The apparent murder of US-based Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi within the premises of the Saudi embassy in Turkey has sparked days of outrage, threats, debate, and conspiracy theory.
From everything we’ve been told, he was probably murdered within the Saudi embassy: the surface-level narrative says it was probably on account of him being an open critic of the Prince Mohammad bin Salman and the current Saudi regime.
I didn’t read any of Jamal Khosaggi’s articles, but I was familiar with him from some TV appearances, including a few appearances as a guest on RT‘s Cross Talk show.
He was also, however, a person with long links to the Saudi elites, Saudi intelligence and Saudi history – which has prompted many online to speculate about a complex conspiracy, some even linking it to 9/11 (which seems like a stretch to me and unnecessary).
However, given all of that backstory, it is logical to assume this brutal murder was probably part of the internecine conflict between opposing sides of the Saudi elites: a conflict that has been going on for a while now and in which Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman appears to be the driving force and central player.
You have to wonder why Saudi agents – or anyone linked to Saudi power – would be so outrageous as to murder him within the Saudi embassy in Istanbul: as opposed to hiring someone to kill him at some other more random location. Particularly as, if Khashoggi didn’t come out of the embassy alive, it would be so obvious who had murdered him.
It’s now being claimed Khashoggi’s body was cut up into pieces. And Turkish sources have claimed to have audio and even video footage of the journalist’s treatment.
There’s no reason to think Saudi agents didn’t kill him – that certainly seems to be what all accounts are pointing to. And, as The Intercept notes, the Saudi state has a history of killing opponents, critics or dissidents on foreign soil.
One of the several Saudi agents allegedly identified by Turkish authorities incldues Muhammad Saad al-Zahrani, who has appeared on Saudi state TV alongside Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. ‘MBS’, as he’s now called, has been at the head of a purge of sections of his family and the the Saudi elites (even though MBS is also Saudi elite): and the logical deduction, based on what we’ve been told, would be that Khashoggi has become a victim of this purge.
Khasoggi was previously an advisor to the previous Saudi King and a spokeperson for the royal family. On the surface of it, he seemed to have started a new life in exile: but, one would suspect, anyone with Khasoggi’s background and connections would be seen (rightly or not) by the MBS faction as a present or future threat.
There are two things that struck me though. The first is that, in a way, this affair resembles the Skripal/Salisbury poisoning saga: in as much as that something horrible has obviously happened, the narrative clearly points to a logical perpetrator, and the whole thing has blown up into a massive international controversy.
The Saudis ‘obviously’ did this – just like the Russians ‘obviously’ did do Salisbury: and the situation arrives in a manner so ‘obviously’ implicating the Russians in the Salisbury case and the Saudis in this case that, again, you kind of wonder why the Russians or the Saudis would be so blatant in either case. Most murders or crimes like this would be done in a way to at least give the perpetrator a chance at denial or cover-up – but in these two examples, it’s almost as if the perps wanted to be immediately blamed… or just didn’t care.
I actually have come around to the view that Russian agents were up to something in Salisbury (which I entirely acknowledged could’ve been the case back in March, even when pointing out the suspicious closeness of Salisbury to Porton Down) – but I’m still not sure what.
That the two Russians implicated for Salisbury are actual agents almost seems to be beyond doubt now: though there is still a counter argument, centering now on whether ‘Bellingcat’ is a compromised or a reliable source. As I explained in a recent post, I’ve pretty much given up trying to work out what the hell Salisbury was.
Just on a side-note here: Maria Dejevsky’s article in The Independent on ‘Bellingcat’ and the Skirpal narrative is definitely worth reading in its entirety (if for nothing else than proof that there is still real journalism to be found in the mainstreamish media). It’s kind of funny that when a blogger or independent source is supporting the official narrative via unknown means, he is cited as being reliable: and yet when a blogger or indepedent source is refuting the official narrative, he is more often than not dismissed as a conspiracy-theory lunatic living in his parents’ basement or something to that effect.
