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.
Over the past several weeks, the Saudis have offered multiple, contradictory explanations for what happened at the consulate. This week, the Saudi public prosecutor blamed the operation on a rogue band of operatives who were sent to Istanbul to return Khashoggi to Saudi Arabia, in an operation that veered off course when the journalist “was forcibly restrained and injected with a large amount of a drug resulting in an overdose that led to his death,” according to a report by the prosecutor.
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SOURCE: The Washington Post, Shane Harris, Greg Miller, and Josh Dawsey