C.I.A. Concludes Saudi Crown Prince Ordered Murder Of Jamal Khashoggi

The C.I.A. has apparently concluded that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman ordered the murder of Jamal Khashoggi. What will the Trump Administration do about this?

The Central Intelligence Agency has reportedly concluded that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman personally ordered the operation that resulted in the death of Washington Post columnist and Saudi dissident Jamal Khashoggi, a conclusion that puts the Trump in the somewhat difficult position of having to figure out how to deal with a nation that is not only a purported ally but also a person with close personal ties to several members of the Administration:

The Central Intelligence Agency has concluded that the Saudi crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, ordered the killing of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi, according to American officials.

The C.I.A. made the assessment based on the crown prince’s control of Saudi Arabia, which is such that the killing would not have taken place without his approval, and has buttressed its conclusion with two sets of crucial communications: intercepts of the crown prince’s calls in the days before the killing, and calls by the kill team to a senior aide to the crown prince.

The C.I.A. has believed for weeks that Prince Mohammed was culpable in Mr. Khashoggi’s killing but had been hesitant to definitively conclude that he directly ordered it. The agency has passed that assessment on to lawmakers and Trump administration officials.

The change in C.I.A. thinking came as new information emerged, officials said. The evidence included an intercept showing a member of the kill team calling an aide to Prince Mohammed and saying ”tell your boss“ that the mission was accomplished. Officials cautioned, however, that the new information is not direct evidence linking Prince Mohammed to the assassination, which was carried out in the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul.

The intercepts do show that Prince Mohammed was trying to find ways to lure Mr. Khashoggi back to Saudi Arabia, although the crown prince did not specifically say in the phone calls that he wanted to have Mr. Khashoggi killed, according to people briefed on the intelligence findings.

More from The Washington Post, which originally broke the story:

The CIA has concluded that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman ordered the assassination of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Istanbul last month, contradicting the Saudi government’s claims that he was not involved in the killing, according to people familiar with the matter.

The CIA’s assessment, in which officials have said they have high confidence, is the most definitive to date linking Mohammed to the operation and complicates the Trump administration’s efforts to preserve its relationship with a close ally. A team of 15 Saudi agents flew to Istanbul on government aircraft in October and killed Khashoggi inside the Saudi consulate, where he had come to pick up documents that he needed for his planned marriage to a Turkish woman.

In reaching its conclusions, the CIA examined multiple sources of intelligence, including a phone call that the prince’s brother Khalid bin Salman, the Saudi ambassador to the United States, had with Khashoggi, according to the people familiar with the matter who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the intelligence. Khalid told Khashoggi, a contributing columnist to The Washington Post, that he should go to the Saudi consulate in Istanbul to retrieve the documents and gave him assurances that it would be safe to do so.

It is not clear if Khalid knew that Khashoggi would be killed, but he made the call at his brother’s direction, according to the people familiar with the call, which was intercepted by U.S. intelligence.

Fatimah Baeshen, a spokeswoman for the Saudi Embassy in Washington, said the ambassador and Khashoggi never discussed “anything related to going to Turkey.” She added 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’s conclusion about Mohammed’s role was also based on the agency’s assessment of the prince as the country’s de facto ruler who oversees even minor affairs in 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.

The CIA sees Mohammed as a “good technocrat,” the U.S. official said, but also as volatile and arrogant, someone who “goes from zero to 60, doesn’t seem to understand that there are some things you can’t do.”

CIA analysts believe he has a firm grip on power and is not in danger of losing his status as heir to the throne despite the Khashoggi scandal. “The general agreement is that he is likely to survive,” the official said, adding that Mohammed’s role as the future Saudi king is “taken for granted.”

A spokesman for the CIA declined to comment.

