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Washington Post Reporter Weighs In On CIA Investigation In Killing Of Journalist


The Washington Post reports that the CIA has concluded Jamal Khashoggi was murdered on the orders of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. The Post, along with other news organizations, cited unnamed sources in its report. Shane Harris covers national security for The Post. He was part of the reporting team that broke the story. Shane, thanks very much for joining us.

SHANE HARRIS: Good morning. Thanks.

SIMON: Can you tell us how your sources said the CIA made, what they call, a conclusion in high confidence?

HARRIS: Well, they were factoring in a number of different streams of intelligence, really, including this audio we've heard so much about from inside the Turkish Consulate in Istanbul, where Jamal was killed. So you have that piece. You also have intercepted phone calls, including one, quite chillingly we understand, that came from someone who was a member of that hit team inside the consulate phoning back to a senior aide to the crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, saying, essentially, the job is done. And we have some other communications as well.

And the CIA also factored in what they know about how the Saudi government works. And their conclusion was that nothing of this scale - an operation like this - could possibly have happened without the crown prince knowing about it and authorizing it. So that brought them to this high-confidence, as they say, conclusion, which is CIA speak for, we are pretty darn sure.

SIMON: Yeah. So it's not just based on 10 minutes of what happened...

HARRIS: No, not at all. It's multiple streams of information.

SIMON: CIA declined to comment to NPR. Recognizing some of this might be graphic, do we know what happened to Mr. Khashoggi?

HARRIS: Our best understanding, at this point, is that he was killed very soon after going into the consulate. We believe he probably was suffocated. He may have been choked. We're not exactly sure.

The audio seems to indicate, at that point, a discussion about what to do about his remains. And, of course, we understand from other reporting that we believe he was dismembered and then somehow disposed of after that.

SIMON: The Trump administration - or at least the president - have indicated previously they don't share this conclusion. Saudi Embassy says the claims and the purported assessment are false. Now, let's note - President Trump has often criticized the U.S. intelligence establishment, saying they're not right on Russia. Oh, yeah. They were the ones who said Iraq had weapons of mass destruction.

We have to ask, is there any indication in this CIA report, which has sources inside, that this is some kind of attempt by what the president's supporters call the deep state to bring him into line?

HARRIS: No, I don't think so. I mean, the CIA - you know, for all of the ways that the president somehow misunderstands how they operate - is looking at this situation objectively. And, yes, to some degree, they are factoring in subjective judgments about how people behave, like the crown prince. But this is not an attempt, I think, to, you know, bring the crown prince to heel or to somehow influence policy.

And we should note, too, the president, I mean, has been briefed on the CIA's findings. And what we understand is that he keeps resisting them because he doesn't have, I guess, the smoking gun. He keeps asking, well, where's the body? Or, show me the definitive proof that Mohammed bin Salman ordered this. And, you know, it doesn't always work that way.

Intelligence is not kind of a "Perry Mason"-style investigation. You have to take the totality of the facts and the circumstances and arrive at, essentially, your most confident conclusion. And the CIA is highly confident at this point.

SIMON: Any evidence based on what you know that the crown prince's status in Saudi Arabia is, in any way, shaken by this finding?

HARRIS: Not at all. And I think it's any - we even talked to sources who said, I think, the CIA believes that he will not be removed over this. So it's - his position there is absolute, and his control is near total, which is another reason why the CIA is so confident that nothing of this scale - this murder of Jamal Khashoggi - could've happened without his knowing it.

SIMON: But there would still be a question about if there's U.S. response at all.

HARRIS: Precisely. I mean, now the question is this is the CIA's official line. What is the president going to do about it? And, importantly, what will members of Congress do when they come back after the holiday? There's been pretty biased, partisan outrage over this attack.

SIMON: Yeah. Shane Harris of The Washington Post. Thanks so much.

HARRIS: My pleasure. Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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