Earlier this month, Jamal Khashoggi, a prominent Saudi journalist living in exile in the United States entered the Saudi consulate in Istanbul to obtain a document for his marriage. No one has seen him since. Turkish officials initially claimed was brutally murdered and dismembered after Riyadh put a contract on him, but have since speculated that he may have been kidnapped and taken back to Saudi Arabia.
Khashoggi had maintained a column in The Washington Post since fleeing to the United States in 2017. Watch fellow columnist David Ignatius talk about Khashoggi with Khashoggi’s editor, Karen Attiah, here.
Well, as if this story didn’t already sound like a crime novel, it may have taken a new twist. We now find ourselves asking a question we should not have to ask–did the White House know Khashoggi was in danger and do nothing?
Former counterintelligence officer and former National Security Agency analyst John Schindler has been one of Trump’s biggest gadflies on the Republican side for the better part of three years. He has helped sound the alarm on the mounting evidence that the Trump campaign was indeed in cahoots with Russia.
For instance, Schindler warned earlier this year that as part of the supposed contract between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin, a Trump White House was supposed to make American policy friendlier to the Kremlin. Reportedly, Putin is none too pleased that Trump hasn’t done enough to make that happen–and has no qualms about making his displeasure felt in painful ways.
But in his latest column for The Observer–ironically, owned by a trust in the name of First Son-in-Law Jared Kushner–Schindler turned his attention to a potential White House outrage that is unrelated to Russia. He believes that regardless of how it happened, there is little doubt that Khashoggi has been “disappeared” and is not likely to be seen alive again.
Schindler’s spidey senses went off after reading a Post report that American intelligence intercepted chatter from Saudi officials discussing plans to waylay Khashoggi. Specifically, they went off when a Post source claimed that it wasn’t clear whether American officials warned Khashoggi that someone put a contract on him. After all, as Schindler noted, “Khashoggi is a legal resident of the United States, and is therefore entitled to protection.”
An NSA official subsequently told Schindler that the NSA–whose primary duty as “America’s big ear” is to listen in on foreign governments–had Top Secret information that suggested Riyadh had “something nefarious” in mind for Khashoggi. Since the summer of 2017, Khashoggi has been in the bad books of Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, the real power in Saudi Arabia. Khashoggi has been harshly critical of the crown prince’s heavy-handed repression of dissent, as well as his conduct of the war in Yemen.
So one question is obvious–was the Saudi government angry enough to have Khashoggi rubbed out? According to Schindler, the answer is yes; he believes that given the mounting evidence, “Saudi involvement in his (Khashoggi’s) disappearance seems all but certain.”
However, Schindler believes another question needs to be asked–what did the White House do with this information?
It needs to be asked what, if anything, the White House did with this Top Secret warning. Intelligence without action is merely expensive noise, and if no action was taken in this case, Congress should ask why not. If action was taken—meaning a warning was issued to Saudi officials to keep their hands of Khashoggi—and Riyadh ignored it, that too is something worth investigating.
The fact that we even have to ask if the White House failed to act is staggering. In the worst-case scenario, the White House was handed the equivalent of a flashing red light–hard evidence that Saudi Arabia put a contract out on a legal resident of the United States–and did nothing to stop it.
Whatever the case, the White House owes the American people and the world a full accounting of how it handled this information. Basic decency, and whatever is left of this country’s standing in the world, demands no less.
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