Even before the CIA came to this conclusion, the direct involvement of the Crown Prince in the disappearance and death of Khashoggi, who had become a prominent critic of the Saud family after having once been an insider in ruling and elite circles in the county was blindingly obvious to anyone who was paying attention. This was especially true given the fact that it was simply hard to believe that something like this could happen on the diplomatic property of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to someone as prominent as Khashoggi without Mohammed bin Salman being aware of it, and authorizing it to go forward. Additionally, from virtually the day that Khashoggi disappeared the Saudi’s told lie after lie in an effort to distract world attention from where the truth was obviously pointing. Taking all of that together, the conclusion that the Crown Prince was responsible for the murder of Khashoggi

In the first several days after Khashoggi disappeared, the Saudis kept repeating the claim that Khashoggi had visited the consulate as scheduled on October 2nd and that he left after obtaining the document he needed to allow him to get married in Turkey. This claim was contradicted by Khashoggi’s fiance, who waited outside the consulate for more than two hours after he went in and never saw him leave the building after having entered. It was also contradicted by security camera footage released by the Turkish police that clearly showed Khashoggi entering the consulate and never walking out. The Saudis, meanwhile said that they could not provide security camera footage to support their claim because their security cameras did not record events but were only used to live-stream surveillance. This claim was absurd on its face, of course, and rejected by the Members of Congress and the Senate to whom this “explanation” was provided.

.Once it became clear that the Saudi lies and evasions were not holding up to scrutiny, the government in Riyadh became scrambling to put forward a new serious of explanations for what may have happened to Khashoggi, all of them obviously designed to shield the Crown Prince from culpability in the matter. First, the government put forward the theory that Khashoggi’s disappearance was due to an operation by what President Trump described as ‘rogue killers’ who acted without the knowledge or consent of their superiors. This hard-to-believe explanation was being circulated at the same time that evidence was being released, including the fact that Khashoggi had died inside the consulate and revealed certain facts surrounding his death, including the details surrounding the arrival and departure of a team of fifteen Saudis linked to the Crown Prince, military, and intelligence services who allegedly were involved in whatever happened to the Washington Post columnist and Saudi dissident. Among these revelations was the fact that nearly all of the members of the aforementioned fifteen person team, including the alleged leaders, were linked in some way to Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who is the de facto leader of the country in place of a father who, according to some reports, may be suffering from the early symptoms of dementia. Des[ite all of this, the Saudis continued to assert that bin Salman, known internationally as “M.B.S.,” knew nothing about what had happened to Khashoggi. This was an entirely implausible explanation that required one to forget everything we know about how things actually operate in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

Finally, after it was that they were looking to pin responsibility for Khashoggi’s fate on a fall guy, the Saudis put forward an explanation claiming that Khashoggi’s death was the result of an operation that was carried out by people close to the Crown Prince but done entirely without his knowledge or authorization. They also claimed that the original intent of the operation had been to question Khashoggi and/or return him surreptitiously to the KSA. This story was no more credible than previous explanations, of course, but that is precisely the position that the Saudis took when they finally released an official “explanation” for Khashoggi’s disappearance and death that acknowledged that he was, in fact, dead and that his death had occurred when he was inside the consulate. This explanation, though, maintained the hard to believe a claim that the operation that led to Khashoggi’s death, which Riyadh maintained at the time was due to a rendition (a/k/a kidnapping) operation gone awry. Now, finally, the Saudis have acknowledged that it was the intention of the fifteen man team that arrived in Istanbul the morning of the day Khashoggi was scheduled to visit the consulate and left before sundown the same day to kill Khashoggi, although they continue to maintain the increasingly implausible claim that the Crown Prince knew nothing about what was being carried out in the name of the country he leads.

Throughout all of this, the Trump Administration has sat back and let the Saudi government quite literally get away with cold-blooded murder. While there have been some bland statements of concern about what happened to Khashoggi, who in addition to being a journalist employed by an American newspaper is also an American Permanent Resident with children who are naturalized, American citizens, it’s clear that the President and the White House are not interested in putting pressure on Riyadh to come clean about Khashoggi’s fate and even less interest in putting pressure on King Salman regard the fate of his son the Crown Prince. In no small part, of course, this is because M.B.S., as he is popularly known, has managed to ingratiate himself with both Trump and with Jared Kushner, with whom he apparently communicates on a regular basis. Additionally, the Trump Administration has already made clear that it is willing to look the other way while the Saudis commit nothing less than genocide in Yemen, so it’s not surprising that they’d be okay with the murder of a single journalist.

