotlight, involving nude pictures of himself
cheating on his ex-wife, all seemingly for the sake of destroying the
reputation of the Saudi Crown Prince, Mohammed bin Salman. His claim that
Mohammed bin Salman taunted him with photos of the supposedly
“secret” affair and then somehow used his own phone’s Whatsapp account to hack
Bezos’s phone and to expose the nudes, which were then leak to the public
remains unsubstantiated despite the mention of undisclosed forensic
investigators supposedly responsible for these latest disclosures to the soap
opera.

Background

The story about the alleged hack broke exactly a year ago,
after Jeff Bezos and his wife filed for divorce in January 2019. Soon after,
the National Enquirer publicized
pictures of Bezos’ affair with his girlfriend, including “intimate
texts and photos
.” Bezos accused the Enquirer of extortion & blackmail.
Bezos, backed by his security chief, accused Saudis of having taken part in a
hack that led to the leak of these photos. The Saudis denied having anything to
do with that. Soon after, information came out that Bezos’ girlfriend gave the
photos and texts to her brother, who leaked them to the media.

Bezos had further alleged that the owner of the Enquirer had a business relationship
with Mohammed bin Salman, but after the revelation came out concerning his
girlfriend & her brother’s involvement in the leak, did not appear to
pursue this matter further. The story died down despite Bezos’ personal op-eds
with accusations, but in January 2020 Bezos doubled down on his initial
allegations. He produced a poorly sourced UN report produced by Agnes
Callamard, and an equally questionable forensics report by investigators he
paid for, claiming that there was a hack and that the hack came from the Crown
Prince’s account.  Increasing evidence point in other directions.

For instance, US prosecutors tasked with investigating the
alleged leak/hack say they have evidence that the
girlfriend and her brother are the culprits. Bezos is yet to explain what
connection, if any, there is between the Crown Prince and Bezos’ girlfriend.
Was she in possession of Mohammed bin Salman’s phone? Did he first hack the
account and then have her leak it to the press in exchange for a princely sum
of money?  The increasingly embarrassing situation went from bed to worse
in terms of optics for Bezos himself when a number of cyberexperts
started questioning the
conclusions in the forensics report, stating that Bezos has not actually established a
technical link between Mohammed bin Salman’s account and Bezos’ phone.

At issue now is Bezos’ central claim—that his phone was hacked at all. Whether Bezos will spin
these developments into a conspiracy theory—in which his girlfriend was in on
it with Mohammed bin Salman, seduced Bezos to get into his good graces and ruin
his marriage and personal life, and then, after the Crown Prince hacked Bezos
phone, took the resulting leak and shared it with a tabloid—remains unclear.
Increasingly, however, pressure is mounting on Bezos to back his claims, as his
allegations appear increasingly fantastical yet persistent.

These accusations raise several inconvenient questions that
neither Bezos, nor the mainstream media which parroted his side of the story
without doing the basics of any ethical journalist—which is to say, demanding
evidence of these scandalous claim—bother to address.

For instance, why did Jeff Bezos keep silent about the Crown
Prince’s alleged knowledge and “taunts”, allegedly made BEFORE the hack, all
this time? Why did he not say anything even at the time when he first reported
the incident?

Further, he does not explain how Mohammed bin Salman would
even know about this clandestine liaison. Did he have a gaggle of spies follow
the Amazon founder around? Or was Bezos always so careless with his online
activity that the Saudis could have hacked him long before and been tracking
him for some time?

Which raises yet another natural question: how is it that
Jeff Bezos, the founder of a gigantic company with millions of accounts, could
have failed to secure his own personal data? And can any of his customers trust
him with their own privacy? Supposedly bad blood between Bezos and the Saudis
is related to a business dispute over his interest in building Amazon in KSA,
but failing to address Saudi concerns over Amazon’s handling of Saudi
customers’ data. If so, Bezos’ behavior is fraught with irony.

The next question any reasonable person could/should ask is
why would the heir to the throne of a major Middle Eastern country use his own
personal account to engage in any sort of illicit and unethical activity, much
less something blatantly criminal as a hack of one of the wealthiest
individuals in the world? Is there no one Mohammed bin Salman could hire, even
if that is something he was contemplating for unknowable reasons? Why would he
make himself so vulnerable, especially considering the many other character
attacks he’s been facing since early on in his tenure?

Finally, even IF there is technical evidence linking Mohammed
bin Salman’s Whatsapp account to the hack, how do we know that the Crown
Prince’s phone was not hacked or spoofed, which is more than likely? For all
it’s worth, Bezos himself probably had interacted with the Crown Prince over
that account and could have easily leaked it elsewhere. But why would Bezos be
involved in a set-up that discredited him in light of his own personal drama
unfolding before the world’s eyes?

Rather than speculating on Bezos’ motivations, I invite the
readers to examine his actions, which indicate that this story is about far
more than just Bezos’ personal issues with the Saudis (if any of these rumors
are even true).

Shortly following the break out of the media storm over the
renewed allegations, Bezos tweeted a picture of himself from Jamal
Khashoggi’s memorial with the hashtag “Jamal”. Who else attended that memorial?
Jamal Khashoggi’s Turkish fiancé, known for her support of Turkey’s
authoritarian president Erdogan, and none other than the UN rapporteur Agnes
Callamard, a fierce defender of
Qassem Soleimani against US strikes, and the allegedly impartial UN official
responsible for the UN investigation of the Saudi role in the killing of Jamal
Khashoggi. Discrediting her claims to objectivity, the very same Callamard has
now sided with Bezos demanding an international investigation into the hacking
allegations against Mohammed bin Salman, despite the lack of evidence. What a
coincidence!

Bezos was also pictured
with the founder and executive director of CAIR, Nihad Awad, at the memorial.
CAIR is an unindicted co-conspirator in investigations concerning money
laundering to Muslim Brotherhood-backed terrorist organizations, such as Hamas,
and has extensive links to the Brotherhood.

By tweeting this image shortly after the renewed claims,
Bezos admits the following:

He has a
political agenda in going after the Saudi Crown Prince, beyond any business
dispute

The Washington Post, which Bezos owns, is
not objective but rather openly sides with the ex-Saudi spook cum turncoat cum
Qatari agent Jamal Khashoggi—despite the Washington
Post
’s own admission that the Qatar Foundation International fed Khashoggi
the articles he used to attack the Crown Prince in the pieces basically rewritten
to the level of readability by his editor Karen Attiah. The Washington Post, if it has benefited
financially from this arrangement, may itself be implicated as an unregistered
foreign agent in violation of US laws, and Bezos is openly hinting at that.
Karen Attiah, after all, also took part in the memorial.

