CIA Director Gina Haspel briefed lawmakers Tuesday on the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, according to Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker.
The briefing took place after the CIA was excluded last week when Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defense Secretary James Mattis spoke with senators about the journalist’s killing.
Khashoggi, a U.S.-based Washington Post contributor who was a strong critic of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS), was murdered in October inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey. His remains have not been found.
The CIA concluded with “medium to high confidence” that his killing was “probably ordered” by MBS, The Wall Street Journal reported.
Despite the CIA’s assessment, President Donald Trump has repeatedly dismissed it, calling it premature. Trump has, however, imposed sanctions on 17 Saudis for their alleged role in the murder. National Security Advisor John Bolton appeared uninterested last week in an audio recording of the killing that Turkish investigators shared with the U.S. intelligence community.
The Journal and other U.S. media outlets have reported the CIA has evidence that MBS exchanged 11 messages with a close aide who oversaw the murder shortly before and after it took place.
Saudi Arabia maintains the crown prince did not know anything about the murder, which it claims was an accident.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, a staunch ally of Trump, supports a Senate rebuke of the Saudi government, despite the Trump administration’s reluctance to do it.
Graham voted for a resolution last week that would cancel U.S. support for Saudi Arabia’s involvement in the civil war in Yemen.
Graham wrote in the Journal that “it is important for Congress to signal that there is no excuse for recent Saudi behavior.”
An Israeli software company calls the allegation that its spyware played a part in the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi “unfounded.”
A fellow Saudi dissident and Khashoggi friend living in exile in Canada — Omar Abdelaziz — is suing NSO Group, alleging the Saudi government used NSO’s Pegasus spyware to track his and Khashoggi’s movements and communications.
The two dissidents had been working on a pro-opposition project targeting the Saudi government and calling for democracy in the kingdom.
Abdulaziz says Saudi authorities used Pegasus to track their communications and believes it was a “crucial factor” in the decision to kill Khashoggi.
NSO Group calls the lawsuit unfounded and says there is no evidence its software was used in connection with the killing.
“Our products are licensed for the sole use of providing governments and law enforcement agencies the ability to fight terrorism and crime in the modern age,” a company statement read Monday. “We take an extremely scrupulous approach to the licensing of our products, which are only provided after a full vetting and licensing by the Israeli government.”
Several news agencies report the Saudi government bought Pegasus from NSO last year for about $55 million.
The human rights group Amnesty International has been trying to suspend NSO’s export license, alleging that “human rights-violating regimes” use Pegasus to spy on the opposition and on Amnesty staff themselves.
U.S. intelligence says Saudi Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who Khashoggi once called a “beast,” ordered the killing.
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