Saudi support for Elon Musk is growing in Washington

The US government is concerned that a company controlled by a member of the Saudi royal family is among the main shareholders of Twitter after the acquisition of the company by businessman Elon Musk.

Posted at 6:00 am

Marc Thibodeau

Marc Thibodeau
The Press

President Joe Biden’s administration fears the situation will give Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman’s regime access to confidential information to help identify and prosecute dissidents.

Elected officials are also wondering whether it will now be easier for Riyadh to conduct propaganda campaigns or censor information deemed contrary to its interests on the social network, in full chaos.

We should be alarmed that the Saudis, who clearly want to stifle political speech and influence American political life, are now the second largest shareholder. [de Twitter].

Chris Murphy, Democratic Senator

The Connecticut lawmaker said the Committee for Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS), which brings together a dozen government agencies, must review the sale of Twitter to determine whether it represents a national security risk.

Another Democratic senator, Ron Wyden, said it was vital for the government to protect American data from “killable foreign governments”, citing the CIA’s alleged role in Mohammad bin Mohammed’s organization. Salman. of the brutal murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018.

According to Washington postThe Treasury Department reached out to Twitter over the past few days to get more details about the new corporate structure and the existence of confidentiality agreements linking Mr. Musk to foreign investors who backed the deal.

The most important of these investors is Saudi Prince Al-Walid bin Talal, who a few days ago congratulated himself on becoming Twitter’s “second shareholder” by transferring an existing stake worth two billion dollars owned by Kingdom Holding in the new private company.

Change of structure

According to Thomas Juneau, a specialist in the Middle East attached to the University of Ottawa, there is nothing unreasonable for the United States to be alarmed by the situation, even if the Saudi capital is already there through what has been spent on the company.

“The Saudi presence has not changed, but Twitter has changed. Will the new structure increase the risk of slippage? “asked the analyst, who was particularly worried to see that Elon Musk wanted to significantly reduce the staff .

Will the Saudis have formal or informal access to more sensitive information about Twitter users? If there is less rigidity in the structure, the controls are likely to be less effective and this opens the door to Riyadh’s covert operations.

Thomas Juneau, Middle East specialist attached to the University of Ottawa

A former Twitter employee with US and Lebanese citizenship was found guilty in August in the United States of providing information on anonymous accounts of dissidents to a close adviser to Mohammed bin Salman. Another former employee targeted for similar practices fled to Saudi Arabia with his entire family in 2015 and accepted a position at a foundation linked to the crown prince.

Al-Walid bin Talal was less powerful than before

The existing ties between Al-Walid bin Talal and Riyadh are likely to fuel American concerns, Mr. Juneau said.

The wealthy Saudi national had long lived in luxury, with increasing investments and trips abroad, before he was targeted five years ago by the Saudi regime as part of an anti-corruption purge that stripped him of large of his wealth.

“He has less leeway compared to Mohammed bin Salman than he did in the past,” underlines the academic.

Sarah Bauerle Danzman, an associate professor at Indiana University who is familiar with how CFIUS works, says it can look at deals that target strategically important companies even if the foreign investor is not a controlling shareholder.

President Biden emphasized in a recent executive order that the committee should pay attention to acquisitions that could affect the protection of personal data of the American population.

Although blocking the sale of Twitter is theoretically possible, committee members are more likely to recommend limited measures to ensure that Saudi investors do not gain inappropriate access to data, if necessary. , said Ms.I Bauerle Danzmann.

Smaller foreign investments from Qatar and a company of Chinese origin may also be scrutinized in the process.

These questions about the impact of the sale of Twitter on national security come at a time when relations between the United States and Saudi Arabia are particularly strained.

The American president, who vowed to make Mohammed bin Salman an “outcast” over the Khashoggi affair, went back on his promise and met with him last summer in the vain hope of convincing him to boost the country’s oil production and bring down the price of fuel.

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