Finally,
Bezos’s accusations against Mohammed bin Salman are directly tied to Qatar and
the Khashoggi matter. This thinly veiled message affirms that Bezos, Callamard,
and others are deeply involved with state actors who are fueling the ongoing
political campaign to discredit, smear, and ultimately oust the Crown Prince.

What could be Bezos’ political calculus in this unseemly
scenario, where he is publicly making himself into a laughingstock at least as
much as he is turning Mohammed bin Salman into fodder for supposedly
reputable national publications, including the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal (who published all of this uncritically)?
Furthermore, why is he returning to the apparently debunked story after a year
and subjecting himself to potential embarrassment and discreditation, likely
knowing fully well that there is no “there, there”?

There is no mystery. The strategy by Mohammed bin Salman’s
enemies, from the very beginning of the Khashoggi affair, has been to make it
appear that the Khashoggi death is not an isolated incident; rather, the claim
has been that Mohammed bin Salman has a strategy of
surveilling, hacking, physically intimidating, and even trying to abduct
dissidents, critics, and opponents of his policies. Since Khashoggi’s death,
both the NY Times and WaPo, known for taking conspiracy theories and
baseless allegations from the Qatar-funded Arabic and English language media
and giving them legitimacy without ever providing counterpoints or raising
doubt about these claims, have printed numerous articles giving space to known
leftist, pan-Arabist and pro-Muslim Brotherhood critics of the Crown Prince and
his Vision2030 reform plan, who reside in Canada, the UK, and the US and who
have all claimed that they had been threatened, harassed, or surveilled by
Saudi intelligence in the wake of Khashoggi.

Prior to Khashoggi’s death, however, these individuals
resorted to broader statements claiming that Mohammed bin Salman was
responsible for a crackdown on dissent (read: antagonistic activism) inside the
Kingdom. The Khashoggi affair gave an opening to opportunists to push for
creating an image of Mohammed bin Salman as an irredeemable villain who will
never stop shutting down anyone who stands up to him. Bezos has clearly aligned
himself with other agents of this strategy, and despite past evidence showing
that other parties were responsible for the embarrassing leak of his “dick
pics” (technical term), jumped in full throttle into this morass.

The calculus here is not so much to “prove” that Mohammed bin
Salman is personally guilty of this cyberattack, which may ultimately prove
impossible even if any evidence exists, but to embarrass him (again) to such an
extent that his own family will decide that he deserves no more chances to fix
his reputation in light of this ongoing PR/information warfare nightmare, and
should be removed from a public role or at least from his current position.

As for the timing, if Bezos, as it increasingly appears to be
the case, is in cahoots with foreign regimes and possibly elements of domestic
intelligence agencies who have an ax to grind with Mohammed bin Salman, the
recycling of the old conspiracy theory is nothing new. It follows a pattern of
other such thinly veiled character attacks on the Crown Prince, and likely came
from the same Qatari playbook. The aim is to weaponize the media and to cause a
public fracas, at any cost. Furthermore, the thought is that that the public is
heavily dependent on Amazon for services, and therefore anything will go. By
contrast, the Western public does not perceive itself as being dependent on
Saudi Arabia or its Crown Prince, and presumably has no loyalties to him, even
if he is unjustly accused of crimes he did not commit. Timing, however, is of
interest here.

The
Iran-Qatar connection fueling Qatar’s interest in continuous attacks on
Mohammed bin Salman

January 2020 started with the killing of the head of IRGC’s
Al Quds Brigade Qassem Soleimani, which appeared to be a blow to the Iranian
regime’s hegemonic ambitions, especially as it struggles to contain internal
protests and faces uprisings against its proxies in Iraq and
Lebanon. Responding to this event, Iran caused a self-inflicted PR
disaster when it shot down a Ukrainian passenger plane with 176 civilians on
board—and lied about it for three days. Following this fiasco, Qatar offered $3B to Iran to cover the costs of
paying the families of the victims. There may have been some awkwardness to the
exchange, as the US used the Al Udeid base in Qatar for the operation, and yet
the Qatari officials traveled to Iran immediately thereafter to offer condolences on
the death of Soleimani. 

Qatar’s public siding with a US adversary did not go unnoticed.
Indeed, it constituted yet another political example of Qatar openly supporting
Iran’s aggressive action in the region. Qatar’s past silence during the oil
tanker crises resulted in an intelligence report indicating that Doha was in
cahoots with Tehran and covered for Iran, rather than share information that
could have prevented these attacks. Analysis of Qatar’s long-term relationship
with Iran and its reaction to any steps by the US and others that would have
had any negative impact on the regime indicates that Qatar may have even facilitated the
attacks on ARAMCO in Saudi Arabia in September, widely attributed to
Iran. 

Increased scrutiny over these geopolitical concerns are a
massive headache to Doha, which had spent millions on lobbying efforts in the
United States and Europe, and has developed a sophisticated media apparatus to
cultivate an image of a pro-Western, friendly country open for business. After
a series of missteps involving its close ally Iran, Qatar may have been
desperate to distract from its own US government ire-raising role in these
events, and sought to redirect the negative scrutiny and public outrage onto a
favored scapegoat for all sorts of scandals, the Crown Prince, who was made
vulnerable due to Qatar’s prior character assassination campaigns as well as
the Saudi government’s complete lack of PR acumen. Bezos, who may have personal
issues with Mohammed bin Salman, had already proven his usefulness against him
through the consistent role the Washington
Post
has played in not letting the Khashoggi affair die down.

Indeed, Bezos himself made that issue highly personal by
attending Khashoggi’s memorial alongside Callamard, Attiah, and Khashoggi’s
Turkish fiancé.  On the one hand, here was an opportunity to give Iran
time to recover from bad publicity long enough to be able to focus on strategy
and shutting down protests—when the Western world is busy gossiping about the
hapless Crown Prince, they are not paying attention to the violent crackdown
and torture of protesters, and killing of journalists in Iraq and Lebanon; on
the other hand, it was another opportunity to resurrect the ghost of Khashoggi,
putting more salt on the wounds of Western perception of Saudis.