Getting back to the main subject, that Saudi agents murdered Jamal Khasoggi will probably emerge as the prevailing narrative. And they probably did. I just can’t think of why they’d be so obvious and blatant about it.
Other than just total incompetence, the only thing I can think of is that the Saudi perpetrators in this latest incident didn’t care about how it would look: arguably, those states or actors within those states are basically saying ‘it’s our own business and we can do this and get away with it because we’re that powerful – and what are you going to do about it?‘ It’s the same attitude a lot of people were – rightly or wrongly – ascribing to the Russians who allegedly poisoned Sergei Skripal in Salisbury.
One of the best emerging narratives seems to be that Saudi agents were interrogating (and torturing) Khasoggi and somehow it ‘went wrong’, resulting in his death.
But that’s no ‘explanation’, as far as Saudi brutality criminality is concerned: particularly if it turns out to be true that Khasoggi’s body was then cut up into pieces. For that kind of brutal behaviour to be going on in the premises of an embassy is extraordinary.
And, if this is confirmed, then where that goes is unknown – I can’t foresee anyone taking any serious action against the Saudi state: which would kind of reinforce the ‘we can do this and get away with it because we’re so powerful and what are you going to do about it?’ narrative.
And Donald Trump‘s rather nonchalant “well, he wasn’t an American citizen” comment seems to foreshadow the US administration doing everything it possibly can to not let this incident turn into a problem for US/Saudi relations: particularly as Trump and Kushner seemed to champion MBS so strongly prior to this PR catastrophe and act of butchery.
Washington is too tied to the Saudis for anything significant to be done: and Trump and Jared Kushner are too tied to Mohammad bin Salman personally.
The only thing I can see happening is that – regardless of what the truth is – the Saudi state, Kushner and Washington, and even Erdogan and the Turkish government, will come to some kind of ‘compromise’ explanation for what happened to Jamal Khasoggi: one that allows the approximate status quo to remain unshaken and all parties to exercise as much damage limitation as possible.
The easy route would be to come up with a story about ‘rogue actors’ or a rogue faction operating without official sanction.
Which will probably work, as far as the status quo is concerned: but it won’t work as far as general public opinion is concerned.
There have, naturally, been conspiracy theories flying about ever since Khasoggi went missing.
The dubious thing these days, however, is that it is states and governments putting out a lot of the conspiracy theories themselves – such as the Saudi state putting out the claim that Khasoggi’s fiance is ‘fake’, for example. President Trump is partial to putting out conspiracy theories too. This trend is frankly problematic for the entire realm of ‘conspiracy theories’ – when states and state actors are actively forwarding such theories for their own benefit.
I’ve suspected for a while that any number of ‘conspiracy theories’ that have entered the public realm or gained strong currency across the Internet have probably originated with various governments, intelligence agencies or dubious organisations, who seed particular ideas or theories into various populations in order to either covertly steer popular opinion, incite conflict or stir general mistrust and paranoia (you just have to look at someone like Daniel Pipes and the books he’s written and then observe his organisation’s link to ‘Tommy Robinson’, for example).
As a case in point, the conspiracy theory claims circulating about Khasoggi being linked to the Muslim Brotherhood are probably a red herring designed to deflect attention from the more obvious narrative: simply that Khasoggi was a critic of the current Saudi regime, an opponent of MBS, critic of the War in Yemen, and an apparent advocate for a more progressive Saudi state (albiet still a royalist).
Given his connections and history, he may also have been perceived as someone who either was or would be involved in a counter-coup against MBS.
More Freedom Foundation does a really good job of here addressing the subject level-headedly and putting the whole Khasoggi/Muslim- Brotherhood claim into proper context.
Admittedly, there is reason to be suspicious of undisclosed motives and connections. It is odd how Khasoggi has only generally been referred to as ‘a journalist’, when in fact he apparently had longstanding links to Saudi intelligence, close relations with Saudi royalty, and historic involvement with Osama bin Laden, the Mujahideen and the US-backed war against the Soviets in Afghanistan.