Now that the nation’s top intelligence agency has concluded that the Crown Prince was not only aware of the plot against Khashoggi but that he had ordered it and ordered Khashoggi’s murder, the question of what the Trump Administration will do with the information. The report about the CIA’s conclusions dropped mere hours after it was reported that the Trump Administration had imposed sanctions against 17 Saudi citizens in connection with Khashoggi’s murder. The only problem is that most of the people who are on this list are people who have already been arrested by the Saudis in connection with the affair, including five who are facing the death penalty for their roles in the matter. These 17 people are obviously fall guys for the people actually responsible for Khashoggi’s death and the sanctions are basically meaningless. With this report and the fact that the CIA apparently has electronic surveillance evidence to back it up, though, the White House is going to find it hard to continue to let the Crown Prince off the hook, especially since Congress seems ready to act on its own:

A bipartisan group of senators is releasing legislation imposing sanctions, prohibitions and restrictions against Saudi Arabia and other entities considered responsible for the humanitarian suffering in war-torn Yemen, the most punitive proposals to emerge from Congress since Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi was murdered last month.

The group, which is led by Sens. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) and Todd C. Young (R-Ind.) and includes Trump confidant Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), is calling for a total prohibition on arms sales to Saudi Arabia that could be used for offensive purposes. The blanket embargo includes a ban on selling Riyadh munitions, bombs, missiles, aircraft, tanks or armored vehicles, according to a person familiar with the text, but does not prevent the sale of purely defensive systems, such as missile interceptors.

The measure would also codify the Trump administration’s recent decision to stop refueling Saudi planes engaged in operations in Yemen against the Houthi rebels and impose sanctions on anyone supporting the Houthi rebellion — namely, Iran — within 30 days of the bill’s passage. Those who prevent the delivery of humanitarian aid to Yemeni civilians would also be subject to new proposed sanctions in the bill that would go into effect immediately.

“This bill makes clear that Congress demands an immediate cessation of hostilities, urgently calls on all parties to prioritize protection of Yemeni civilians, and makes certain that only a political settlement will end this war,” Menendez said in a statement. “We are putting teeth behind these demands with regular oversight, sanctions, and suspension of weapons sales and refueling support.”

The bill came together in response to mounting outrage among lawmakers of both parties over Saudi Arabia’s conduct, particularly in the murder of Khashoggi at its consulate in Istanbul. Many lawmakers believe that operation could not have taken place without the blessing of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman — whom, thus far, the Trump administration has not sanctioned.

Congress’s first response to Khashoggi’s murder was invoking the Global Magnitsky Act — a law that requires Trump to decide within 120 days what individuals are responsible for human rights abuses and what sanctions should be imposed against them. On Thursday, the Trump administration announced it would sanction 17 individuals under that authority, just hours before the bipartisan group of senators released their proposal.

But for many, President Trump’s move fell short. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) ridiculed “putting sanctions on people who are in prison” as a weak choice, while drafters of the new bill suspected that Trump was trying to draw attention away from their more comprehensive proposals.

“It looks like some shameless coordination with a government that has trampled on the rule of law,” said a Senate aide familiar with the bill. “It would defy credulity that the announcement came out today when they know what we’re doing here in the Senate . . . they’re willing to designate individuals in the inner circles of Mohammed bin Salman and they won’t say a damn thing about the crown prince himself.”

No, they won’t. Which is why it’s time for Congress to step forward and force the President to act.

FILED UNDER: Donald Trump, Middle East, Politicians, US Politics, , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook


  1. Jax says:

    My prediction is nothing. Even if Congress gets the bill together, I doubt Trump will sign it.