But why would anyone side with Qatar, especially someone as
wealthy as Bezos, who needs not depend on Qatari largesse? And why have other
media outlets, presumably with no business grievances with the Kingdom, and
portions of Western intelligence agencies, be lending a hand to these dubious
operations, which have turned the US media into a battleground for
authoritarian foreign regimes and unregistered agents of influence?

With Bezos, those who are fueling this witch hunt have likely
appealed to his vindictive motives following the business dispute with Saudi
Arabia. Bezos has a reputation 
going back years before Mohammed bin Salman’s ascent to his position. And aside
from the Crown Prince, Bezos has engaged in public spats with other corporate
leaders not so long ago.
Motive, meet opportunity. The media did not need to be “sold”, as it has been
aligned with Qatar’s agenda in the West since after the imposition of the
boycott against Qatar by Saudi Arabia, and the ensuing Qatari campaign to win
friends and to destroy Saudi Arabia’s image in the West.

How the
Media Circus around Bezos’ Unfounded Claims Carries Water for Foreign Regimes

The
Strange Case of Cybersecurity “Expert” and Khashoggi Ally Iyad El-Baghdadi

A Palestinian born critic of Saudi Arabia Iyad El-Baghdadi,
in a lengthy soft-ball interview with
the Deutsche Welle on the subject of
the hack, writes:  “…Then, Bezos in
February of 2019 wrote a Medium post saying that he had just experienced a
blackmail attempt and hinted very strongly that Saudi Arabia was probably
involved. We immediately put two and two together. Number one: We know that MbS
has a problem with Bezos, that was very clear because the propaganda output of
his regime was really aggressive against him. What we also know is that they
had an ongoing business relationship. And we know that Jamal Khashoggi’s murder
came in the middle of that. So we published our findings online and two days
later we were contacted by the head of security for Bezos (editor’s note: Gavin
de Becker, a longtime security consultant hired by Bezos), who said: ‘You guys
are onto something and we have certain information we want to share with you as
well.’”

El-Baghdadi claims to have “worked” with Bezos’ security team
on investigating the incident. El-Baghdadi admits to having worked with Jamal
Khashoggi in the past on his “MENA democracy” initiative. Khashoggi had been
building an anti-Saudi think tank and engaging in cyberoperations against Saudi
online activists when he was killed.  El-Baghdadi’s distaste for the Saudi
government is not explicitly explained, nor is his fellowship with Khashoggi
ever fully presented, but both have had a history of supporting the Muslim
Brotherhood ideology and resented Saudi outreach to Israel. El-Baghdadi, for
instance, wrote of “two Israels”, with
one of which “no peace” is possible, claiming that there are no Israeli
centrists or peace partners, only “colonial masters”, and
calling for “resistance”. 
Khashoggi was both opposed to normalization with Israel and wrote against Jews. What is
interesting here is that El-Baghdadi was hired by Bezos’ security chief after
the hack, but his role appears limited to propaganda, as he had no access to the
technical information regarding any allegedly cyberattacks on Bezos and he
admitted as much. His reputation of being affiliated with Khashoggi and
attacking Saudi Arabia should, but somehow does not, discredit his professional
conclusions of what must have transpired, even though they are based not on
technical forensic evidence, but on ideological conclusions.  El-Baghdadi believes that Mohammed bin Salman
was personally responsible for the assassination of Jamal Khashoggi based on
Khashoggi’s personal criticism of the Crown Prince and his policies.

El-Baghdadi even states that Bezos’ security team and he
started to “coordinate things”, without explaining what it is they
coordinated—and the DW reporters do not challenge him on this issue. What is
public knowledge, however, is that in the same year after Bezos’ alleged hack,
El-Baghdadi, speaking to Qatar’s mouthpiece, Al Jazeera, claimed that he was in the “crosshairs” of the Saudi
government, that he is a pro-”democracy” activist (does that mean he is calling
for a violent internal coup against a popular heir to the throne?) despite
having no connection to the Kingdom or its people, and many months after
Khashoggi’s death (May 2019), and felt “in danger”. He apparently came to that realization after
starting to work with  Bezos’ team in February 2019, after the scandal
regarding Bezos’ hack had already waned in the public eye. Did Bezos put him up
to that?

Or did Bezos hire El-Baghdadi to make these statements, that
would not only keep the Khashoggi story alive well past its due date, but would
appear to substantiate his own concerns about Saudi Arabi? If Qatar was
supportive of this apparent collusion, El-Baghdadi’s claims would further the
idea being propagated that Khashoggi was neither an isolated case nor an issue
arising from “rogue operatives”, but rather part of a strategic and brutal
crackdown against Mohammed bin Salman’s critics. This would further distract
from the emerging information that Khashoggi himself was no white fluffy
kitten, but an experienced intelligence operative who had sold out to Qatar,
and was weaponized against Riyadh. The story was soon picked up without any
criticism by various Western publications, including The Daily Beast, which claimed that the activist was “forced into hiding”—although
he continued to tweet and speak to the media.

To return to the interview, DW, despite this suspicious background that undermined the story,
did not in any way push back, but rather gave El-Baghdadi plenty of space to
attack Mohammed bin Salman, repeat unproven claims that the Crown Prince
massacred Khashoggi in the Consulate, and link all of that to the Bezos hack as
revenge for the Washington Post’s
coverage of the Khashoggi affair. Of course, once again, DW never asks about any possible collusion between the Washington Post and the Qatar Foundation
International, nor whether El-Baghdadi benefited financially in any way from
his relationship with all these actors.

Even when El-Baghdadi makes clear the case of his personal
collusion with the Bezos team in describing the extent of their professional
collaboration, and even after admitting that there is no evidence that the
phone was compromised at the time Bezos alleged or earlier, the reporter lets
the activist continue as an expert witness on this subject, without questioning
any aspect of his story or motives. Thus, DW,
by failing to do its job and remain skeptical of such sweeping claim,
legitimized someone with a clear political agenda, gave him a platform, and introduced
him to the public eye, not as a political actor, but as a victim who is the
“good guy” in this confusing chain of events. DW relinquished its role as a neutral observer and objective medium
of information and sided with Bezos and Team Khashoggi.

What makes this situation still more sinister is that, like the
BBC, DW receives public funding from the German government. In other
words, Germany, as a state, is essentially taking part in this situation and
siding with Bezos, El-Baghdadi, and promoting unsubstantiated claims about
Khashoggi’s death. Aside from Qatar, then, European governments and their media
tools, are playing an interventionist political role in this campaign.

