NSA signed a contract to train Saudi hackers | In order to assist the Saudi ruler in preparing the next generation of Saudi hackers to take on the kingdom’s adversaries, former National Security Agency director Keith Alexander struck a deal with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and the cyber institute run by one of his closest advisers, Saud al-Qahtani, in the early months of 2018.
Although the deal between Alexander’s IronNet and the cyber school was widely reported at the time in Saudi media and intelligence industry publications, it received no scrutiny for its connection to Qahtani after the brutal murder of Jamal Khashoggi, which he may have planned to carry out only a few months later.
NSA signed a contract to train Saudi hackers At a signing ceremony in Washington, D.C., Alexander formally signed the agreement with the Prince Mohammed bin Salman College of Cyber Security, Artificial Intelligence, and Advanced Technologies, a college established to educate Saudi cyber intelligence officers.
The strategic agreement, according to Qahtani’s representative during the signing, “would assure [Saudi Arabia is] benefiting from the experience of an advisory team of senior officers who had held prominent posts in the Cyber Command of the US Department of Defense.”.
Months before Jamal Khashoggi’s murder
In order to conduct offensive cyber operations, the Saudi Federation of Cybersecurity, Programming, and Drones, an affiliate of the institution at the time under Qahtani’s direction, would collaborate closely with Alexander’s for-profit cyber security company IronNet.
NSA signed a contract to train Saudi hackers The Saudi Arabian partnership with IronNet was one of several steps the country took to improve its cyber capabilities, which also included a campaign against the country’s foreign opponents. Khashoggi, a prominent opponent of Salman at the time and a contributor for the Washington Post, received a number of threatening messages, one of which was sent by Qahtani and advised him to be quiet.
Khashoggi was then enticed to the Saudi Embassy in Istanbul after his family and close friends noticed listening spyware electronically inserted on their iPhones.
NSA signed a contract to train Saudi hackers A squad sent by Qahtani imprisoned and tortured the Saudi government critic there. According to sources, Qahtani used Skype to purportedly urge his staff to “bring me the skull of the dog” while insulting Khashoggi. After that, Khashoggi was cut apart with a bone saw.
The arrangement between IronNet and the accused mastermind behind the murder of Jamal Khashoggi is not disclosed on the IronNet website, and it is unknown whether or to what degree the commercial relationship still exists. Several calls for response from IronNet and Saudi government officials went unanswered. Former IronNet workers claim that even within the company, there has been a great deal of secrecy around the company’s ties with Saudi Arabia.
NSA signed a contract to train Saudi hackers Before the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, it was widely known that Qahtani served as bin Salman’s enforcer. This has closely accompanied the young prince’s ascent to the position of Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler.
In 2017, Qahtani was a key player in the kidnapping and interrogation of hundreds of Saudi elites, who were imprisoned at the Ritz-Carlton in Riyadh and coerced into giving Salman money and their allegiance. Apparently, Qahtani personally oversaw the interrogation process.
Later that year, he reportedly took part in Saad al-questioning, Hariri’s during which the former Lebanese prime minister was battered and forced to quit. The brother of Saudi campaigner for women’s rights Loujain al-Hathloul claims that the next year, Qahtani again actively took part in the torturing of al-Hathloul, mocking her and threatening to have her raped.
NSA signed a contract to train Saudi hackers Qahtani has made it his personal mission to gather and develop Saudi cyberwarfare equipment on behalf of the state. He has spent more than ten years personally negotiating the development of computer and phone infiltration technologies, in addition to the agreement with IronNet and other top-tier American cyber professionals.
When Qahtani was elected president of the Electronic Security and Software Alliance committee in October 2017, which was later renamed the Saudi Federation for Cybersecurity, Programming, and Drones, he assumed control of the official state-backed initiatives to increase Saudi Arabia’s cyber offensive capabilities.