The media frenzy over Jamal Khashoggi shows no sign of abating. Reporters can’t get enough of the gory details and the international intrigue. But they seem to have forgotten the need to report basic facts, question their single-sourced material, and ask difficult questions of those who know far more than they let on. Instead, they just trot out the same biased narratives, devised to lay blame at President Trump’s feet, presumably in order to use this episode as a wedge issue in the upcoming midterm elections.
This trend was on vivid display on MSNBC on Wednesday. The channel missed crucial opportunities to set the record straight when they hosted Khashoggi’s Washington Post colleague, David Ignatius, on Morning Joe, and then again with former Obama-era CIA director John Brennan. These are key figures because they could shed some much-needed light on Khashoggi’s past, which could go some way to determining a motive behind his disappearance. Instead they just mouthed platitudes.
To begin with, Brennan should know more than he makes out about Khashoggi’s links in high American places. As the Hudson Institute’s Lee Smith pointed out in a recent column, Khashoggi must have been important to the United States, ‘because even though he reportedly moved to the United States in 2017, he already had a green card.’ Indeed, as David Ignatius wrote in the Washington Post, ‘Friends helped Khashoggi obtain a visa that allowed him to stay in the United States as a permanent resident.’ What friends? Khashoggi’s green card materialised during John Brennan’s tenure as director of Obama’s CIA from 2013-2017.
For those uninitiated with Brennan’s checkered past, he is most likely responsible for leaking to the media the unverified dossier that connected Donald Trump to Russia. He appeared to later cash in on those leaks by joining NBC News as a ‘senior national security and intelligence analyst.’ To say that he has his own bone saw to grind against Trump would be an understatement. Nevertheless, someone should ask Brennan and Ignatius how Khashoggi obtained a green card.
There are more unexplored connections. Before becoming CIA director, Brennan was the agency’s station chief in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia from 1996 until 1999. That overlaps with Saudi Prince Turki bin Faisal’s long tenure as the head of the General Intelligence Directorate, a post he held from 1977 until about a week before September 11, 2001. It would be impossible to imagine that the two weren’t rather familiar with each other, given that the US-Saudi relationship is largely predicated on intelligence sharing.
Prince Turki also happens to be on the wrong side of the House of Saud’s Game of Thrones-style succession contest. He is, however, the Saudi royal that Khashoggi was most connected to – enough that he was selected to be Turki’s adviser and media spokesman when he became ambassador to London and then Washington from 2003-2006.
It’s clear that Prince Turki’s relationship with Khashoggi predates the attacks of 9/11. But how far back does the relationship stretch? Does it go back to May 1988, when Khashoggi was planted with Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan to write a couple of articles for the Saudi-owned Arab News? Khashoggi interviewed bin Laden, let’s not forget.
As Patrick Poole noted, just a few weeks prior to Khashoggi’s May 1988 articles, Shiekh Abdullah Azzam released his article, ‘Al Qaeda al Sulbah.’ Azzam, who was also cited in Khashoggi’s articles, was identified in the 9/11 Commission Report as a co-founder of Al-Qaeda. In fact, soon after Khashoggi was hanging out with Bin Laden and posing for pictures while holding an RPG, Azzam chaired an August 11 meeting in Peshawar, Pakistan, where they decided to form Al-Qaeda. This account is detailed in Larry Wright’s book, The Looming Tower, along with the added verification that Khashoggi and bin Laden joined the Muslim Brotherhood at the same time.
As John R. Bradley has pointed out on this site, Khashoggi was not a pure liberal reformer and supporter of democracy. His steadfast advocacy for the Muslim Brotherhood never waned. Prior to his disappearance, ‘he was also working with Islamists tied to the Muslim Brotherhood to create an organisation called Democracy in the Arab World Now (DAWN).’ As recently as August 28, Khashoggi penned an article for the Washington Post entitled, ‘The US is wrong about the Muslim Brotherhood – and the Arab world is suffering because of it.’
How Khashoggi came to meet bin Laden should also be further investigated. It was Abdel Batterjee, founder of the Islamic Benevolence Committee, who invited Khashoggi to Afghanistan to meet the blossoming Jihadi. Khashoggi provided some details in a February 2004 article in the Chicago Tribune, in which he described Batterjee as ‘completely consumed by the Afghan jihad.’ Batterjee’s so-called charity was designated by the US Treasury Department as a financier of terrorism in November 2002. A few months after the Chicago Tribune published the 2004 article, the US Treasury Department designated Batterjee for his financial and material support of Al-Qaeda.
None of this is to say that killing Khashoggi can be remotely justified. But there are far too many important questions still not being asked, let alone answered, at least not on the major networks and newspapers. After the recent Kavanaugh hearing debacle, this is yet another indication that long after President Trump leaves the stage, the damage most mainstream media has done to itself may be irreparable.
Matthew R. J. Brodsky is a senior fellow at the Security Studies Group in Washington, D.C