Intelligence report finds Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman approved operation “to capture or kill” Jamal Khashoggi

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The Biden administration has released the intelligence report on the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi that concludes that “Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman approved an operation in Istanbul, Turkey, to capture or kill Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.” 

“We base this assessment on the Crown Prince’s control of decision making in the Kingdom, the direct involvement of a key adviser and members of Muhammad bin Salman’s protective detail in the operation, and the Crown Prince’s support for using violent measures to silence dissidents abroad, including Khashoggi,” the report says.

The report states that members of the team responsible for Khashoggi’s murder included officials who worked for a close adviser of MBS, as well as seven members of the prince’s elite personal protective detail.

“Since 2017, the Crown Prince has had absolute control over the Kingdom’s security and intelligence organizations, making it highly unlikely that Saudi officials would have carried out an operation of this nature without the Crown Prince’s authorization,” the report says.

The report names several individuals who likely had a role in Khashoggi’s murder, although it concedes that “we do not know whether these individuals knew in advance that the operation would result in Khashoggi’s death.”

CBS News reported in 2018 that the CIA had assessed that MBS had ordered Khashoggi’s death. The crown prince has denied any involvement in Khashoggi’s killing. The 59-year-old Washington Post columnist, who often criticized the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, was killed after entering a Saudi consulate in Istanbul in October 2018. 

The new administration appears to still be weighing options for holding the crown prince, who is likely to one day be king, accountable for Khashoggi’s death while at the same time preserving the U.S.’ strategic relationship with the Kingdom. 

“There are areas where we will express concerns and leave open the option of accountability,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said on Thursday “There also are areas where we will work together with Saudi Arabia.” 

The State Department announced new policy guidance Friday that the secretary of state called the “Khashoggi Ban.” It’s a new visa restriction policy allowing the State Department to impose visa restrictions on people who, acting on behalf of a foreign government, are “believed to have been directly engaged in serious, extraterritorial counter-dissident activities, including those that suppress, harass, surveil, threaten, or harm journalists, activists, or other persons perceived to be dissidents for their work, or who engage in such activities with respect to the families or other close associates of such persons,” said Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

The Treasury Department announced that it is imposing sanctions on the Saudi Rapid Intervention Force and a former Saudi intelligence official for their roles in Khashoggi’s death.

However, neither the “Khashoggi Ban” nor the sanctions will directly impact MBS.

President Biden spoke with Saudi King Salman on Thursday, ahead of the release of the report. MBS is the defense secretary but is widely expected to ascend to power after Salman’s death.

The White House is considering issuing executive orders written with the intention of protecting journalists, although these protections would not specifically be directed at Saudi Arabia. Democratic Senators Patrick Leahy and Amy Klobuchar have also introduced a bill to ensure that governments that commit human rights abuses against journalists are held accountable through measures such as targeted sanctions and restricted aid.

Former President Trump declined to admonish Saudi Arabia or MBS for the killing of a U.S. resident. 

Several lawmakers have called on Mr. Biden to respond to Khashoggi’s death, possibly through sanctions.

“It was an absolute atrocity and that U.S. ally thought they could do that reasonably and get away with it, and the past administration wouldn’t care, was shocking,” Senator Tim Kaine told reporters on Thursday. The Virginia Democrat also noted that Khashoggi was a resident of his state.

Republican Senator John Cornyn told reporters that Mr. Biden needed to express to King Salman that Khashoggi’s death was “not acceptable.”

“I think we should make clear that we understand what happened,” Cornyn said. “And that is not acceptable, in the United States or other civilized nations, to go in and basically assassinate and dismember your political opponents or members of the press.”

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