Intelligence Agencies Sued For Refusing To Turn Over Documents Related To Jamal Khashoggi's Brutal Murder

from the letting-the-passage-of-time-do-the-dirty-work dept

The shocking and brutal murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi by members of the Saudi Arabian government late last year was breathtaking in its audacity and execution. Lured to the Saudi consulate in Turkey by Saudi government officials, Khashoggi was strangled and dismembered by a team of Saudi security operatives.

Khashoggi was a legal resident of the United States, in self-imposed exile from Saudi Arabia as a result of the government's treatment of dissidents. As a lawful resident, Khashoggi was technically protected by the many of the same laws and rights US citizens are. While the US government limits those rights and protections when legal residents (but not citizens) travel out of the country, the US intelligence community still bears a "duty to warn" lawful residents of any violent threats against them.

The IC knew Khashoggi was a target of the Saudi government. It knew Riyadh had "something unpleasant" waiting for Khashoggi should he return to Saudi Arabia. A plan to lure Khashoggi back to Saudi Arabia was intercepted by US intelligence. No one knows whether Khashoggi was ever warned by US intelligence of these plans.

The Committee to Protect Journalists -- along with the Knight Institute -- wants to know if any attempts were made to inform the murdered journalist of Saudi Arabia's plans. So far, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence has refused to publicly comment on the IC's "duty to warn." These two entities have filed FOIA requests seeking info about the IC's duty to warn Jamal Khashoggi, asking each of the IC's five components to release documents detailing their actions/inactions. These were filed shortly after news broke of Khashoggi's murder. So far, none of the agencies have handed over any documents.

As the Knight Institute points out, there definitely should be documents related to Khashoggi and the government's "duty to warn."

Intelligence Community Directive 191 provides that, when a U.S. intelligence agency acquires information indicating an impending threat of intentional killing, serious bodily injury, or kidnapping directed at a person, the agency must “warn the intended victim or those responsible for protecting the intended victim, as appropriate.” The directive further obligates the agencies to “document and maintain records” on any actions taken pursuant to that duty.

"Document" is a key part of "document and maintain," but so far, the IC agencies haven't turned over any documents, or even admitted they have any. All five agencies have rejected the request for expedited processing and most haven't even gotten around to deciding whether or not a fee waiver applies. So, the two entities have sued [PDF], hoping to jolt the Intelligence Community out of its complacency.

Documents pertaining to the IC's duty to warn are extremely newsworthy... right now. The IC knows this just as much as the plaintiffs know this. But the IC has much more to gain by stonewalling these requests. If these agencies failed to pass on information to Khashoggi -- in effect allowing him to end up in the hands of people who wanted him dead -- it's not going to reflect well on the IC. The longer it takes for the news to get out, the greater the chance a new obscenely-disturbing incident will grab the attention of the American public and allow it to walk away from any dereliction of duty unscathed.

If it does have documents and it did warn Khashoggi of the Saudi government's plans for him, it would make little sense to withhold these facts and allow public perception to fill the void. But the IC tends to indulge in secrecy for secrecy's sake, viewing frustrated requesters, Senators, and Congresspersons as a reward in itself.

Filed Under: duty to warn, foia, jamal khashoggi, journalism, state department, transprarency, us government
Companies: committee to protect journalists, knight institute


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  1. This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 22 Jan 2019 @ 12:41pm

    What does this have to do with tech?

    That's a lawsuit.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2. icon
    Matthew Cline (profile), 22 Jan 2019 @ 12:46pm

    Maybe they didn't want to reveal their sources

    While pure obstinance and covering up incompetence are possible motives for not handing over documents, another possibility is that that comes to mind is that they didn't want to tip off the Saudi government that they had a leak. In this scenario the more charitable interpretation is that they hoped that if they kept the leak open that they could use it to saved a bunch of lives in the future, as opposed to just one life now. A more cynical interpretation is that they wanted to keep the leak open in the hopes of using it in the future for a more high-profile case than simply warning a journalist of possible danger.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3. icon
    Stephen T. Stone (profile), 22 Jan 2019 @ 12:46pm

    Re:

    What does this have to do with tech?

    (With all apologies, Mike…)

    “Absolutely nothing — which you are about to become!”

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4. identicon
    Sharur, 22 Jan 2019 @ 12:54pm

    Relevance (amid violation of international norms)?

    Did Khashoggi go to Saudi Arabia? I was under the impression he went to Turkey, albeit to a Saudi consulate, but I was also under the impression that a consulate, unlike an embassy, is considered part of the host country and its officers liable under the host country's laws for any act not part of their official, recognized duties (which is part of the reason why Turkey was so pissed over Khashoggi's death, and rightly so).

    Unless him being in Turkey was part of the "plan to lure him to Saudi Arabia", but I was under the impression he never left...

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5. identicon
    Personanongrata, 22 Jan 2019 @ 12:57pm

    It's a Sticky Wicket

    If it does have documents and it did warn Khashoggi of the Saudi government's plans for him, it would make little sense to withhold these facts and allow public perception to fill the void.