Agnes Callamard, meanwhile, appears to be backing an
El-Baghdadi-like activist in UK, who is funded by unknown forces (possibly
Qatar, some pro-MB foundations, or Bezos), Ghanem Almasarir, who hails from the
Kingdom, but shares El-Baghdadi’s virulently anti-Saudi views. Almasarir now
came out to allege that he, too, was being electronically surveilled by
Saudi intelligence, allegedly hacked through the use of the same Israeli
malware that was supposedly used to spy on Khashoggi and El-Baghdadi, and now
has been allowed by the UK to sue the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia for these alleged
activities. Even if the case ultimately is thrown out, it is clear that he will
get the attention he wishes, and the indelible damage to Saudi Arabia as a
country, and Mohammed bin Salman personally, will have been done.

In yet another recent incident, the FBI—which since Robert
Mueller’s time has had CAIR and other Islamist organizations involved in
sensitivity trainings— supposedly foiled an attempted abduction of a young
Saudi YouTuber, Abdulrahman Almutairi, by the Saudis. The Daily Beast report
is almost entirely based on Almutairi’s own story, in which he claims that Mohammed
bin Salman sent a hit team for him in the airport to kidnap him because he had
criticized the Crown Prince. The likelihood of such a plot against such an
unknown person is extremely low.

But what is obvious is that The Daily Beast and other publications are eager to report such sensationalist accounts, without verifying details, because they confirm the inherent bias against the Crown Prince and in favor of the “dissidents”, young people without jobs, funded by unknown organizations, and living abroad, whose sole raison d’etre seems to be making low quality podcasts and videos trash-talking Mohammed bin Salman. All these individuals are supposedly of such importance to the Crown Prince that he would risk a major scandal with the United Stated government in an attempt to illegally recover them and bring them back home rather than ignore their yammerings. The readers are invited to believe this version of the events on the ground that “reputable journalists” wrote it up.

In the case of Almutairi, if they media had so much as
checked his social media account, they would have discovered a self-revealed
history of mental health issues (Almutairi has written about being bipolar),
discussing his hospital stays and mandatory medication for his condition. A
cursory review would also disclose that he was studying on a Saudi government
scholarship and KSA was also paying his medical bills. Due to his frequently
erratic behavior, the government finally cut off his tuition. Almutairi
complained about it on Instagram (screenshot);
in short, he was a mentally unstable, disgruntled individual, who ended up
calling the FBI on his own father, accusing him of working with the Saudi
government to abduct him. (It is possible that his father came to visit to persuade
him to return home for continued medical treatment.) In other words, he is less
than a credible source, yet the media did not look into any of these details,
thus essentially misinforming the public and creating the impression that
Almutairi’s story was exactly what it appeared to be. These media outlets used
a mentally ill individual to push their agenda, without disclosing the facts,
shamefully exposing him to the kind of public attention that could aggravate
his condition.

It seems that Bezos and Callamard are working together to
identify anyone who may be persuaded to make similar claims against Saudis to
bolster Bezos’ own credibility, but also in order to discredit the Crown
Prince.

The
Clown Choir Whitewashed Qatar’s Hacking but Echoes Baseless Claims Against
the Saudis

The rest of the so-called “mainstream media” has hardly been
any more professional nor has demonstrated any journalistic integrity over this
matter.

The Philadelphia Inquirer covered this story with the following headline (thinly veiled as an opinion piece): “Saudi Arabia murdered a journalist and hacked Jeff Bezos. Trump sent them U.S. troops”. The rest of the piece is very much along the same vein, embracing unproven or discredited and openly biased assertions, without even an attempt to present a counterpoint that could shed light on the otherwise outrageous scenario being presented. Given the increasing public distrust in the media and the disappearing skill of distinguishing between opinion & fact, even if such an article is categorized as an “opinion” piece, at best it will feed into existing perceptions, at worst some may take it as information, rather than a personal position.

The NY Post, in its
initial coverage, took Bezos allegations as “evidence“ rather than claims.

The Washington Post,
not surprisingly, has followed its owner’s line with fierce loyalty.
It has published multiple stories on this issue, all of them equally one-sided,
and despite the paucity of technical evidence, reaffirms that these allegations
“implicate” Mohammed bin Salman in the hack.

The
Daily Beast
coverage runs was about the same.

The NY Times makes
an effort at appearing objective by covering what the “UN experts” have said
about the hack, but does not question their
expertise nor their conclusion nor the fact that the same experts had
previously produced a one-sided report on Khashoggi lacking in facts or
evidence.

Vanity
Fair
amps up the drama by using a conclusive description of
the “MBS-Bezos” hack as
a potential “ticking time bomb”.

AP News follows
the lead claiming, again, with very little backing or follow-up investigation,
that the Saudi Crown Prince’s phone is linked to the alleged hack.

NBC News once
again focuses on the UN experts, and their
completely unproven (and likely unprovable claim) that the alleged hack was
aimed at influencing Washington Post
coverage of Saudi Arabia. It is hard to take seriously such an allegation,
given that the chickens have already flown the coop and the incriminating
information against Bezos has already been published; he has divorced and lost
half his fortune. How could he possibly be influenced by that incident to
change all of the coverage about KSA? 

The Hill
takes fearmongering to
the next level, with the writers claiming that now everyone who is critical of
KSA could be endanger of being hacked.

MarketWatch echoes the mass media hysteria.

Ditto for Axios.

PBS also takes Jeff
Bezos’ claims as proven fact. If only the media had stuck to following the late
Jim Lehrer’s  rules for ethical journalism, perhaps the
issue of public trust would not have been quite so evasive. 

And on and on it goes.

In short, once again, the scions of journalism have beclowned
themselves with premature, one-sided coverage based on a high profile figure’s
sensationalist claims, and have failed to follow-up with their own
investigation on any of these comments or even to wait for other experts to
weigh in.  In the fray to be the first to “break” the “news” that Bezos
claimed something that has already been largely discredited, these outlets once
again put their own credibility at question.

Why would they take such a risk? There are several
observations to be made of this baseless kerfuffle.

