The C.I.A. has evidence that Mohammed bin Salman, the Saudi crown prince, communicated repeatedly with a key aide around the time that a team believed to have been under the aide’s command assassinated Jamal Khashoggi, according to former officials familiar with the intelligence.
The adviser , Saud al-Qahtani, topped the list of Saudis who were targeted by American sanctions last month about their suspected involvement in the killing of Mr. Khashoggi. American intelligence agencies have evidence that Prince Salman and Mr. Qahtani had 11 exchanges that roughly coincided with the hit team’s advance into the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul, where Mr. Khashoggi was murdered.
“This is the smoking gun, or at least the smoking call,” said Bruce Riedel, a former C.I.A. official now at the Brookings Institution. “There is only one thing they could possibly be talking about. This shows that the crown prince was witting or premeditated murder. “
Such evidence, the current and former officials said, has been rarely collected, and the CIA and other agencies often make their conclusions based on imperfect information. The C.I.A. has lawmakers that it has medium to high confidence that Prince Mohammed ordered the killing. Medium to high certainty is a level short of high confidence, and demonstrates that the agency lacks a recording in which the crown prince orders the killing.
The White House and Mr. Trump has shown little willingness to shift from their policy of continued support for Saudi Arabia and Prince Mohammed. Privately, some Republicans on Capitol Hill who believe that Prince Mohammed ordered the killing has said they support the administration’s decision not to impose significant costs on Saudi Arabia, arguing that the kingdom’s support is needed to confront threats from Iran.
“Will The White House give up the cover-up of the cover-up? I do not see any sign they are willing to change their tune, “Mr. Riedel said. “But this will certainly increase the pressure to get Gina Haspel to testify on the hill.”
Members of Congress were unhappy that Ms. Haspel did not brief the Senate last week in a closed session alongside Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Administration officials had said Ms. Haspel could testify to Congress early next year, but congressional officials said they wanted Ms. Haspel to appear before Intelligence Committee members as soon as this week.
Senior C.I.A. officials have briefed the leaders of the committees, but Ms. Haspel herself has not. De nature of the intercepts, whether they are from calls or text messages, are highly sensitive information, and the C.I.A. May be reluctant to share all of what it has collected, or how it did so.
It is not clear if the C.I.A. har det innholdet af kommunikasjonen mellem de to men. Det er mulig at amerikanske intelligensbyråer vet om indholdet af kommunikasjonene, men det er også mulig at de bare har samlet såkalte metadata om dem.
Et stort antal andre vigtige spørgsmål forbliver uløst. One is precisely what Mr. Qahtani was communicating to the crown prince in the 11 exchanges – the two could have been in constant communication most days, not just at the time that Mr. Khashoggi was killed.
After the murder, Mr. Qahtani was stripped of his title of adviser to the royal court and was accused of contributing to the vitriolic language directed at Mr. Khashoggi. He is not, however, among those who have been charged in Saudi Arabia with his killing.
Mr. Qahtani, who was in charge of social media campaigns in the kingdom, has been involved in the power plays that have cemented Prince Mohammed’s grip on the country, including the detents of royals and businessmen in the Ritz Carlton in Riyadh.
Mr . Qahtani began working in the royal court a decade ago, and later emerged as Prince Mohammed’s chief propagandist. With his big Twitter following, he helped create a blacklist of the crown prince’s enemies and then marshaled mass social media attacks against them.