There’s always been a cost to the messy U.S. relationship with Saudi Arabia and, on Tuesday, another bill arrived with the New York Times reporting that four of the Saudi guards that participated in the gruesome 2018 murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi received paramilitary training on U.S. soil. The news is simultaneously shocking, while also unsurprising. Adding to the unsavory mess is that the training was administered by a private security company, the Arkansas-based Tier 1 Group, which is owned by the private equity firm Cerberus Capital Management. The deal to provide the specialized training to the Saudi Royal Guard was originally approved by the State Department in 2014 during the Obama administration and the license to train the foreign unit continued at least through 2017, the first year of the Trump presidency.
The training was provided under the auspices of enhancing the Saudi guards’ ability to provide protection to its leaders and the company told the Times it included courses like “safe marksmanship” and “countering an attack,” but the training was also said to include instruction on surveillance and close-quarters battle, which could be anything—and lead to anything. Lo and behold, the following year a group of seven members of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s protective force were dispatched to Turkey where they lured Khashoggi into the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, before killing and dismembering the dissident. According to an American intelligence report, four of those seven security forces received training the previous year in the U.S.; two of those security operatives were part of an earlier training regimen on American soil in late 2014-early 2015.
Even before the 2018 Khashoggi murder, Prince Salman was already ruthlessly consolidating power after just six months in power, imprisoning hundreds of members of the sprawling royal family in a Ritz-Carlton in Riyadh. “The [paramilitary training] occurred as the secret unit responsible for Mr. Khashoggi’s killing was beginning an extensive campaign of kidnapping, detention and torture of Saudi citizens ordered by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler, to crush dissent inside the kingdom,” the New York Times notes. “Members of the team that killed Mr. Khashoggi were involved in at least a dozen operations starting in 2017, according to officials who have read classified intelligence reports about the campaign.”