First, these same outlets reacted in exactly the same way to
the initial reports of Khashoggi’s disappearance and death. They based their
reports on leaks and claims made by the foreign media (Turkish intelligence
affiliates known for their outright disinformation), and in some cases had to
publish retractions of debunked histories concerning the case. They had failed
to inform the public of essential facts concerning Khashoggi’s past, and to
this day, many of these outlets, particularly the Washington Post, refer to Khashoggi as a “dissident” and
“journalist” without disclosing his relationship to intelligence, to Qatar, and
to the fact that others were basically writing his columns for him.  These
outlets have worked to shape a narrative about Khashoggi, just as they are
currently working to shape a narrative about Jeff Bezos’ phone, and have not
allowed facts to get in the way of spinning these tales. At no point have any
of these outlets set their own reporters to investigate the situation on the
ground in Turkey after Khashoggi’s disappearance. Adopting a Turkish
intelligence agency’s narrative is not merely lazy, unethical journalism, but
rather turns the US press into agents for foreign governments and their
intelligence agendas. 

Second, in both cases, the outlets have used very similar
language to describe the stories. For instance, many have used sensational and
personal language to describe the Crown Prince, referencing the “bone saw”, or
describing him as “dark”. Similarly, now, the same outlets are peddling the
Bezos narrative almost word for word, and rely on the same UN “experts” for
“analysis”.  After the Saudi Embassy denied the accusations, not one
probed further or contacted the Saudis for a more detailed comment on the allegations. 
Just as the slogan of the “MeToo” movement has become “believe all women” (with
questionable results), the slogan of the current craze around the Saudis
appears to be “believe all attackers/dissidents/anyone with a grievance”.
Investigative rigor of pursuing all perspectives has gone out the window,
perhaps because the agenda is not to inform the public, but to shape the
narrative, and also to give a particular portion of the readership what they
are inclined to believe and want to hear. Would these outlets make a successful
American businessman a villain of a story that also involves a controversial
Saudi prince, whose reputation they themselves had already undermined with
previous reporting? Doing so would amount to an admission of incompetence or
malice against Mohammed bin Salman in previous reporting.

Finally, it is Qatar rather than Saudi Arabia that has a
reputation for hacking critics. An Arab journalist details the cyberattack on him following
his investigation into Qatar’s policies, one of 1,500 celebrities reportedly
hacked by the agents of the country. Elliott Broidy, a former Republican Party
apparatchik who has gained his own renown for allegedly plotting policies to
counter Qatar’s influence in the US with an Emirati operative, unsuccessfully
sued Doha for the alleged hack and leak of his email, which revealed
embarrassing personal and professional information, leading to his resignation
from his post. However, while his legal attempt at holding Qatar and its agents
accountable for the hack has thus far failed, his efforts at disclosing the
various parties involved in illicit Qatari schemes found their way into the
press. Even the NY Times was forced
to acknowledge that hacking has become a strategic method of promoting its agenda and
intimidating potential critics, as well as a pathway to espionage for Qatar.

And those who have followed Qatar’s increasingly aggressive
interference in the West and foreign affairs, as David Reaboi has, have noted that even as Qatar openly engaged
in aggressive and criminal activity, the US media has become a “megaphone for
foreign agitprop”. The above-mentioned outlets all continued to support the
pro-Qatar, anti-Saudi narrative, even after Qatar’s hacking scandal broke,
revealing that it was not merely a coincidence, but pecuniary and political
motives, that drove some in the media to align with a country openly using its
intelligence to meddle and spy in the US, and hack US citizens. 

Given the ironic role these outlets have played whitewashing
Qatar’s hacks at the time, the contrast with the coverage of the allegations
concerning Mohammed bin Salman is striking. What gives this different
treatment, where in the first instance, over a thousand reputable critics came
forward as witnesses against Qatar’s hacking, and where various well known
entities were implicated in the recruitment of agents for the leak and
distribution of Broidy’s kompromat, and where in the second instance there is
little more than Bezos’ personal vendetta backed by weak poorly sourced reports
by his political allies?

How did
Mohammed bin Salman Arouse the Media and Intelligence Agencies’ Ire?

Why are the campaigners against the Crown Prince so
relentless in their hounding?

David Reaboi outlines some of the ignoble role the media
has played in this gruesome saga, not as an impartial arbiter of some moral
standards, nor as an objective pursuer of truths, but rather as nothing more
than crude tools employed by various autocratic foreign regimes in pursuit of
their anti-Saudi foreign policy.

However, there is more to the story (and a long litany of
Mohammed bin Salman’s enemies) than just the media.

No sooner had Mohammed bin Salman burst onto the political
scene than controversy and media speculation about the heir to the throne
began. That event coincided with the announcement of the boycott against Qatar
following Doha’s rejection of the thirteen demands put forth by the members of
the Anti-Terrorism Quartet (KSA, UAE, Egypt, and Bahrain) and which included
the calls to shut down Al Jazeera, an
appeal to move away from Iran, the push to drop support for various terrorist
groups and the funding of Muslim Brotherhood, and a warning against further
meddling in the politics of various MENA states. Simultaneously dealing with
the Qatar crisis, the Crown Prince was also handling the ongoing war in Yemen,
an aggressive push for domestic reform, and the necessary move to consolidate
power, which included a corruption probe against some Royal Family members and
their associates with a reputation for involvement in dubious financial and
political schemes.

Not too long after, the rumors began.

Some were focused on Mohammed bin Salman’s alleged personal
hypocrisy, including the supposedly shocking allegations that the Prince who went
after some people for corruption himself had purchased an expensive yacht, chateaux, and a
painting. Some of these rumors were so poorly sourced that the NY Times and the Wall Street Journal were forced to withdraw these stories. New
rumors started flying with the corruption probe, each
more incredible than the next. The rumors began with a story in an obscure
Arabic language Qatari-backed publication in London, quickly moved to the known
pro-Qatar vehicle the Middle East Eye,
and from there, in various forms and with details increasingly vague and
unverifiable, migrated to The Guardian,
NY Times, and other major
publications.

The story, which sounded dubious from the start, concerned
some official under investigation for corruption allegedly being tortured to
death. His personal details and circumstances of his supposed demise
increasingly disappeared as the story moved up in ranks. No New York Times or other journalist ever
bothered following-up on the story and either collaborating or dismissing these
allegations, and nothing ever came of it due to the lack of detail. However,
the story circulated for months firmly embedding itself in the public mind,
even as details faded over time, perhaps deliberately so.