    When the US intelligence community seeks to hide it's actions/inactions behind a pitch dark doctrine of official state secrecy the rational is often repugnant but in certain instances US intelligence community sources/methods used must remain secret.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6. identicon
    David, 22 Jan 2019 @ 1:00pm

    Re: Maybe they didn't want to reveal their sources

    It's not a matter of "more high-profile". Khashoggi was a pain in the ass of Saudi Arabia and thus a pain to the U.S. government which has its head up Saudi Arabia's ass.

    Khashoggi was not "low-profile" rather than negative-profile, someone who the U.S. did not particularly desire to stay alive either. This should not have made a difference for maintaining law and the most basic human decency of not idly watching someone get killed for base reasons, but then we are talking about the U.S. here.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 22 Jan 2019 @ 1:11pm

    Re:

    That's why it's in the "Legal Issues" category.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 22 Jan 2019 @ 1:39pm

    Re: It's a Sticky Wicket

    In what certain instances must sources/methods remain secret?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9. identicon
    David, 22 Jan 2019 @ 1:45pm

    Re: Relevance (amid violation of international norms)?

    Unless him being in Turkey was part of the "plan to lure him to Saudi Arabia", but I was under the impression he never left...

    The official version is that the Saudi-Arabian team including a pathologist with a bone saw was in the consulate to convince Khashoggi to return with them to Saudi Arabia but Khashoggi started an altercation in which more than a dozen agents had to kill and dismember him (not necessarily in that order) in self-defense.

    After which they disposed of the body and immediately traveled back home, as did the consul before the country's officers could do anything they might have regretted later on.

    So yes: the official version contains a "plan to lure him to Saudi Arabia", and "we knew Saudi Arabia wanted to lure him back into their country and remained quiet" still sounds better than "we knew Saudi Arabia wanted to murder him and remained quiet".

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 22 Jan 2019 @ 1:50pm

    Re: Relevance (amid violation of international norms)?

    Reading is hard.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11. icon
    Bamboo Harvester (profile), 22 Jan 2019 @ 1:50pm

    Re: Relevance (amid violation of international norms)?

    You are correct about Embassies and Consulates.

    It turns into a real mess because he wasn't a US Citizen, but had been granted US Residency.

    What is puzzling is how this threat was "discovered".

    If a US intel agency knew, but didn't tell *him*, who did they tell that leaked to the press that they knew?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12. identicon
    David, 22 Jan 2019 @ 1:59pm

    Re: Re: It's a Sticky Wicket

    Something like "we got this from the prince's mistress" is going to cause a lot of damage if made public. So would "that's information from the microphones we installed in the palace".

    Many conceivable channels of secret service information will suffer from being made public. That's likely part of the reason Turkey has not published its evidential recordings: if they did, the recording locations would be disclosed.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 22 Jan 2019 @ 2:25pm

    We're being putting the genie in the bottle on domestic spying. What we're seeing is that those behind the cameras continue to get tracked by their own intelligence gathering infrastructure, then this information exposed in damaging leaks.

    Strategically, to fight domestic spying at this point it makes more sense to help it along. Proliferate open source tools to expand surveillance tool deployment everywhere, aiming for data feeds that include greater observation of government and private industry sources open to all.

    If we're going to be naked, everyone is getting naked. That way we can see who is skimming extra resources under their clothes.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14. icon
    Gary (profile), 22 Jan 2019 @ 7:12pm

    Brutal?

    IMHO the Cheeto was on the phone to the Saudi's offering to sell them more arms in exchange for silencing WaPo reporters.
    But of course Putin doesn't both with such rigamarole.

    Putin and Cheeto - besties forever:
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_journalists_killed_in_Russia

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15. icon
    That One Guy (profile), 22 Jan 2019 @ 9:52pm

    No, not that sticky at all

    In which case 'We've redacted data which could expose a sensitive source, but other than that here's what we have.'

    We're talking about information that could expose or exonerate(though the latter is very unlikely, as they would likely have no problem releasing that) them of sitting on highly important data and as a result letting someone walk to their brutal death. If that is the result of their methods then it damn well deserves to be exposed and made public.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  16. icon
    That One Guy (profile), 22 Jan 2019 @ 9:58pm

    No really, we'd love to release this information clearing us...

    At this point I'd say the default assumption when a government agency stonewalls a request for information should be that the information being sought is damning in some way until they release it and prove otherwise.

    'Assume the worst until proven otherwise', given the intel community's track record odds are good that if anything you'll have been underestimating how bad things are.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  17. identicon
    David, 23 Jan 2019 @ 2:56am

    Re: Brutal?

    IMHO the Cheeto was on the phone to the Saudi's offering to sell them more arms in exchange for silencing WaPo reporters.

    It doesn't matter. This is about the Secret Services' role. If they decided on their own that looking askew while Khashoggi got dismembered was fine, the public deserves to know. And if they decided after presidential instruction that looking askew while Khashoggi got dismembered was fine, the public deserves to know all the more. Either way, the role of the Secret Services needs to be analyzed and measures taken that this will not repeat itself whether or not the U.S. is being presided on by a person void of morals.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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