The purpose of this piece is to share the results and preliminary analysis of SOFREP’s online investigation into the reportedly unlawful imprisonment and continued detention of the crown prince’s cousin, Princess Basmah bint Saud bin Abdulaziz al-Saud. A general overview of her plight and why it matters was recently published here. We recommend reading the linked article first before reading this one.

As SOFREP previously reported regarding Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman’s (MbS) phone hack of Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, there is significant cause for concern over MbS’ dastardly ascension to power and his brutal wielding of it. Ostensibly a friend of the West, the crown prince is responsible for torturing and dismembering a U.S. resident; he continues to lead a military coalition contributing to war-induced famine in Yemen; and he duplicitously spends his ill-gotten billions on lavish self-indulgence abroad — all while preaching fiscal austerity at home.

This background is what led SOFREP to investigate the princess’ circumstances and story. The course of this investigation yielded useful information that provides both context and tactical “ground truth” of the princess’ circumstances. This information allows us to continue our analysis, make inferences, and ultimately hold MbS accountable by educating the public on the unethical and illegal actions he condones, or directs, in his role as the de facto ruler of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

The value of online investigations — using Open Source Intelligence (OSINT) and publicly available information (PAI) — cannot be understated. Online investigations firm Bellingcat previously published a very revealing piece on MbS’ right-hand man and advisor Saud al-Qahtani. The piece demonstrates the utility of using such PAI to illuminate what malign actors are doing. Our hope is to offer similar value in the following content by starting with what we know of the princess and her circumstances.

Our start point: the tweet heard round the world

Our investigation began with the verified Twitter account attributed to Princess Basmah, the account used to publicly post her plea for help notifying the world of her unlawful imprisonment in Ha’ir Prison. Given that the princess and her daughter are detained, they presumably do not have unfettered internet access. During their imprisonment, they reportedly have been communicating with family members and close associates sporadically by monitored telephone. It is possible that in-person visits are allowed but we have not yet observed any mention of them. The princess’ methods of communication are important because they increase the difficulty of attributing access to and control over the social media accounts used to post her plea.

Screenshot of Princess Basmah’s Twitter account.

Of note, the last tweet from the princess’ account was several months after she was detained, implying that a staff member or close associate obtained access to the account. Both the princess and her daughter’s Twitter accounts were much more active up until the day of their arrest on 28 February 2019, at which point they went eerily quiet.

Certainly, the absence of social media activity from a public figure and avid Twitter user such as the princess was not unnoticed. It is possible a staff or regime member attempted to provide the illusion of normalcy; however, this cannot be inferred from PAI alone. Most importantly, these observations raise several questions regarding who has access to the account, under whose direction they were using it, and why news of the princess’ imprisonment was not made public until mid-April 2020.

After her arrest, it isn’t clear who has been controlling her accounts

Also associated with Princess Basmah’s Twitter account is her official website. The princess was an avid blogger and used several platforms to broadcast her messages of equality, women’s rights, and general reform. In addition to her Twitter, the princess used her personal website, a blog, and a Saudi opinions website to share her messages. Again, quite eerily, the princess’ last blog post was published the day of her birthday, 1 March, several hours after she was taken away by eight armed men the night before.