- The Biden administration on Friday released a long-awaited report on Jamal Khashoggi’s killing.
- The declassified intelligence report directly implicated Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
- The Trump administration prioritized the US-Saudi relationship and refused to release the report.
- Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.
The Biden administration on Friday released a declassified US intelligence report that explicitly implicated Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in the brutal killing of the Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018.
“We assess that Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman approved an operation in Istanbul, Turkey to capture or kill Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi,” said the report, provided by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.
It added: “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 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 noted that Prince Mohammed since 2017 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 Crown Prince viewed Khashoggi as a threat to the Kingdom and broadly supported using violent measures if necessary to silence him,” the report said.
The intelligence assessment also named with “high confidence” 21 people who “participated in, ordered, or were otherwise complicit in or responsible for the death of Jamal Khashoggi on behalf of Muhammad bin Salman.” The report said, however, that it was unclear “whether these individuals knew in advance that the operation would result in Khashoggi’s death.”
The names included Saud al-Qahtani, formerly a close advisor to Prince Mohammed who’s been accused of directing the operation behind Khashoggi’s murder. Al-Qahtani was dismissed shortly after the killing.
The release of the declassified report on Friday is one sign of how President Joe Biden is drastically altering the dynamic with Riyadh. After Khashoggi’s killing, President Donald Trump defended Prince Mohammed and suggested that “maybe” the Saudi leader had no knowledge of the killing. “The world is a very dangerous place!” Trump said.
As part of this realignment, Biden in early February announced an end to US support for the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen.
‘A deliberate, premeditated execution’
In 2019, the UN released a report that also implicated the Saudi crown prince in Khashoggi’s killing, which it described as “a deliberate, premeditated execution, an extrajudicial killing for which the state of Saudi Arabia is responsible under international human rights law.”
Khashoggi, who once had close ties to the Saudi royal family, was killed and dismembered by agents of his own government in the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul in October 2018. His remains have still not been found. Khashoggi had been lured to the consulate to pick up documents necessary to marry his fiancée, Hatice Cengiz, a Turkish citizen.
“Assessments of the recordings by intelligence officers in Turkey and other countries suggest that Mr. Khashoggi could have been injected with a sedative and then suffocated using a plastic bag,” the UN report said. Turkish officials have also said that Khashoggi’s body was dismembered with a bone saw.
A Washington Post columnist at the time of his killing, Khashoggi was often critical of the Saudi government.
Khashoggi’s gruesome killing prompted global outrage and sparked bipartisan calls for the US to reevaluate its relationship with Saudi Arabia. Democrats and Republicans alike explicitly accused Prince Mohammed of being behind Khashoggi’s death.
But Trump prioritized preserving the US-Saudi relationship and stood by Prince Mohammed, citing the importance of arms sales. He brushed off the CIA’s conclusion that the Saudi crown prince ordered Khashoggi’s killing.
Trump also rejected efforts from congressional lawmakers to end US support for the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen, where a war has fostered the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. Trump at one point boasted that he’d shielded Prince Mohammed from congressional retribution over Khashoggi’s killing, the veteran journalist Bob Woodward reported.
Biden snubs MBS as he recalibrates the US-Saudi relationship
The US-Saudi relationship has taken a sharp turn under Biden. Beyond releasing the Khashoggi report and moving to end US involvement in Yemen, the White House recently announced that Biden would speak with King Salman and not Prince Mohammed in official communications. This marked a major diplomatic rebuke of the Saudi crown prince, the kingdom’s de facto ruler, and underscored how serious Biden is about recalibration.
Biden spoke with King Salman for the first time as president on Thursday. A White House readout of the call said Biden “affirmed the importance the United States places on universal human rights and the rule of law.”
“Together they discussed regional security, including the renewed diplomatic efforts led by the United Nations and the United States to end the war in Yemen, and the U.S. commitment to help Saudi Arabia defend its territory as it faces attacks from Iranian-aligned groups,” the White House said.
The readout did not mention Khashoggi, and it wasn’t clear whether Biden brought up the Saudi journalist’s killing. The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment from Insider.
Following the release of the report on Friday, the Treasury Department unveiled sanctions on Gen. Ahmed al-Asiri, a former deputy head of the Saudi intelligence services, and the Saudi Rapid Intervention Force over their involvement in Khashoggi’s killing. No sanctions against Prince Mohammed were announced, even though the intelligence assessment said that he approved Khashoggi’s murder and that the RIF answered to him.
A senior administration official told Reuters that the Biden administration was concerned that sanctioning the crown prince could “rupture” the US-Saudi relationship.
Read the full ODNI report: