Avi Asher-Schapiro asks the question at Lawfare: Did the Trump administration warn Jamal Khashoggi.
Khashoggi was the Saudi insider and Washington Post columnist who disappeared after visiting the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in October 2018. Khashoggi had been critical of Saudi Arab’s new and reckless Crown Prince Mohammed bin-Salman (MBS).
The CIA, led by director Gina Haspel (who had served in Turkey) investigated and concluded, much to President Trump’s displeasure, that MBS was responsible.
The Khashoggi affair is still reverberating in Washington, where MBS is both a pariah and a pal to the president’s son-in-law Jared Trump. The crown prince wants the world to move on, but that’s not happening.
If U.S. intelligence had knowledge that MBS had targeted Khashoggi, Asher-Schapiro notes, it had a legal obligation to warn him. (Asher-Schapiro is a research associate and tech reporter at the Committee to Protect Journalists.)
In January, we joined a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit that forced the government to release documents outlining the “Duty to Warn” process, which requires U.S. intelligence officers to warn targets of “an impending threat of intentional killing, serious bodily injury, or kidnapping,” according to National Security Agency documents obtained in the suit. If an intelligence officer declines to warn a threatened subject, he or she must provide written justification for that decision, according to those documents.
The Trump administration will not say whether they followed these procedures to inform Khashoggi of the threat to his life, despite reporting indicating that U.S. intelligence agencies had prior knowledge of the threat posed to him by the Saudi government.
I don’t assume U.S. officials acquiesced in Khashoggi’s elimination but it’s not impossible either. Transparency is needed.
“The NSO Group’s Pegasus technology has been used by governments to track civil society, journalists, political dissidents, and others across the world,” the UN’s Kaye said in the letter, which specifically noted the allegations that Pegasus was used to target Khashoggi. “How will NSO Group confirm that its clients are complying with human rights law?” The Washington Post’s decision to hire Kayyem, who will “help make sense of how the U.S. approaches its most challenging national security issues,” is deeply weird, considering that Washington Post editors have previously said that Saudi surveillance has gotten people killed.
“People are losing their lives over [surveillance] … that’s how you try to go after ideas—it’s through surveillance,” Karen Attiah, Khashoggi’s editor at The Washington Posttold the Committee to Protect Journalists.
As the first anniversary of the disappearance of journalist Jamal Khashoggi approaches, the Saudi intelligence officers implicated in his violent death have yet to come trial. Saudi crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) told CBS’s “60 Minutes” he “takes responsibility” for Khashoggi’s murder but denies authorizing it.
There is no dispute that officers of Saudi’s General Intelligence Presidency (GIP) were involved in the killing and dismembering of Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Turkey last October. After global condemnation of the killing Saudi Arabia’s King Salman ordered the formation of a ministerial committee, headed by MBS, to restructure the GIP.
One of the chief suspects is Ahmed al-Asiri, deputy chief of the intelligence service.
Al Jazeera summarizes what is known about the Saudi hit team.
Most of them worked in the Saudi military, security or intelligence services, including at the royal court. They included a forensic expert, Salah al-Tubaigy, who worked at the Saudi interior ministry’s criminal evidence department. He is believed to be the one who dismembered Khashoggi’s body.
The team also included Maher Abdelaziz Mutreb, a senior intelligence officer and MBS’s bodyguard.
Following the killing, Moustafa al-Madani, another intelligence officer at the Royal Palace, donned Khashoggi’s clothes and left through the back door of the consulate in an attempt to make it look like the journalist had walked out of the building.
Saudi authorities have also blamed two prominent officials – who were not part of the group that flew out to Istanbul – for the “rogue operation”. The men are Saud al-Qahtani, royal adviser and MBS’s right-hand man, and General Ahmed al-Asiri, Saudi Arabia’s deputy intelligence chief.
Saudi authorities charged 11 unnamed suspects over Khashoggi’s murder, including five who could face the death penalty on charges of “ordering and committing the crime”.
The conversations recorded prior to and during the Oct. 2, 2018 murder of the dissident journalist at the kingdom’s Istanbul consulate were obtained by Turkey’s National Intelligence Organization (MIT) right after the gruesome incident, and were shared with related Turkish authorities carrying out an investigation into the incident, as well as with international officials and institutions.
One of the recordings of the conversations between Maher Abdulaziz Mutreb, the number two man of the hit squad, and Dr Dr. Salah Muhammed Al-Tubaigy, the head of Forensic Evidence at the Saudi General Security Department
Mutreb: Is it possible to put the body in a bag?
Al-Tubaigy: No. Too heavy, very tall too. Actually, I’ve always worked on cadavers. I know how to cut very well. I have never worked on a warm body though, but I’ll also manage that easily. I normally put on my earphones and listen to music when I cut cadavers. In the meantime, I sip on my coffee and smoke. After I dismember it, you will wrap the parts into plastic bags, put them in suitcases and take them out (of the building).
Al-Tubaigy is also heard saying: “My superior at the Forensic Evidence does not know what I’m doing. There is no one to protect me,” in efforts to ask for protection in the vertical hierarchy going right up to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman for the responsibility of dismembering Khashoggi’s body.
The founder of modern-day Turkey, Mustafa Kamal Ataturk, created the country’s intelligence service in 1925. In 1985, the agency was renamed National Intelligence Office, Millî İstihbarat Teşkilatı (MİT) and placed under the jurisdiction of the Prime Minister’s office.
Turkey’s struggle with the Kurdish minority within its borders often defines its allies or foes in the international intelligence community. MIT has maintained a strong intelligence relationship with the American CIA since the 1950s. They also collaborate with a variety of countries such as Russia, Azerbaijan, and Singapore, but their relations with many European countries are difficult. This is partially due to their refusal to recognize the Kurdistan Workers’ Party as a terrorist organization
Another MIT target is Fethullah Gulen, the leader of a clandestine political movement, who lives in the United States. Turkish President Erdogan blamed Gulen and his supporters for a failed coup in July 2016. The coup was considered as intelligence failure. President Recep Erdogan told Al Jazeera that he learned of the coup, not from MIT but his brother- in -law.
The head of MIT is Hakan Fidan whom Erdogan calls “Turkey’s Secret Keeper.” Fidan paid a “very unusual” visit to Washington in December 2018.
The MIT budget in 2017 was an estimated 2 billion Turkish lira (approximately $371 million).