Saudi Arabia is an authoritarian place where religious leaders have tremendous power and the royal family has more. Its standards for justice are not American standards.
So when the CIA authors a report on the death of a Saudi journalist at the hands of Saudi henchmen, it isn’t surprising that the report, issued by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI), points the finger at Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. What is surprising is that the report on the murder of Jamal Khashoggi is just three-quarters of a page of amateurish innuendo.
OK, there were four pages released: a cover page; a page with the executive summary (below); a page that repeats the executive summary, then adds four bullet points of innuendo; and a list of individuals trailing down the third page to get to a fourth page.
The entire executive summary is worth reading:
“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.
- “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.
- “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.”
“We assess”—not with confidence, not with human sources (even anonymous or redacted sources), not with physical evidence, not with evidence at all. Just “we assess” because the crown prince had “control of decision-making” and “absolute control” of the intelligence operations. We needed a report for that?
Later, on the same page, the report notes, “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.”
We don’t know whether the crown prince ordered Khashoggi’s murder, or ordered his capture, or ordered anything at all. One could equally posit that, given an “environment in which aides were afraid” and knowing as they did that the crown prince despised Khashoggi, they took it on themselves to get rid of the guy—hoping to curry favor with a demanding boss. Did they? Who knows? Did the crown prince order the killing? Who knows? Not the CIA, apparently.
The report is more an indictment of the politicization of the CIA than a document that tells the government anything worthwhile about Saudi Arabia. Everything in that three-quarter page document has been in the newspapers.
How could ODNI release a report of such dubious quality? Take note the report isn’t endorsed by any actual intelligence official—it was released from the “Office of the Director.” Could it be that the report was written in such a manner that Saudi Arabia could easily point out its flaws, but no one on the U.S. end could be held responsible? That sort of plot-within-a-plot would have delighted Shakespeare.
While the crown prince could perfectly well have dirty hands in this sordid affair, why is the CIA saying it when it clearly doesn’t know? And even if we did know for sure, why would we seek to create a political crisis in Saudi Arabia, an important ally, and a major oil producer?
In fact, the report was released by the administration to topple the crown prince from power. It doesn’t matter whether the report is credible—it matters that President Joe Biden says it is. And it matters that it works in favor of Iran.
Biden is on a “charm offensive” to woo the Iranians back into negotiations over a new pact on the Iranian nuclear program. The Iranians expect to be paid in advance, and undermining Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is a hot ticket.
Therefore, the report is best understood in the context of other reckless moves by the Biden administration: “freezing” arms sales to the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, halting intelligence assistance to the Arab Coalition opposing the Houthis, removing the Houthis from the terror list, and working with South Korea to unfreeze at least a billion dollars of Iranian assets.
Biden’s delay in calling Israel’s prime minister is part of the same policy, as is significant backtracking on reaffirming U.S. policy over Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights and undermining the Abraham Accords by halting the sale of F-35s to the UAE.
Even while President Donald Trump was in office, John Kerry was meeting with Iran’s foreign minister, working out the framework of a deal for once Biden was elected. While this most certainly was a violation of the Logan Act, Biden won’t enforce it because Kerry worked at his behest.
Biden is well on his way to destabilizing the Persian Gulf and rewarding Iran, a chief sponsor of regional and international terrorism. And his allies in Congress are stepping up to help.
Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), who heads the House Intelligence Committee, wants the administration to impose “serious repercussions” on those responsible, whatever that may mean. Schiff didn’t ask to vet the report or see the sources of information or assess the facts (or lack thereof); he’s just out for blood.
Preferably that of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.