The spread of similarly emotionally appealing but vague and
unsupported stories attacking Mohammed bin Salman’s character were published
with increased frequency as his first visit to the United States drew closer.
By the time he arrived for a three week series of meetings, the media war,
mostly consisting of subtle attacks on his image as a reformer popular with
young people and with a mindset for a blossoming relationship with the West,
appeared to be at its apogee. Most of these allegations smacked of an old
Soviet-style smear campaign. Thanks to the widespread network of Qatari and
Qatar-funded media, character assassination was back in vogue

.

The Aim
of the Attacks is to Discredit the Crown Prince and to Demoralize His
Supporters

Character assassination can be broadly defined as the
“malicious and unjustified harming of a person’s good reputation”. It can, but
not always does, fall under the legal category of “defamation of character”;
however, the smear techniques used to destroy one’s reputation are not always
false, nor necessarily carry legal culpability. In international relations,
various forms of character assassination have been used as part of information
warfare strategy to smear, demoralize, and, ultimately, to disarm their
opponents. Information warfare is not a simple concept to define. According to
some sources, information warfare involves information collection, transport,
protection, and manipulation with the aim of gaining a competitive advantage
over one’s adversary, whether in the military, intelligence, political, or
business context. Other elements may include information disturbance,
degradation, and denial. Another way of looking at it is as a combination of
electronic warfare, cyberwarfare, and psy-ops (psychological operations).

Information warfare utilizes cyberspace, advanced computing,
mobile networks, unmanned systems, and social media to gather intelligence,
disrupt the operational capabilities of the other adversary, and to engage in a
variety of tasks to advance the mission of the governmental or non-state
actors.

Character assassination is an element of information warfare
that can be pursued through a variety of disinformation tactics and is
generally considered a type of psy-ops. More recently, however, traditional
means of character assassination, has also relied on various types of
cyberwarfare, such as hacking to advance the agenda of destroying the
reputation of the target. In the course of the past two years, all of these
methods had been used with the clear aim of bringing about the downfall of the
Crown Prince, or at least weakening his relationships with Western countries
and portions of the Arab world. The death of the former Saudi government spokesman
and intelligence officer Jamal Khashoggi sparked a spike in attacks on the
Crown Prince, which bordered on obsessive. For months, not a day passed without
some supposedly objective Western outlet characterizing him in highly negative
terms and by contrast, falsely painting Khashoggi to be an innocent journalist,
whose only crime was his criticism of the monarchy and who met his end at
Mohammed bin Salman’s hands for that reason.

The attacks were soon interspersed with negative publicity
related to a group of women’s rights activists, both men and women, who were
detained and eventually put on trial after being accused of working with
foreign entities against Saudi Arabia. Indeed, journalists and political
operations seemed to merge into one as increasingly negative stories about
Saudi Arabia, regardless of how irrelevant, superficial, or one-sided continued
to proliferate. Most journalists somehow managed to tie in literally anything
that happened in US politics or in the region to Jamal Khashoggi and to the
Crown Prince—whether it was the war in Yemen or the story of runaway Saudi
girls who have had conflicts with their strict families. Mohammed bin Salman’s
face was brought to every publication and was made to embody some abstract
evil, while the incorrect narrative about Khashoggi’s death, often based
entirely on leaks from Turkish newspapers affiliated with the local
intelligence agencies, took on increasingly gruesome and often contradictory
iterations.

The result of this coordinated series of attacks included
the withdrawal of
various lobbyists and business partners from work with Saudi Arabia, two
Congressional resolutions holding Mohammed bin Salman personally responsible
for Khashoggi’s death, a joint Congressional resolution pushing for US
withdrawal from Yemen (which was vetoed by President Trump), and negative
coverage of Saudi Arabia even following terrorist attacks and acts of war
committed against its people and infrastructure by Iran and its proxies. The
character assassins who went after the Crown Prince were successful in creating
negative impressions of his person because, they took advantage of three
factors: 1.) the bitter political climate in the US, 2.) the information vacuum
left by the Saudis themselves, and 3.) unsuspecting Western audiences who were
overwhelmed with one-sided stories from a multitude of seemingly respectable
outlets. The non-stop coverage permeated every conceivable type of
institutions, and while the Khashoggi-related discussions waxed and waned, the
attacks on the Crown Prince himself never fully abated.

The media played a significant role in facilitating these
attacks.

Who are
the Forces Behind the Media and Political Campaigns to Punish or Oust the Crown
Prince?

The media has allowed Turkish leaks to
drive the narrative, showing little concern for truth or justice, and willingly
publishing even the wildest stories, taking little responsibility when these
tidbits from Erdogan’s table changed momentarily. Essentially, the leading
Western Press, as Lee Smith writes, has become a tool of political operatives and foreign and domestic
intelligence agencies
 with an agenda—to take down
Mohammed bin Salman, and to replace him with members of the reactionary faction
that was at the helm prior to his surprising rise to power. Ironically, the
same people who blame the Saudi government for its alleged support for Saudi
members of Al Qaeda who perpetrated the 9/11 terrorist attacks are gunning to
remove the very person who pushed that faction from power. Is their agenda
modernization and, however gradual, liberalization and reform of Saudi Arabia,
or are they merely concerned with access to their old and well-known players?

The Old Guard, with its connections to the Western
intelligence agencies, was at the forefront of assorted leaks and fabrications
that plagued the early months of investigations into Khashoggi’s death and
subverted the assessment of the security situation. Turkish President Erdogan
immediately took advantage of the events to push his own narrative, claiming to
have a secret tape tying the Crown Prince to the murder; however, the tape
itself was never fully released and to this day, nothing concrete is known
about what actually happened. It was obvious that at the time that Turkey,
which was pushing for a pathway into Syria and which was enduring increasing
tensions with the United States, was using this opportunity to extort Saudi
Arabia and the United States, with bad optics if nothing else, in exchange for
significant leeway to pursue its own agenda.

