The Washington Post has reported that the United States Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) believes that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) ordered members of the Saudi intelligence agency to murder Post writer Jamal Khashoggi. They say that the killing of Khashoggi was planned in advance and took place in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul last month.
The CIA’s conclusion contradicts the statements from the government of Saudi Arabia which claimed that MBS was not involved in the killing, according to the Post.
High-ranking U.S. officials have said they have a great deal of confidence in the CIA’s assessment of the factual circumstances surrounding the Khashoggi assassination. This is the first time that MBS has been tied directly to the Saudi journalist’s murder.
On Thursday we reported that Saudi Arabia had detained 21 suspects in the Khashoggi case, eleven had been charged with crimes, and five had been charged with murder. We also reported that the government of Saudi Arabia had announced they would seek the death penalty for the five members of the “hit team” charged with murder.
This new assessment from the CIA will change the political dynamic at home and make the Trump administration’s efforts to maintain close ties with Saudi Arabia much more difficult.
The CIA examined many different sources of intelligence information before reaching its conclusions, according to the Post, including a recording of the murder.
One very incriminating fact is that the prince’s brother Khalid bin Salman, the Saudi ambassador to the United States, placed a phone call to Khashoggi before he went to Istanbul. It was Khalid who told the Post contributing editor that that he should go to the Saudi consulate in Istanbul to retrieve the documents. In addition, Khalid told Khashoggi that it would be safe to go to the consulate and he would not be harmed.
After luring Khashoggi into the trap, and after sending a “hit team” from Saudi Arabia to Istanbul, Khashoggi was killed and his body was dismembered and disposed of.
The CIA sources said that they have confirmed that Khalid made the call to Khashoggi after being directed to do so by his brother, the prince.
The call was intercepted by U.S. intelligence gathering assets, allowing the CIA to reach its conclusions.
A spokeswoman for the Saudi Embassy in Washington, Fatimah Baeshen, told the Post that the ambassador and Khashoggi never discussed “anything related to going to Turkey.” She also asserted that the claims in the CIA’s “purported assessment are false. We have and continue to hear various theories without seeing the primary basis for these speculations.”
The CIA also knows that the crown prince is the de facto ruler of the Saudi Kingdom, and is in charge of the government on a day-to-day basis. According to the CIA MBS is very much a micromanager and keeps a close eye on even the smallest matters affecting the kingdom. “The accepted position is that there is no way this happened without him being aware or involved,” said a U.S. official familiar with the CIA’s conclusions.
According to the CIA analysts the prince is a “good technocrat,” but is also volatile and arrogant. One official said he is “someone who goes from zero to 60, doesn’t seem to understand that there are some things as ruler that you can’t do.”
The Post said that CIA analysts believe MBS has a “firm grip on power” and won’t lose his status as heir to the throne because of the Khashoggi scandal. “The general agreement is that he is likely to survive,” a government official said, adding that the crown prince’s role as the future Saudi king is “taken for granted.”