Ali Alzabara, a Saudi citizen, and Ahmad Abouamo, a U.S. citizen, used their access to the social media giant to collect sensitive and non-public information about dissidents of the Saudi regime, according to the Justice Department in a criminal complaint.  The case, unsealed in federal court in San Francisco, underscores allegations that the Saudi government is trying to control anti-regime votes abroad. He also recalls a move reportedly aimed at the country's controversial leader in arming online platforms against critics.
The allegations are sure to renew control over the ability of technology companies to protect the privacy of their users.
"The criminal complaint has not been sealed. Today, Saudi agents say they have mined Twitter's internal systems for personal information about known Saudi critics and thousands of other Twitter users," US Attorney David Anderson said in a statement. "US law protects US companies from such illegal invasion. We will not allow US companies or American technology to become tools for foreign repression in violation of US law."
A third man, Ahmed Almutairi, also from Saudi Arabia, allegedly acted as a mediator between the two employees of Twitter and the Saudi government, which according to the complaint awards men with hundreds of thousands of dollars and, for one man, a luxury Hublo watch.
All three men are accused of acting as illegal agents of a foreign government. Abuamo, the only currently arrested in the United States after his arrest in Seattle on Tuesday, is also accused of trying to impede the FBI's investigation by providing agents with a false invoice.
Alzabara and Almutairi are believed to be in Saudi Arabia and federal arrest warrants have been issued, the Ministry of Justice said. Abuamo made his initial appearance in federal court in Seattle on Wednesday afternoon. It is unclear who Abouammo represents and CNN was unable to find Alzabarah and Almutairi for comment.
In a statement, Twitter stated that it "restricted access to sensitive profile information to a limited group of trained and verified employees".
"We understand the incredible risks that many people face using Twitter to share their perspectives on the world and hold those responsible for power. We have the tools to protect their privacy and their ability to do their vital work. "We are committed to defending those who use our service to advocate for equality, individual freedoms and human rights," Twitter said.
CNN reached out to the Saudi Embassy in Washington, DC for comment. [1
Both Twitter employees conduct bankruptcy surveys in 2015 and left the company later that year.
According to the complaint, Alzabara, a web engineer for the company, gained access to the data of over 6,000 users on Twitter. Because of his role at Alzabara, he would be able to access the IP addresses of target users, as well as their email addresses, phone numbers and a log of all their activities on the platform at any time, the Justice Ministry said.
Alzabara describes the level of detail he was able to bring to a single user in a draft email, the text of which was included in the complaint.
"This is a professional. He is a Saudi who uses encryption … We tracked it down and found that 12 days ago it entered without IP encryption once [redacted] at 18:40 UTe on May 25, 2015. This one does not use a mobile phone at all, only a browser. It is online law using the format of the Firefox [sic] window machine, "Alzabarah wrote in the complaint.
Saudi Arabian government's alleged attempts to crush disagreement erupted on the world stage last year with the assassination of famed Washington critic and colonist Post Jamal Hashogi, The CIA later concluded that bin Salman had personally ordered the murder.
The Saudi government has repeatedly denied that the Crown Prince was involved in the killing.
According to the complaint, an unnamed Saudi citizen who assisted married and directs Alzabara and Abuamo managed the private office of a Saudi royal family as well as a royal-owned charity, the royal was not identified in court documents outside of "Article 1 of the Royal Family", but the Washington Post first reported on Twitter allegations he said he was bin Salman, citing a person familiar with the case.