Following last month’s development of American-based Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s disappearance, the CIA has concluded that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman ordered the assassination in Istanbul, contrary to what the Saudi government has claimed, which originally stated they were not involved in the incident. The most definitive report to come out about the mysterious occurrence may complicate President Donald Trump’s efforts in maintaining a good relationship with a close U.S. ally.
The Sydney Morning Herald reported that the CIA’s conclusions remarked on 15 Saudi agents that flew to Istanbul on government aircraft in October before they met to kill Khashoggi inside the Saudi consulate. The reporter was there to retrieve documentation in order to fulfill his planned marriage to a Turkish woman. Also, Khashoggi resided in Virginia and was a contributor to The Washington Post.
Initial reports after the October 2 assassination include claims that Khashoggi was allegedly “cut into pieces” then moved out of the consulate, with some saying it was recorded to prove the mission had been completed. CIA Director Gina Haspel reportedly listened to an audio recording from a “listening device” the Turkish government had inside the consulate, detailing that Khashoggi was killed within moments of entering, leading to the conclusion of the case. The CIA, however, has been unable to locate the journalist’s remains.
U.S. intelligence officials also obtained communications and discovered, days before Khashoggi’s death, his life was in danger, possibly being lured back to Riyadh to his death. Regardless, the journalist was never a person of interest, and since he was living in Virginia, it shielded him from intelligence gathering, the report stated.
Considering the assassination was a government-sponsored undertaking, Crown Prince Salman, the country’s de facto leader, was named by the CIA as one with a top role in Khashoggi’s killing.
Although this may put a slight damper on the crown prince, he is unlikely to lose his status within the Saudi royal family.
“The CIA sees Mohammed as a ‘good technocrat,’ one U.S. official said, but volatile and arrogant, someone who ‘goes from zero to 60, doesn’t seem to understand that there are some things you can’t do.”
Khashoggi was a prominent critic of the royal family, which posed a potential foreign policy crisis for Crown Prince bin Salman. Many believe it is a retribution killing used to dissuade others in the country from speaking ill of the Saudi government and its dealings.
One theory behind the journalist killing is that Mohammed bin Salman believed Khashoggi was, in fact, an ally of the Muslim Brotherhood. On the domestic sociopolitical front in Saudi Arabia, the crown prince has been working to craft a more religiously-moderate country for the future, battling against Wahhabism, the official state-sponsored religious doctrine for the nation’s leadership. Highly critical of Iran’s 1979 revolution and its attempts to spread sharia law across the Middle East, bin Salman is trying to attract outside investors and make Saudi Arabia a better country to do business with and visit to transform its economy.
Nevertheless, the worldwide coverage of the Khashoggi killing will undoubtedly negatively affect such plans.
This week, the Treasury Department sanctioned 17 individuals that are said to have been involved in Khashoggi’s death, including some key Saudi government officials. Nevertheless, President Trump explains that he would like the crown prince to remain in power because of the geopolitical pressure Saudi Arabia places on neighboring Iran.