US Intelligence Shows Saudi Crown Prince Ordered Operation To Capture Missing Journalist

Bandar Algaloud/Courtesy of Saudi Royal Court/Handout via REUTERS

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Joshua Gill Religion Reporter
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  • U.S. intelligence intercepts of communication between Saudi officials revealed that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman ordered an operation to capture and extradite Jamal Khashoggi to Saudi Arabia.
  • Details of the plan, as revealed by intelligence intercepts, match reports from Turkish officials about a team of Saudi agents reportedly arriving in Turkey, killing Khashoggi, disposing of his body, and leaving.
  • Questions abound as to whether U.S. intelligence agencies should have warned Khashoggi given the intelligence they had.

U.S. intelligence indicates that the Saudi crown prince ordered an operation to capture Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi and bring him in for interrogation.

The revelation that Mohammed bin Salman ordered the operation that resulted in Khashoggi disappearance after he entered the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2 came from U.S. intercepts of communication between Saudi officials. The intercepted discussion of the plan involved two Saudi teams totaling 15 men arriving and departing from Turkey at different times, matching reports from Turkish officials that 15 Saudi agents arrived in Turkey on charter flights, assassinated Khashoggi, disposed of his body and departed. (RELATED: Some In Media Blame Trump For Saudi Journalist’s Disappearance)

A former U.S. intelligence official who spoke with WaPo on the condition of anonymity said that the details of the plan discussed by Saudi officials bear the hallmarks of a “rendition,” or an operation to illegally extradite someone from one country and transport them to another in order to interrogate them. Turkish officials believe that something went wrong with the operation and that Arab agents killed Khashoggi inside the consulate. An anonymous Turkish official also asserted that the Saudi agents dismembered Khashoggi’s body with a bone saw and disposed of the pieces.

The Saudi government has denied any involvement in Khashoggi disappearance and claims that he left the consulate unharmed through the rear entrance, though they have provided no evidence to back up their claim. The Saudis have also refused to answer U.S. officials’ questions concerning Khashoggi’s disappearance, straining the relationship between Riyadh and the Trump administration.

Surveillance footage shows Khashoggi entering the consulate, but Turkish officials say there is no footage of him leaving. The journalist has yet to be found.

Khashoggi often criticized the Saudi government, including Mohammed bin Salman, and believed that it was not safe for him to return to Saudi Arabia. Close friends of the journalist reported that several senior Saudi officials contacted Khashoggi over the last four months with promises of protection and offers for him to return to the country. Khashoggi believed none of their offers.

“He said: ‘Are you kidding? I don’t trust them one bit,'” Khaled Saffuri, an Arab American political activist, recounted Khashoggi saying after speaking with Saud al-Qahtani, an adviser to the royal court.

A friend also reported that a Saudi businessman who is close to the royal family seemed “keen” to visit with Khashoggi any time he came to DC and told the journalist that he would work with Saudi authorities to allowK hashoggi’s safe return to the country.

Given the U.S. intelligence intercepts describing the Saudi plan to detain Khashoggi, some have questioned whether U.S. intelligence agencies were negligent in their “duty to warn” the journalist of the plot, as they are obligated to do in any case when it is known that a person, U.S. citizen or otherwise, may be kidnapped, injured, or killed.

“Duty to warn applies if harm is intended toward an individual,” a former senior intelligence official told WaPo.

“Capturing him, which could have been interpreted as arresting him, would not have triggered a duty-to-warn obligation. If something in the reported intercept indicated that violence was planned, then, yes, he should have been warned,” the former official added.

Deputy State Department spokesman Robert Palladino denied that the U.S. had any prior knowledge of the threat of harm to Khashoggi.

“Though I cannot comment on intelligence matters, I can say definitively the United States had no advance knowledge of [Khashoggi’s] disappearance,” he told reporters Wednesday.

Though the intelligence had been disseminated to those who work on U.S. foreign policy toward Saudi Arabia, those with access to it were reportedly unclear as to whether Saudi officials had discussed or planned to harm Khashoggi in their operation to extradite him.

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