Mohammed bin Salman’s corruption probe may have recovered
some money for the country and temporarily stopped some Islamist sympathizers
and funders from their destabilizing activities inside the country and plots
against the Crown Prince, but he, without a doubt, has further angered those
who already had grievances against him, whether as a result of competing claims
to power, different political priorities, old family grudges, or condescension
towards a young prince who surpassed many older pretenders with his quick
rise to prominence. Alwaleed bin Talal, the son of the Soviet-sympathizing “Red
Prince”, who is known for funding interfaith efforts in the West but also for
his financial schemes, was a backer and promoter of Jamal Khashoggi, as was
Turki al-Faisal, the former Chief of Intelligence, who has strong contacts with
Western intelligence agencies, especially the US, UK, and Germany. Turki
al-Faisal was not imprisoned during the probe, but Alwaleed was placed under
arrest. The famous former Ambassador Bandar bin Sultan, whose daughter is the
new Saudi Ambassador to the United States and whose son is the Ambassador to
the UK, is alleged to be under a travel ban. He, too, was a Washington insider,
who once was a press favorite and feed information to US intelligence agencies.

The backers of former Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef—who was
surrounded by Muslim Brotherhood supporters, such as the Governor of Mekka
(Turki al-Faisal’s half-brother, Khalid al-Faisal)—are using the grievances of
those implicated in the corruption probe who lost their money, freedom, and/or
dignity to undermine the Crown Prince, going so far as to align with Turkish,
Qatari, Muslim Brotherhood, and Western intelligence actors with an interest in
weakening, extorting, or displacing the Crown Prince with someone more pliable,
such as bin Nayef or another familiar candidate.

All these actors knew they could not act directly in a palace
coup against Mohammed bin Salman as he has managed to consolidate the support
of the National Guard and other security agencies, but the intelligence
apparatus within the country could—and given what happened with Khashoggi—very
likely was infiltrated by those looking to subvert his agenda—and who, via the
likes of Turki and Bandar—could have worked with their old Western contacts and
counterparts to pursue that common goal. None of that is spoken of in public in
Saudi Arabia, particularly to foreigners—and yet, without understanding the
extent of penetration of Western institutions by the enemies of the Crown
Prince, we cannot begin to understand the seriousness of the unfolding
situation. Essentially, we have portions of Western intelligence agencies
working against the security interests of the United States in having a stable,
liberalizing, economically prosperous Saudi Arabia with a leading role in the
Middle East. The supposedly independent and private media has been disinforming
the public, and taking part in political operations that impact the events both
in the United States and abroad. And now it appears that the business
community, or at least some individuals such as Jeff Bezos, can also be coopted
by these foreign and domestic interests, in pursuit of the same goals, even if
their own grievances and agendas are entirely personal. 

According to many Saudis social media giants inflict unequal
crackdowns, shadow bans and account suspensions, for those who praise the Crown
Prince while anti-Saudi bots and accounts are allowed to replicate and spread
propaganda. We are already seeing the impact of such alliances in the Silicon
Valley and the tech world, as much as on K Street and
in intelligence agencies. These institutions may not
need to be paid off by Qatar or Turkey, but they may have domestic political
agendas that are in line with the anti-Saudi forces, and although they may not
agree on long-term goals, they can certainly be more immediate allies.

Qatar and Muslim Brotherhood activists had a ball with their
own media in smearing the Crown Prince, who stood in the way of Qatar’s
sponsorship of terrorist groups and Islamists in the Middle East, Africa,
Europe, and even in the United States, and who expelled Muslim Brotherhood
ideologues from their positions in the mosques inside KSA. Iran lobbyists and
former Obama officials, who were threatened by Saudi Arabia’s opposition to the
nuclear deal and Iran’s assorted regional proxies, too, had a hand in promoting
the anti-Crown Prince narrative, which soon became an expertly organized and
coordinated media and political campaign, with the same type of language
describing Mohammed bin Salman appearing in multiple, otherwise divergent
outlets and channels.

It helped that the PR campaign concerning his role was
superficial and it took only a rumor to besmirch a pristine image. The Crown
Prince was described only in terms of his own image as a young dynamic
reformist leader, but his substantive accomplishments inside the Kingdom have
not been explored in depth, particularly in the period leading up to Khashoggi’s
demise. Whatever positive impression he made on the Western public
was easily destroyed by the very first scandal and rumors.

The media was a willing partner to all of these
interests in part and parcel because they, too, viewed the Crown Prince as
a disruptive force that threatened a comfortable status quo. Many of the media
were connect to the “Old Guard” and benefited both financially and in terms of
social status from those relationships. Mohammed bin Salman’s focus on internal
reforms and reduction of media related expenditures upstaged their access,
their influence, and supposed expertise on Saudi Arabia, which consisted
ultimately of the leaked crumbs of information from the country’s intelligence
officials. Ultimately, none of the smear attacks against Mohammed bin Salman
were about human rights, Saudi Arabia’s role, or anything other than bringing
down a political leader that stood in the way of power and influence.

Qatar’s economic and political interests in distancing US
from KSA and becoming the primary investor and counterpart played their part,
for sure. Muslim Brotherhood saw this as an opportunity to promote their own
ideology, particularly if their adversary was weakened and his credibility
suffered. The lack of interest in the human side of the Saudi story was
transparent and obvious: there was no real attempt by the Western scolds to
engage with the Saudis and provide opportunities for professional networking or
to volunteer their skills in a variety of productive ways, any of which could
have had practical utility towards making Vision 2030 easier to achieve. Many Westerners
did not necessarily share in all of Qatar’s, Turkey’s, the Old Guard’s, or
Obama’s political agendas, were nevertheless otherwise threatened by the
possibility of Saudi Arabia rising, developing its own industries, and assuming
independent leadership in the region.

For that reason, even the defense sector that benefited the
most from deals with Saudi Arabia, did not lean on Congress particularly hard
to ensure that the relationship endured, but just enough to get these deals to
pass. Universities, tech companies, and assorted would be cultural and business
counterparts that ultimately abandoned Saudi Arabia, may not have had a
specific anti-Saudi agenda to begin with, but ultimately yielded to the
increasingly radical left movement in US institutions and its partnership with
both Sunni and Shi’a Islamists.

At the end of the day, Mohammed bin Salman found himself
isolated not because he did anything worse than any other leader in the region,
or the world, but because he is not a convenient presence for anyone who does
not wish to see Saudi Arabia to become a powerful and modern country, or who is
opposed to the reforms—cultural, and religious, as much as political and
economics. Thus assorted radicals, Islamists, leftists, self-interested Iran
stooges, and corrupt media and institutional apparatchiks made a strange
alliance, all focused not on building bridges or overcoming any specific issues
or making either Saudi Arabia or the West better places, but rather on bringing
down the one person who stood in their way to full control of institutions,
narratives, minds, and self-enrichment. Islamists, in the past, had colluded
with the media and assorted social institutions and felt comfortable in that
alliance.

