Evidence Against Saudi Crown Prince In Khashoggi Murder Continues To Mount

The evidence against Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in the murder of Jamal Khashoggi continues to mount. Will the Trump Administration care?

The Wall Street Journal is reporting that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was in close communication with the person who led the team that murdered Jamal Khashoggi both before and after the Saudi journalist and dissident’s death:

WASHINGTON—Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman sent at least 11 messages to his closest adviser, who oversaw the team that killed journalist Jamal Khashoggi, in the hours before and after the journalist’s death in October, according to a highly classified CIA assessment.

The Saudi leader also in August 2017 had told associates that if his efforts to persuade Mr. Khashoggi to return to Saudi Arabia weren’t successful, “we could possibly lure him outside Saudi Arabia and make arrangements,” according to the assessment, a communication that it states “seems to foreshadow the Saudi operation launched against Khashoggi.”

Mr. Khashoggi, a critic of the kingdom’s leadership who lived in Virginia and wrote columns for the Washington Post, was killed by Saudi operatives on Oct. 2 shortly after entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, where he sought papers needed to marry his Turkish fiancée.

Excerpts of the Central Intelligence Agency’s assessment, which cites electronic intercepts and other clandestine information, were reviewed by The Wall Street Journal.

The CIA last month concluded that Prince Mohammed had likely ordered Mr. Khashoggi’s killing, and President Trump and leaders in Congress were briefed on intelligence gathered by the spy agency. Mr. Trump afterward questioned the CIA’s conclusion about the prince, saying “maybe he did; and maybe he didn’t.”

The previously unreported excerpts reviewed by the Journal state that the CIA has “medium-to-high confidence” that Prince Mohammed “personally targeted” Khashoggi and “probably ordered his death.” It added: “To be clear, we lack direct reporting of the Crown Prince issuing a kill order.”

The electronic messages sent by Prince Mohammed were to Saud al-Qahtani, according to the CIA. Mr. Qahtani supervised the 15-man team that killed Mr. Khashoggi and, during the same period, was also in direct communication with the team’s leader in Istanbul, the assessment says. The content of the messages between Prince Mohammed and Mr. Qahtani isn’t known, the document says. It doesn’t say in what form the messages were sent.

It is unclear from the excerpts whether the 2017 comments regarding luring Mr. Khashoggi to a third country cited in the assessment are from Prince Mohammed directly, or from someone else describing his remarks.


The judgment on Prince Mohammed’s likely culpability, the CIA assessment says, is based on the crown prince’s personal focus on Mr. Khashoggi, his tight control over the Saudi operatives sent to Istanbul to kill him, “and his authorizing some of the same operators to violently target other opponents.”

Mr. Qahtani has led Prince Mohammed’s efforts to crack down on dissent internally and abroad. He is one of the 17 sanctioned by the Treasury.

A CIA spokesman declined to comment on the report. A White House official said Friday the White House doesn’t comment on intelligence matters. The Saudi Embassy didn’t respond to a request for comment, nor did Mr. Qahtani.

Mr. Trump last week said the CIA only had “feelings” about Prince Mohammed’s involvement, a statement that irked current and former U.S. intelligence officials. U.S. intelligence assessments are rarely black-and-white, often relying on fragments of information gathered clandestinely.

The highly classified CIA assessment says that the Saudi team sent to kill Mr. Khashoggi was assembled from Prince Mohammed’s top security units in the Royal Guard and in an organization run by Mr. Qahtani, the Center for Studies and Media Affairs at the Royal Court, the Saudi royal court’s media department.

“We assess it is highly unlikely this team of operators…carried out the operation without Muhammed bin Salman’s authorization,” it says.

This news comes roughly two weeks after it was reported that the C.I.A. had concluded that the Crown Prince had specifically ordered Khashoggi’s capture and murder by a group of fifteen Saudis, many of whom had direct and close ties to the Crown Prince. Therefore, this latest report would appear to be corroboration of that report and at least a partial explanation of the evidence that the agency used to reach that conclusion. Well before the CIA came to this conclusion, though, the fact that the Crown Prince was likely directly involved in Khashoggi’s disappearance and death was something that anyone even slightly familiar with this situation could conclude. After having been a prominent Saudi insider, Khashoggi became a prominent critic of Saudi policy in general and of the Crown Prince in particular. This was especially true given the fact that, as the evidence of what happened to Khashoggi became public from Turkish law enforcement and other sources, it became ever more clear that there was simply no way that an operation of this type could have been carried out without the knowledge and permission of those in power, specifically including the Crown Prince himself. This was made even more clear due to the fact that, from the day that Khashoggi disappeared after walking into the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, the Saudi government has engaged in a long series of lies and ridiculous, impossible to believe, explanations for what happened. Taking all of that together, the conclusion that the Crown Prince was responsible for the murder of Khashoggi.

