White House declassifies Jamal Khashoggi report blaming Saudi crown prince for journalist's death
The Biden administration on Friday declassified a report blaming Saudi Arabia Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman for approving the operation to capture or kill journalist and dissident Jamal Khashoggi.
It is the first time the U.S. government has blamed the crown prince for Khashoggi's killing in an official intelligence document.
"We base this assessment on the crown prince's control of decisionmaking in the Kingdom, the direct involvement of a key adviser and members of Mohammed 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 from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) said.
The only new information contained in the three-page report are the names of 15 people considered culpable in the murder of Khashoggi -- they were part of the 15-person team that travelled to Istanbul, Turkey, to conduct the operation, according to the DNI report. These people are in addition to the crown prince.
"Since 2017, the crown prince has had absolute control of 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.
It continues that around the time of Khashoggi’s murder, "the crown prince probably fostered an environment in which aides were afraid that failure to complete assigned tasks might result in him firing or arresting them. This suggests that the aides were unlikely to question Muhammad bin Salman's orders or undertake sensitive actions without his consent."
The report also concludes that the "crown prince viewed Khashoggi as a threat to the Kingdom and broadly supported using violent measures if necessary to silence him.
"Although Saudi officials had pre-planned an unspecified operation against Khashoggi we do not know how far in advance
Saudi officials decided to harm him," it added.
The report went through multiple rounds of clearance throughout the Biden administration before its release, sources told Fox News.
A source with knowledge also told Fox News on Friday that the State Department will announce new visa restrictions on those acting on behalf of a foreign government, who are believed to have been directly engaged in serious, extraterritorial counter-dissident activities.
The State Department has identified a network of 76 Saudi individuals who may be subject to visa restrictions under this policy for their roles in counter-dissident operations overseas, including but not limited to the Khashoggi killing.
Prior to his killing in late 2018 inside the Saudi consulate in Turkey, Khashoggi had written critically of Mohammed bin Salman in columns for the Washington Post.
He also founded Democracy for the Arab World Now, an organization aimed at pushing for democratic and human rights reform in Saudi Arabia and throughout the Arab world.
Khashoggi had been living in exile in the United States for about a year as Prince Mohammed oversaw a crackdown in Saudi Arabia on human rights activists, writers and critics of the kingdom’s devastating war in Yemen.
In October 2018, a team of 15 Saudi agents had flown to Turkey to meet Khashoggi inside the consulate for his appointment to pick up documents that would allow him to marry his Turkish fiancée, who waited outside. The team included a forensic doctor, intelligence and security officers, and individuals who worked directly for the crown prince’s office, according to Agnes Callamard, who investigated the killing for the United Nations.
Turkish officials allege Khashoggi was killed and then dismembered with a bone saw inside the consulate. His body has not been found. Turkey apparently had the Saudi Consulate bugged and shared audio of the killing with the CIA, among others.
Western intelligence agencies, as well as the U.S. Congress, previously have said the crown prince bears ultimate responsibility for the killing and that an operation of this magnitude could not have happened without his knowledge.
Saudi officials initially offered conflicting accounts as to what happened to Khashoggi in Turkey, including claiming that he had left the building unharmed. But amid mounting international pressure, they settled on the explanation that Khashoggi’s death was a tragic accident, saying that the team was under orders to merely persuade him to return to the kingdom. The official account is that the meeting unexpectedly turned violent, resulting in Khashoggi’s accidental death.
In September 2020, a Saudi court issued a final verdict sentencing five mid-level officials and operatives to 20-year jail sentences for the killing. The court had originally ordered the death penalty, but reduced the punishment after Khashoggi’s son Salah, who lives in Saudi Arabia and has received financial compensation from the royal court for his father’s death, announced that he forgave the defendants.
Three others were sentenced to lesser jail terms, but the Saudi court did not implicate Prince Mohammed or other senior Interior Ministry officials.
Fox News' Gillian Turner and Rich Edson contributed to this report, as well as The Associated Press.