That Khasoggi had huge family history and connections (to the founder of Saudi Arabia, as well as family involvement in billionaire arms- dealing and links to Nixon, Thatcher, etc) is clear: but that doesn’t automatically mean his murder links to a bigger, complex conspiracy involving a multitude of strands. It could be – and probably is – as simple as him being a perceived problem for the MBS faction and its interests.
And yes, as some observers have pointed out, he was also a big advocate for the Arab Spring – but so was, for example, the murdered Maltese journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia, as well as any number of people who weren’t actually part of a conspiracy.
If Khasoggi was attached to any present ‘conspiracy’, the likelihood is that it would’ve been simply a conspiracy aimed at undermining the current Saudi regime and Mohammad bin Salman. If – and it now seems pretty likely – a Saudi hit-squad working for MBS did murder Jamal Khasoggi, then the motive should be as obvious as that.
I’ve seen some (evidence-free) speculation from some online theorists that Mr Khasoggi might’ve been involved in an active anti-MBS plot involving US actors (possibly CIA): which would be complicated, as the Trump/Kushner administration is very much allied to MBS, though the American Deep State itself is probably as divided as the current Saudi power structure, so who knows what’s really going on?
In theory, it could be possible that part of the US Deep State still favours the elements of the Saudi elites that MBS has moved against, in contradiction to the Trump/Kushner-centered cabal’s alliance with the MBS faction.
In which case, there maybe could’ve been an active anti-MBS operation developing – and maybe Khosaggi was suspected of some link to it. In theory, that would explain both the alleged interrogation and the apparent urgency with which these alleged Saudi agents murdered the Washington Post journalist – allegedly within minutes of him setting foot in the embassy.
As theories go, that seems more possible to me than some of the other speculations out there.
But, in trying to make perfect sense of something that we can’t really understand (because we’re never privy to all of the information), we’re ultimately going round in circles with conspiracy theories and counter conspiracy theories (including, as I said, some that have been put out there probably by the same faction that would’ve committed the murder).
There’s even a theory out there that I came across in Russian media that this brutal, botched assault on Khasoggi was carried out by MBS’s enemies as a way to frame him and undermine his position: which I’m not buying, but it does illustrate how many aimless conspiracy theories and counter theories are being thrown about.
Which includes people who think Jamal Kashoggi isn’t dead and the whole thing has been staged: I’m not going to deal with that one.
It’s hard to even fully understand what’s going on in Saudi Arabia anymore – whether we’re supposed to regard the MBS faction as preferable to the other powerful elements or whether there’s no real difference. Certainly, the US and Western media spent a lot of time championing MBS as a reformer and moderniser: and it genuinely does appear that MBS has a lot of real support among younger generations of Saudi citizens as a moderniser.
On the other hand, if he did sanction the hit-squad that brutalised Jamal Kashoggi, then he is clearly a monster.
What we do know is that Washington and Tel-Aviv (or perhaps, more accurately, the Trump/Kushner and Netanyahu administrations) are and have been fully Team MBS.
Kushner was actually in Saudi Arabia with MBS when that whole, bizarre incident happened in Lebanon. Remember that? When the Lebanese Prime Minister showed up in Saudi Arabia and announced his resignation? And then later, upon returning to Lebanon, changed his mind? Apparently, this was also around the time the Crown Prince launched a second wave of arrests against parts of the Saudi elite, including members of his own family (the first wave of arrests having been shortly after Trump’s Saudi visit, with the glowing orb).
Weird shit is going on, which is often incomprehensible to those of us observing from the outside – partly because events aren’t always covered coherently in the media: and also some events get massive coverage and other events don’t. Some incidents remain in the headlines for days or weeks, while others disappear very quickly.
