Murphy urges security review of Saudi stake in Twitter
Senator warns of possible foreign influence on a government communications tool
Sen. Christopher S. Murphy said he wants a national security review of a Saudi company’s stake in Twitter following billionaire Elon Musk’s acquisition of the social media website.
Murphy, D-Conn., who leads a Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee, requested that the Committee on Foreign Investment in the U.S. investigate the implications of the Saudi company’s investment in Twitter. Led by the Treasury secretary, CFIUS is an interagency group that reviews certain foreign investments for national security.
Kingdom Holding Company, where Saudi Prince Alwaleed bin Talal is chairman, last week said it would roll over its ownership of Twitter shares worth about $1.89 billion, making it the company’s second-largest shareholder. Such a stake would be more than 4 percent of Twitter’s market capitalization of $41.1 billion before trading was suspended last week. Musk is delisting the stock next week.
Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund, which is led by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, owns 16.9 percent of Kingdom Holding.
“We should be concerned that the Saudis, who have a clear interest in repressing political speech and impacting U.S. politics, are now the second-largest owner of a major social media platform,” Murphy tweeted Monday.
“The Saudis could have cashed out, like most everyone else. That would have been the financially sound thing to do,” he tweeted. “Instead, they allied with Musk in his takeover bid. There's a clear political motivation to their decision, and CFIUS should get to the bottom of it.”
Murphy is chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Near East, South Asia, Central Asia and Counterterrorism Subcommittee. In a letter to Treasury Secretary Janet L. Yellen on Monday, Murphy noted that federal and state officials use Twitter to communicate to the public.
"The possibility that a foreign power may now be able to influence the ability of the White House or a Governor to communicate with constituents must be thoroughly examined," he wrote.
A Treasury Department spokesperson said the committee doesn’t comment on possible cases.
The chairs and ranking members on the Senate Banking and Foreign Relations and House Financial Services and Foreign Affairs committees didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
Murphy’s request for CFIUS review comes after the relationship between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia has soured. OPEC+ last month said it will cut oil production, likely increasing gasoline prices despite the Biden administration’s efforts to prevent such a cut.
Murphy said after the OPEC move that the U.S. should freeze new military aid to Saudi Arabia and redirect it to Ukraine.
This is not the first time Saudi Arabia’s role in Twitter has raised concern. Earlier this year, a former Twitter employee was convicted of spying for Saudi Arabia by obtaining private information about dissidents who use the social media site.
The White House last week denied a report from Bloomberg News that officials were discussing launching national security reviews into some of Musk’s businesses after the businessman said his company couldn’t “indefinitely” fund internet service in Ukraine. Musk later said he would continue to fund the service.
Senate Banking ranking member Patrick J. Toomey, R-Pa., said then he disagreed with the rationale for such investigations.
“The CFIUS process is meant to protect national security — not to punish U.S. citizens who may disagree with the administration, however misguided that disagreement might be,” Toomey tweeted.
Foreign ownership of a popular website is not a new issue for CFIUS. The committee has been negotiating with TikTok over concerns that the Chinese-owned social media is a national security risk, according to The New York Times.