Analysis & Opinions - Foreign Policy

Who's More Powerful, Jeff Bezos or Mohammed bin Salman? Neither.

| Jan. 27, 2020

The relationship between the two men proves that, even at a time of rapid technological and economic change, you can't buy real power.

The alleged Saudi hack of the Amazon founder, Washington Post owner, and world's richest person Jeff Bezos offers plenty of insight into the nature of power in an era of headlong technological change. Above all, it confirms the insight that the more things change, the more they stay the same.

For those of you who have been on a desert island for the past couple of years, the whole story started back in 2019, when the National Enquirer released emails and photos exposing Bezos's affair with a Los Angeles television personality. Bezos hinted that Saudi Arabia might have been involved, and he hired a cybersecurity firm to investigate. Last week, the firm released a report tracing the hack to malicious code contained in a WhatsApp message he had received from Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, although it remains unclear if this is how the Enquirer obtained the embarrassing information.

If the Saudi government could hack the phone of someone who fully grasps the impact of technology and who has nearly limitless resources with which to protect himself, how can ordinary folks possibly protect themselves from similar intrusions? Only by remaining below the radar and off the grid, and even that approach may not be enough.

Given the heady mix of wealth, sex, celebrity, and politics involved, it's hardly surprising this one incident has garnered so much attention. But does this event foretell a new global hierarchy, where hackers rule the world and traditional sources of power are increasingly irrelevant? I doubt it....

For more information on this publication: Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation:

Walt, Stephen M."Who's More Powerful, Jeff Bezos or Mohammed bin Salman? Neither." Foreign Policy, January 27, 2020.

The Author

Stephen Walt