According to a 2015 directive issued by the Director of National Intelligence, the CIA has a legal "duty to warn" potential victims of threats such as murder, kidnapping or serious bodily harm. And now it appears the CIA has tipped off at least three individuals who were close to Khashoggi and who have since been fierce critics of crown prince Mohammed bin-Salman (MbS).
A report issued Thursday in Time detailed that the CIA made the three former Khashoggi colleagues aware of ongoing threats by Saudi security services to them and their families, though the exact nature of the threats were not revealed. Since the report, at least one of those named have confirmed they were visited by western intelligence services.
Time identified those who face "potential retaliation by Saudi Arabia" as follows:
Three of those who were given security briefings in recent weeks––democracy advocates Iyad El-Baghdadi of Oslo, Norway; Omar Abdulaziz of Montreal, Canada; and a person in the U.S. who asked not to be named––were working closely with Khashoggi on politically sensitive media and human rights projects at the time of his killing inside a Saudi diplomatic facility in Turkey last October.
The report said further the activists and journalists had emerged as fierce critics of MbS, and some of them are known as prominent voices in Arabic media, including the Palestinian-born Iyad El-Baghdadi.
The Time report continued:
Based on the security briefings, the advocates say they have been targeted because they have become especially vocal and influential critics of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, accusing him of ordering Khashoggi’s murder as part of a broader crackdown on Saudi dissidents worldwide.
In the months following the October 2018 killing, the US and Canada had levied sanctions against a 17 Saudis suspected of participating or orchestrating Khashoggi's murder, and a handful of countries declared said they wouldn't sell arms to Saudi Arabia.
And in late November of last year, somebody inside the CIA leaked a preliminary report to the Washington Post detailing the agency's determination that MbS had ordered the killing.
And yet the absurd irony is that the CIA and United States government continue to coordinate closely with Saudi Arabia and its intelligence services - as they've done for decades spanning multiple administrations. So the CIA is essentially warning citizens they are under threat by their own allied partner security services.
The Times report gave more details, including voluntary travel restrictions for increased safety from Saudi operatives, as follows:
The nature of the new threat was not specified. Neither Baghdadi nor Abdulaziz were told that they or their families were in physical danger, either now or in the future, according to people familiar with briefings. But Baghdadi said he was instructed to take a wide range of precautions, including preventive measures to make it harder to hack their electronic devices in order to leak and weaponize the information against them. That tactic was used by Saudi Arabia against Abdulaziz, who is suing an Israeli security company, NSO Group, for selling Saudi Arabia the malware that compromised his cell phone, a breach documented by the University of Toronto watchdog Citizenlab.
The CIA briefings, which were further conducted with at least one unnamed individual who resides in the US, involved going to secure locations for multiple hour briefings:
Agents from the Norwegian Police Security Service, or PST, first approached Baghdadi on April 25 at his home and took him to a secure location for a two-hour briefing, Baghdadi says. That warning, first reported by the Guardian, came about the same time as the warnings to Abdulaziz and the U.S.-based advocate, which have not been previously reported.
Baghdadi believes the PST would not have taken such lengths unless its partner agency, the CIA, was behind the original tip off.
“But my entire conversation with the PST from beginning to end was about the Saudis. And from the initial moment on, the fact the Norwegians have taken it so seriously is that it was the CIA,” the journalist explained.