  2. gVOR08 says:

    Given that we all knew bin Salman was responsible, the interesting part of this story is that the CIA leaked it so quickly.

  3. Gustopher says:

    Do you know what would update help? Extraditing a Turkish cleric and political dissident to Turkey to be jailed, tortured and/or killed. Then our two major Islamic allies in the region will be equally guilty, and the balance of horror in the Middle East will be restored.

    As a bonus, we get to argue that we can’t expect better of Saudi Arabia because everyone over there is doing it.

    Does Iraq or Jordan want to kill an American permanent resident? We should probably make that happen.

  4. Gustopher says:

    @gVOR08: I wonder if they will leak more information each and every time the Trump administration tries to cover for the Saudis.

    The deep state does not seem to have a lot of patience for this.

  5. Jen says:

    @gVOR08: *That* –to me at least–is the most interesting aspect of the story. CIA most certainly has already conveyed this information to the president. Why did they feel the need to release this publicly? I think it’s to put pressure on Congress to do something, and to make certain this story doesn’t just disappear into the ether as the media pursues other stories (1,000 now reported missing in the CA fires, by the way, which the president feels could have been avoided if we simply raked the entire forest floor).

    Trump was apparently seriously considering handing that Turkish cleric over to Erdogan, which he today has backed down from. I wonder if that was a reason.

  6. dazedandconfused says:


    How do we know the CIA leaked it? The CIA must brief both the POTUS and select members of Congress on these issues, and both have staffs which frequently resemble sieves. Was there a claim from the press that the CIA leaked it?

  7. JohnMcC says:

    @dazedandconfused: Whoever the leaker of CIA analysis is, is certainly making life difficult for the President’s preferred foreign policy outcome and is no friend of Jared Kushner’s.

  8. Kathy says:

    Let’s see. A murder’s committed at the Saudi consulate. We know the Saudi prince in charge of the country is very hands-on, and goes to great lengths to obtain loyalty and punish dissent.

    How do you twist this into “it was probably anyone but the Saudi crown prince”?

    Dennison has to. because if he were to say “Mohammed bin Salman is a cold-blooded murderer, who even goes so far as to order the killing of journalists who criticize him. But he and his country provide a lot of money and jobs for our country, and the prince is a good friend of mine,” well, that wouldn’t fly even with those blinded by the Cheeto dust.

    This is exactly what’s wrong with a transactional basis for foreign policy (or other types of policy). Yes, all countries do what’s best for them,but few need give up all principle.

    Between the racism, mercantilism, the authoritarian tendencies, the favorites in court, the obsessive need for adulation, and the transactional foreign policy, El Dennison would have been the perfect Russian Czar of the XVIII Century: Donald the Dull (Fake news! He’s be Donald THE FUCKING GREATEST EVAH!!!!)

  9. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    “…well, that wouldn’t fly even with those blinded by the Cheeto dust.”

    Or they would praise Trump as a master of Realpolitik. I’m betting on option 2 because I suspect that most Trump supporters (and many Senators, for that matter) don’t care much about what happens to a r** head on the run from his own country.

  10. dazedandconfused says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker:

    True, but I’ll opine that those two options aren’t mutually exclusive. Reality is but an opinion these days.

    MbS will hack the heads off a few underlings, and Trump will say there is no clear evidence against MbS anyway, btw. The only bright side is MbS’s ability to order the next batch of goons to do something like that in the future isn’t what it was.


    It’s perhaps wrong to say this is what is wrong with transactional FP. It’s the price that must be paid. It’s an easy thing to say we must stop it but saying so without considering exactly what stopping it entails? Are we up for regime change in the KSA? I think not. Would sanctions alone bring it about? I think not. Regime change in the KSA could easily result in a massive disruption of the world’s supply of oil…and with no guarantee what it is changed to will be any better. I hate to say it, but most of the POTUSs we have had would make the same call as our Donald, just do a slicker job of it.


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