US briefing: Bezos hacked by Saudis, impeachment trial and coronavirus

Tim Walker

Good morning, I’m Tim Walker with today’s essential stories.

UN to address Guardian revelations over Saudis’ Bezos ‘hack’

UN investigators are expected to release a statement about the alleged 2018 hacking of Amazon boss Jeff Bezos’s phone by the Saudis, details of which were revealed by the Guardian. A forensic analysis implicated a WhatsApp account purportedly owned by the Saudi crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, which sent a large video file to Bezos in May 2018. It is “highly probable”, investigators found, that the file contained malware. Within hours, large amounts of data were exfiltrated from Bezos’ phone.

  • Dinner meeting. Prince Mohammed and Bezos, the world’s richest man, had both attended a dinner in LA a few weeks before the hack, hosted by the film producer Brian Grazer. Months later, Prince Mohammed was implicated in the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, a columnist for the Washington Post, which is owned by Bezos.

Democrats decry Republican ‘cover-up’ on day one of Trump trial

As the first day of Donald Trump’s impeachment trial stretched towards midnight, Adam Schiff, the lead Democratic prosecutor, voiced his frustration over Republican tactics. “There is a reason why we are still here at five minutes till midnight,” he said, “and that’s because they don’t want the American people to see what’s going on here.” In votes that – to Democrats’ disappointment – fell squarely on party lines, the Senate voted down proposals to subpoena testimony from four potential witnesses.

Psychologist admits ‘abusive drift’ in terror suspects’ treatment

One of the two CIA contract psychologists who created the so-called “enhanced interrogation techniques” used by the agency on terror suspects has told a military tribunal he was unable to prevent “abusive drift” by an unnamed senior agency official. Giving evidence in a pre-trial hearing of the 9/11 case, James Mitchell described the 2002 decision to use waterboarding and other techniques that the US later admitted constituted torture, as Julian Borger reports from Guantanamo Bay.

  • Legal line. “The CIA was never interested in prosecution,” Mitchell said, watched by the five defendants including the self-proclaimed 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. “They were going to go right up to the line of what was legal, put their toes on it, and lean forward.”

China tries to contain coronavirus as first US case is reported

Masked pedestrians in downtown Wuhan, China, the city where the outbreak originated.
Masked pedestrians in downtown Wuhan, China, the city where the outbreak originated. Photograph: Dake Kang/AP

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has announced the first known US case of the coronavirus strain that has now killed nine people in China. A man in his 30s, who recently returned from a trip to central China, was diagnosed in Seattle and is said to be in good condition at a hospital in Everett, Washington. That makes the US the fifth country to report cases of the illness, which was first identified in the Chinese city of Wuhan before spreading to Beijing, Shanghai and beyond.

Cheat sheet

  • Harvey Weinstein will at last go on trial in New York on Wednesday for the alleged rape and sexual assault of six women, more than two years since the first public accusations against him sparked the beginning of the #MeToo movement.

  • A report by Human Rights Watch has found that guerrilla groups have supplanted state authorities on either side of the lawless border between Venezuela and Colombia, leaving citizens vulnerable to murder, kidnappings, child recruitment and rape.

  • Press freedom activists are up in arms after the US journalist Glenn Greenwald was charged with cybercrimes in Brazil, for allegedly helping hackers who leaked cellphone messages between leading figures in a major corruption scandal.

  • The National Weather Service on Tuesday warned Floridians that overnight temperatures would be so low in the Sunshine State that they ought to beware of frozen iguanas falling from the trees.


Planned Parenthood chief feels ‘incredibly good’ about 2020

Planned Parenthood has pledged to spend $45m on the 2020 election, its largest ever commitment to electoral work. The organisation’s president, Alexis McGill Johnson, tells Jessica Glenza how she plans to “undo all of the damage” of abortion bans in the Trump era.

Dancer hit by #MeToo scandal stages a Broadway comeback

Amar Ramasar was caught up in a major #MeToo scandal in 2018, when he and his former New York City Ballet colleague Chase Finlay were revealed to have exchanged explicit photographs of female dancers. Alexandra Villareal asks whether Ramasar ought to be back on stage already, in the Broadway revival of West Side Story.

American Dirt: is Oprah’s latest book club pick ‘problematic’?

American Dirt, the divisive new novel by Jeanine Cummins, tells the story of a Mexican mother and son’s perilous journey to the US border after their family is murdered by a cartel. It has earned a coveted place in Oprah’s book club, but critics say it is exploitative and patronising. André Wheeler reports.

The strange, surprising world of faecal transplants

Injecting patients with other people’s excrement has proven to be a highly effective treatment for antibiotic-resistant infections. Rose George asks whether this unlikely sounding approach could also hold the key to curing dementia, anorexia and obesity.


Peter Daou worked on both of Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaigns. He says her attack on “online Bernie bros” amplifies a destructive myth about Sanders supporters, who in fact comprise a diverse coalition, committed to upholding core progressive values.

It is long past time for a progressive overhaul of the entire party, and it would better for our country and our future if Democratic leaders encouraged the Sanders movement rather than try to erase it.


The 19-year-old New Orleans rookie Zion Williamson is expected to make his long-awaited NBA debut for the Pelicans on Wednesday. He may be the most promising professional basketball prospect since LeBron James, writes Gabriel Baumgaertner.

Arsenal’s new manager, Mikel Arteta, hailed the “spirit, fight and leadership” of his team after they secured a 2-2 Premier League draw at Chelsea on Tuesday, despite losing David Luiz to an early red card.

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