Moon of Alabama
It is beyond doubt that the Saudi government abducted, or killed, the Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi. But what did the Trump administration knew about the threat to Khashoggi? Did U.S. intelligence services warn him as their regulations require? Was such a warning blocked by the White House? And what will Trump do about the case?
The Turkish government published pictures of 15 men who had come from Saudi Arabia and were in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul shortly before Khashoggi visited it to get his divorce papers. They moved Khashoggi to the residence of the consul and later that day flew back on the same two private Saudi jets that had brought them to Istanbul.
At least 8 of the 15 men have been identified as Saudi royal military. At least three are bodyguards of the Saudi clown prince Mohammad bin Salman. It is thereby obvious that the clown prince himself gave the order for the operation. One of the 15 is Dr. Salah Muhammed Al-Tubaigy, the head of forensic evidence at the Saudi General Security Department.
Anonymous Turkish sources assert that Khashoggi was killed, his body cut to pieces and taken away. They even claim that there is video of the murder:
The official described a quick and complex operation in which Mr. Khashoggi was killed within two hours of his arrival at the consulate by a team of Saudi agents, who dismembered his body with a bone saw they brought for the purpose.
“It is like ‘Pulp Fiction,’” the official said…
Mr. Erdogan was informed of the conclusions on Saturday, according to several people with knowledge of the briefings, and he has since dispatched officials to anonymously tell myriad news outlets, including The New York Times, that Mr. Khashoggi was killed inside the Saudi Consulate…
Another person briefed on the matter, speaking on condition of anonymity to disclose confidential details, told The Times on Saturday that Turkish intelligence had obtained a video of the killing, made by the Saudis to prove that it had occurred.
A commentator close to Mr. Erdogan’s government said so publicly on Tuesday.
“There is a video of the moment of him being killed,” Kemal Ozturk, a columnist in a pro-government newspaper and the former head of a semiofficial news agency, said in an interview on a pro-government television network, citing unnamed security officials.
That Erdogan pushes this 'Pulp Fiction' story is not astonishing. His troops protect Qatar from a Saudi attack and Qatar props up the Turkish economy with multi-billion investments. There is also the old Ottoman versus Arab fight over leadership in the Middle East.
But why would the Saudis kill Khashoggi? Why not drug him, haul him to the airport and fly him back to Riyadh as a "medial emergency"? Why not put him into a big box and transported him as privileged diplomatic baggage? If the Saudis intended to kill Khashoggi they could have hire some guy to shoot him in the streets. It would have been a much simpler operation and way less suspicious.
Killing Khashoggi in the official Consulate makes no sense – unless MbS wanted this current public outrage. Is it a warning to all his enemies? Is it to demonstrate that he can get away with anything?
The Washington Post reports that the U.S. government knew that Khashoggi was in danger:
Before Khashoggi’s disappearance, U.S. intelligence intercepted communications of Saudi officials discussing a plan to capture him, according to a person familiar with the information. The Saudis wanted to lure Khashoggi back to Saudi Arabia and lay hands on him there, this person said. It was not clear whether the Saudis intended to arrest and interrogate Khashoggi or to kill him, or if the United States warned Khashoggi that he was a target, this person said.
If U.S. intelligence knew of the danger to Khashoggi Intelligence Community Directive 191 – Duty to Warn (pdf) would have applied:
An IC element that collects or acquires credible and specific information indicating an impending threat of intentional killing, serious bodily injury, or kidnapping directed at a person or group of people (hereafter referred to as intended victim) shall have a duty to warn the intended victimor those responsible for protecting the intended victim, as appropriate. This includes threats where the target is an institution, place of business, structure, or location. The term intended victim includes both U.S. persons, as defined in EO 12333, Section 3.5(k), and non-U.S. persons.
Read plainly ICD 191 provides that the U.S. intelligence services had to warn Khashoggi of the Saudi threat. Did they do so or not?
There are a few exceptions in the directive that allow to withhold a warning. If the information came through a friendly intelligence service the protection of sources and methods has priority over a warning (point E.3.e. in the regulation.)
If U.S. intelligence acquired the information through the British GHCQ, a warning to Khashoggi might have revealed that the GHCQ has bugged all those Cisco telephones the Saudi royals so proudly display. But there was little danger that a warning to Khashoggi would have revealed anything. The Saudis will surely expect that the U.S., British and other intelligence services listen to even their private communications.
There may have been other reasons to withhold a warning. Trump's son in law and senior aid Jared Kushner has good personal relations with MbS. In March The Intercept reported that, according to MbS, Kushner revealed U.S. intelligence about MbS' enemies to him.
[A]fter the meeting, Crown Prince Mohammed told confidants that Kushner had discussed the names of Saudis disloyal to the crown prince, according to three sources who have been in contact with members of the Saudi and Emirati royal families since the crackdown.
The meeting took place in late October 2017. About a week later the Saudi clown prince incarcerated hundreds of his rich relatives and other Saudi billionaires in the Ritz hotel in Riyadh and pressured them to hand over their assets.
Kushner had obviously no qualms to rat out the people who privately criticized MbS.
(In February 2018 Kushner lost access to top level security briefings because his interim security clearance was revoked. This may have been the deep state's revenge for his indiscretion. Kushner finally passed full clearance and regained access in May.)
Not to warn Khashoggi might well have been a White House decision. It is the Trump's administration policy to not challenge its allies over human rights issues. The State Department even produced a memo explaining that human rights criticism only applies to U.S. 'enemies'.
If the Saudis want to nab Khashoggi, the White House might have thought, why no let them have him?
Trump's foreign policy depends on good relations with the Saudis:
The Trump administration, from the president on down, is heavily invested in the Saudi relationship. Robin Wright, a scholar at the Wilson Center think tank and close friend of the missing writer, said that’s unlikely to change. The administration’s Middle East agenda heavily depends on the Saudis, including efforts to counter Iranian influence in the region, fight extremism and build support for its yet-to-be-released plan for peace between Israel and the Palestinians.
The Turkish and Qatari rulers and their media do their best to propagandize the case and to rage against the Saudi regime. The Washington Post, for which Khashoggi wrote, will surely not let go of the issue. Other 'western' media and journalists are also enraged about the case. Khashoggi was one of them, aristocratic elite as they see themselves, who do not deserve such fate.
Can MbS and the Trump regime really sit back and not reply to demands of serious consequences over the case?
That may well be. After all, no one is challenging the U.S.-Saudis alliance over the daily murder it commits in Yemen and elsewhere. If the Saudis kidnapped Khashoggi, and provide evidence that he is alive, the media outrage will soon die down. If the Turkish government publishes the video of the murder that it claims to have, it will only take a bit longer until other news moves the case from the front pages.
There is no real reason for MbS, or Trump, to care.