As a Presidential candidate, Joe Biden called Saudi Arabia a “pariah” state with a government of “no redeeming social value.” He even charged that the kingdom’s flashy Crown Prince, Mohammed bin Salman, had masterminded the murder and gruesome dismemberment of Jamal Khashoggi, a longtime Saudi insider and journalist who had fled to Washington in fear of the Crown Prince’s vindictive wrath. Khashoggi became a highly visible voice of the Saudi opposition in a column for the Washington Post. In 2018, he was reportedly instructed by the Crown Prince’s brother, then the Ambassador to Washington, to go to the Saudi consulate in Istanbul to get papers so that he could marry his Turkish fiancée. He obeyed. Khashoggi’s last words were uttered in the consulate, as he desperately appealed to members of a fifteen-man Saudi hit squad as they covered his mouth, then pulled a plastic bag over his head. “I have asthma,” he gasped, according to a tape recording later leaked by Turkish intelligence. “You will suffocate me.” Twenty-five minutes later, a bone saw was heard on the tape as his captors began to chop up Khashoggi’s body, which has never been recovered. The hit squad acted “on the order of the Crown Prince,” Biden said, during a Democratic primary debate. “They have to be held accountable.” Biden vowed, if elected, not to sell more weapons to the Saudis. “We are going to make them pay the price and make them, in fact, the pariah that they are.”
Or maybe not. On Friday, the Biden Administration released a classified U.S. intelligence report on the murder of Khashoggi, which President Trump had long suppressed. To no one’s surprise, the C.I.A. analysis confirmed that M.B.S., as he’s widely known, had “approved” Khashoggi’s murder. “Since 2017, the Crown Prince has had absolute control of the Kingdom’s security and intelligence organizations, making it highly unlikely that Saudi officials would have carried out an operation of this nature without the Crown Prince’s authorization,” the report said. It also noted that seven of the fifteen members of the hit squad were part of M.B.S.’s élite personal protective detail, known as the Rapid Intervention Force (R.I.F.), or the Tiger Squad. Some were photographed accompanying the Crown Prince when he was fêted by the Trump Administration (and Oprah, Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates, Michael Bloomberg, Bill Clinton, Michael Douglas, and other celebrities) during a nationwide U.S. tour, in 2018. “The RIF—a subset of the Saudi Royal Guard—exists to defend the Crown Prince, answers only to him, and had directly participated in earlier dissident suppression operations in the Kingdom and abroad at the Crown Prince’s direction,” the report concluded.