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 becomes 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. Additionally, just days after the report, Trump himself appeared to side with the Saudis over his own intelligence agency and his National Security Adviser dismissed the idea of listening to the tape of Khashoggi’s murder because he doesn’t speak Arabic. All of this is a clear indication that the Administration has no intention of holding M.B.S. responsible for his involvement in this henious murder. They should be judged accordingly.

FILED UNDER: Intelligence, Middle East, National Security, US Politics, , , , , , , , , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held 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 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. Kathy says:

    Taking a page from Michael Reynolds’ book, as long as El Cheeto gets paid off, either personally or politically, then MbS is pure as driven snow. Period. End of story.

    He doesn’t even have to pay off a lot. Just make a show of doing so.

    The big problem is the purely transactional nature of Trump’s policies. It gets worse because 1) first of all it has to benefit him, and 2) he sucks at it.

    For instance, as I’ve noted before, the price for looking the other way when MbS sends out a hit squad abroad, and perverts the use of diplomatic facilities, ought to be sky high. If you’re going to do transactional foreign policy, you may at least do it well, not half baked. It’s more like MbS and the Saudi Kingdom can do as they please, since Dennison’s already been paid off.

  2. gVOR08 says:

    As @Kathy: notes, Trump’s policy will be based on Trump’s personal financial interests. That may include Beavis and Ivanka’s financial interests, but that’s as far as it goes. The country’s interests, not a blip on his horizon.

    And you understand Trump well enough, Doug, to know his gut reaction to the murder of a journalist and political enemy was not revulsion, but envy.

  3. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    Dennison, Pompeo, and Bolton are knowingly aiding MbS to avoid accountability for killing Khashoggi, and are Accessories After the Fact.

  4. KM says:


    For instance, as I’ve noted before, the price for looking the other way when MbS sends out a hit squad abroad, and perverts the use of diplomatic facilities, ought to be sky high. If you’re going to do transactional foreign policy, you may at least do it well, not half baked.

    Trump, for all of his vaunted big dreams and “skills”, has always been small time in his grift. He’s never been able to parlay power into cash and vice versa as seen in his many, many failures. He’s happy to accept chump change and thinks he’s hit the jackpot – that’s why people like Putin and MBS love him. Cheap date!

    And thank god for that because if he ever truly realized what he could leverage his current position into pure cash flow, we. are. SCREWED. He’s happy right now stealing money via his properties and small time scams; pray he never gets a clue and starts putting put some serious numbers for much more valuable things.

  5. SenyorDave says:

    @Kathy: For instance, as I’ve noted before, the price for looking the other way when MbS sends out a hit squad abroad, and perverts the use of diplomatic facilities, ought to be sky high.

    I think everyone would agree with you on this. But we don’t know the extent of the general corruption in this administration. My rule of thumb is if we know the bad stuff someone’s done, the stuff we don’t know is much worse. I think even in the universe of corrupt people, Donald Trump is in that top tier. He is corruption defined. I wouldn’t be surprised if someone was buying call options on the S&P while Trump was meeting with Xi knowing the market would open way up on Monday morning, and kicking back part of the profit to Trump. Nothing with Trump would ever shock me. Its possible that Trump has backchannels set up to that will get him far more than a few Trump hotels. Its also possible that he can truly be bought off on the cheap.

  6. Kathy says:


    It may be he can be bought with flattery and only a little money, so long as he also gets some sort of political advantage. if Macron had said “Sell me $50 billion worth of weapons,” they might still be besties.

  7. gVOR08 says:

    @Kathy: Only if Boeing or whoever is offering a kickback to Trump.

  8. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @SenyorDave: Wow, you give Trump a lot more credit for being good at being corrupt that I do. I keep remembering that this is the guy who couldn’t sell liquor and run casinos. In the hierarchy of evil he’s more of Dick Dastardly that an Ernst Blofeld.

  9. Mister Bluster says:

    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – CIA Director Gina Haspel will give a closed briefing to leaders of several U.S. Senate committees on Tuesday on the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, according to two sources familiar with the planned meeting.
    Meeting scheduled for Tuesday Dec 4 2018 11:30 et

    Haspel will brief the Republican and Democratic leaders of the Senate Foreign Relations, Armed Services and Appropriations committees, the source said, adding that the Senate Intelligence Committee already had been briefed by the CIA chief.

    Can’t wait to hear what these august public servants reveal to the Citizens after this.
    Sure hope it has something to do with Truth, Justice and The American Way!