Months ago, MBS’s whereabouts was a mystery after what some claimed was a failed assassination attempt or coup attempt – which was quickly dispelled as having been nothing of the sort. Though it was never clear what it was.
Only a month or so ago, The Times published an article declaring that ‘Mohammad bin Salman’s Days are Numbered’ – which was reproduced and discussed in various Arab and Middle-East media.
Trump had said, a couple of weeks ago, that the Saudi regime would “not last two weeks” without American support.
Those are all indications that something was happening or brewing behind the scenes: some kind of break in relations or conflict of interests. Perhaps something that has stoke the paranoia of the MBS faction and prompted them to act in an extreme, brutal, even incompetent manner – presumably for the simple sake of maintaining power.
Also, a number of journalists have been murdered lately – and not just in far-flung places or under murderous regimes, but closer to home too.
The aforementioned Daphne Caruana Galizia is one example – her murder still having not been solved. Another is Bulgarian journalist Viktoria Marinova.
And again, there are weird things going on in general – with varying degrees of mass media coverage or scrutiny (and often none) and we only ever get a fraction of the real story.
Another good example from recent months is the case of the Interpol head, Meng Hongwei, going missing when he arrived in China from France. For some time, his whereabouts was a total mystery. Eventually, it was confirmed he was being held by the Chinese state – at some point after this, he also communicated his resignation from Interpol. No one knows what the Chinese authorities are holding him for. No one knows why he went to China in the first place.
And the media seems to have let go of the entire mystery – despite the fact that this guy was the head of Interpol. I’m not sure how much this story was covered in the American media at all.
China, unlike Saudi Arabia, doesn’t feel the need to answer any questions or offer any explanations: and plays even more by the ‘it’s our own business and we’re that powerful and what’re you going to do about it?’ way of operating.
As for what appears to have been the brutal murder of Jamal Khasoggi, I don’t expect the true reason for his murder will ever be confirmed: and I doubt that the Saudi state will be made to pay much of a price.
But I wholly admit I’m confused about Saudi Arabia, MBS’s standing, what parts of the American state or Deep State are supporting what parts of the Saudi elites, whether or even why one Saudi faction is preferable to another, and where any of this is going (if it’s going anywhere).
The only thing that seems clear is that Jamal Khasoggi suffered a horrible death.
Read more: ‘The Murder of SERENA SHIM & the Death of the BBC’s Jackie Sutton‘, ‘Curious Connections: Trump, Kushner, Netanyahu and 9/11‘, ‘When Saudi Arabia Rules the World‘, ‘Erdogan, the Gulenists & an Age of Universal Deceit‘, ‘Who Killed Blogger/Journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia?‘
We live in crazy times, interesting stuff!
Nice and balanced piece, interesting details and connections on Khasoggi. Keep up the good work!
Thanks BBB! I’ve been waiting for your take. I think MBS ordered it, but he is so arrogant and power-drunk, that he thought he would get away with it on Saudi soil (their Embassy). He will lose a lot of his international reputation, but I doubt he will suffer within the Kingdom. He has the army under his control, I am sure, and Trump at his back. However, this murder of a journalist and the attempt to wound free speech will resonate big time all around the world. It may even work in favour of the journalists held in Egypt, Myanmar, etc. I am sickened by the details which emerge bit by bit (screaming as he had his fingers cut off) but also ask myself why this atrocity deserves more attention and outrage than children dying in Yemen and Palestinians being shot in Gaza. It is a bit of a rhetorical question, but on my mind nevertheless.
I would like to think you’re right that this could have a knock-on effect around the world for the better: but I honestly can’t see things improving in Egypt, Myanmar or anywhere else on account of this. The thing that those regimes do now to justify ill treatment of journalists or activists is to accuse them of “fake news” – it’s become problematic that the phrase has now spread into common use, because it is being weaponised.
And you’re right, of course – this case shouldn’t get be causing more outrage than the situation in Yemen.