Mohammed bin Salman ruined the party—and what better way to
pay him back for these political operatives who imagined themselves to be
central to journalism and the gatekeepers of truth and morality than by
humiliating him where he should have been reaping success and destroying every
potential for anything positive? They took advantage of existing vulnerabilities
in Arab culture & media and in Western polarization and increasing lack of
critical thinking, and sold everyone a dark fairy tale that too many people
with too many interests were all too ready to swallow. Ultimately, the only way
to overcome these issues, to repair the Crown Prince’s reputation in the West,
and to expose this unholy alliance seeking to undermine him, is by working to
shift the perspective of the West towards KSA from viewing it as a “necessary
evil” or an inconvenient ally to understanding that there is a lot of good
will, and genuine interest, in deepening cooperation and collaboration.

Eventually, even the internally focused Crown Prince started
to wise up and take measures to protect his own reputation from these attacks.

What are
the Options for Shutting Down These Attacks and to Prevent Further Reputational
Damage?

As Dr. Najat Al Saeed explains, Mohammed bin Salman, in his
recent visit to the UAE, inaugurated a
joint KSA-UAE Committee to Combat Character Assassination. The idea is to counter
psychological/information warfare against the leaders of these countries by
various forces. However, so far, there is no evidence that the Committee has
been able to produce anything of value. The response from the Embassy to this latest
attack has been extremely mild and did not yet shut down this meritless
discussion. If anything, it invited further leaks by Bezos. For now, Bezos is
acting like he has nothing to fear. He has calculated the risk of engaging in
likely defamatory tactics, and having seen how paralyzed the Saudis get in the
wake of such extremely bad publicity, decided that he is better off taking his
chances, since the Kingdom will not wish to dignify his below-the-belt tactics
with a substantive strategic response.

If Mohammed bin Salman wishes to put an end to this
resource-draining, distracting, and needless damaging bullying smear campaign,
he should pursue an active, forward-looking strategy aimed at both preventing
and shutting down these disinformation campaigns at the root, before they take
on a life of their own. The strategy should include at least four major prongs:

Legal—it should be legally costly to engage in any sort of
deliberate defamation, especially where the allegations are likely to be proven
false. Bezos’ ill intent and the extent of reputational damage may be the
easiest elements to prove here; even if there is ultimately a settlement of
some sort, KSA should make it clear that there will be a legal pushback and
that Bezos himself will be embarrassed and lose credibility in the process.

PR—Saudis should not be waiting for the events to resolve
themselves. Left to their own devices, the Crown Prince’s enemies will continue
searching for new, additional angles of attack. Saudis should identify strong
spokespeople not afraid of engaging in deliberative and strategic
confrontations, and have them respond to these attacks, attend panel
discussions, make frequent appearances on TV, and be fairly assertive in
combating these allegations before the public. Such spokespeople should be well
prepared to keep calm, and to understand the Western mentality. At the same
time, they should not forget about the positive aspects of public outreach and
communication, and be able to engage with the public itself, to explain the
situation, to introduce the people to the country in a positive way that makes
it easy to examine its position, and to focus on relevant issues, not just what
feels like “fun” to the insiders (i.e. talk about Saudi accomplishments in
hosting Western-style events, which have no bearing on these attacks or most
Westerners’ interests).

Furthermore, the media has to be held accountable for failure to do due
diligence, but more importantly based on emerging evidence of collusion by
various outlets in support of foreign interests and with clear agendas to
convey false narratives and to inflict reputational damage on Mohammed bin
Salman as a person, and on the Kingdom. Recently, CNN was forced to settle with an American high school
student Nick Sandmann, after painting him in a false light and demonizing
him for his alleged role in the March of the Living. The standard of proof of
defamation by the media is substantially higher for a public figure, but
nevertheless not impossible to meet, at least to the extent of sending a strong
message that such campaigns are damaging to the public confidence in journalism
and destructive to the United States, as much as to Saudi Arabia.

The media has been able to use a few cases of disgruntled activists to play on
public sympathies and proclivity for bleeding heart Americans and anti-Saudi
bigots to favor anyone who appears to be acting in pursuit of “democracy”. But
if the events of the Arab Spring have taught anyone anything, it is to be
skeptical of the claims made by such “do-gooders” and to vet carefully both the
claimants and their agendas. Saudis can play an invaluable role as partners to
the United States in educating the public about fallacious arguments, deceptive
organizations, and doublespeak narratives. That means, however, that they can
no longer afford the luxury of isolating themselves and refusing to take an
active social role.

Cybersecurity—Saudis should invest into this sector, first by hiring the best in the business from the West, and second by having them train young Saudis (including the top echelons of the government) in secure communications and best practices. For the instant crisis, they should hire independent forensics experts to examine the accounts in question and not rely on Bezos to make their case for them. As far as Bezos is concerned, truth doesn’t matter. The Saudis are already a step behind, but finding out exactly what happened will help them immensely.

Information Warfare—the Saudis should understand that they
cannot ignore the crisis into dissolving as after over two years of the
tensions with Qatar, Turkey, Muslim Brotherhood, assorted infiltrators of the
Western intelligence agencies, and others, it is obvious that they are invested
in having the Saudis in general, and Mohammed bin Salman specifically, fail.
They should, therefore, invest into media mechanisms that could win public
hearts and minds, as well as identify the vulnerabilities of their enemies’ and
hit at them.

For instance, Amazon’s poor information security is an opportunity for some
great billboards in Times Square outlining how Bezos’ poor practices endanger
millions of users, and also to develop Saudi or Saudi & Western joint
ventures, alternatives to Amazon that are better, more responsive to individual
needs, and are more secure. Amazon is a great service, but is not beyond
competition and is certainly not too big to fail if its founder is more invested
in fighting wars on behalf of foreign regimes than in ensuring cyber security
for his customers.

Most importantly, the Saudis should remind the public that the burden is on the
accuser—in this case, Jeff Bezos—to prove his claims. Allegations should not be
given the weight of evidence to be used as weapons to discredit, smear, and
destroy reputations even of individuals in positions of wealth and power, such
as Mohammed bin Salman.  His position in life does not nullify his basic
human right to be treated with justice and not to have his life destroyed by
rumors, hearsay, and malicious campaigns.





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