Did American intelligence agencies know about a threat to Saudi American journalist Jamal Khashoggi before he disappeared at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul a week ago?
The Washington Post, where Khashoggi was a columnist, reported that “U.S. intelligence intercepted communications of Saudi officials discussing a plan to capture him.” The plan, according to the Post’s reporting, wasn’t to kill Khashoggi but instead to “lure Khashoggi back to Saudi Arabia and lay hands on him there.”
While American news organizations have offered detailed accounts of what happened to Khashoggi based on information from unnamed Turkish government officials, American diplomatic and military officials have been more circumspect in discussing what Saudi Arabia, one of the Trump administration’s favorite countries and a key ally in its campaign to counter Iran in the Middle East, may have done with the prominent journalist.
The Daily Beast reported that Khashoggi “was working to launch a non-governmental organization whose stated purpose was to boost democracy and human rights in the Arab world,” referring to an organization registered in Delaware in January called Democracy for the Arab World Now.
Defense Secretary Jim Mattis told reporters that the Defense Department was monitoring the situation “very closely” and, when asked what that meant, said Pentagon officials were watching it “intellectually.” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Monday that there had been “conflicting reports” on what happened to Khashoggi and said Saudi Arabia should “support a thorough investigation of Mr. Khashoggi’s disappearance and to be transparent about the results of that investigation.” And Trump said Tuesday, “I am concerned about [it]” and “I don’t like hearing about it and hopefully that will sort itself out. Right now, nobody knows anything about it.” He did concede “there’s some pretty bad stories about it. I do not like it.”
Given the Trump administration’s trigger-quick response to malicious actions by, say, the governments of Iran or Venezuela (like the death Monday of an opposition lawmaker in Venezuelan custody, condemned in a White House statement), the studiously diplomatic tone around Khashoggi’s disappearance stands out.