Murky ties undermine the credibility of Trump's Middle East policies

By: Rachel Marsden

PARIS -- It has been six months since Washington Post columnist and U.S. resident Jamal Khashoggi was killed and dismembered with a bone saw inside the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul. Despite U.S. President Donald Trump demonstrating that he's slaphappy when it comes to imposing or tightening sanctions on countries such as Venezuela and Iran, he has yet to take any measures against Saudi Arabia for the Khashoggi murder, which the CIA believes was ordered by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman .

The Washington Post reports that some of the individuals involved in Khashoggi's murder may have been trained in America. "The CIA has cautioned other government agencies that some of this special-operations training might have been conducted by Tier 1 Group, an Arkansas-based company, under a State Department license," writes Post columnist David Ignatius.

According to the Tier 1 Group's website, the company "is proud to provide world-class multidiscipline, multi-echelon training to the U.S. Military and State Department, Law Enforcement, the Private Security Detail Sector, OGA Specialty Operator Teams as well as International Allied Forces." The term "OGA," or "Other Government Agency" in military and paramilitary parlance, generally refers to the CIA or CIA contractors, which can also mean foreign entities, but it's the "International Allied Forces" bit here that's of particular interest.

The State Department should be compelled to disclose whether Tier 1 did, in fact, train any of the individuals involved in the Khashoggi murder. This is, after all, an American company operating under an American government license.

The ties between the Tier 1 Group and the Trump administration are striking.

Tier 1 is owned by Cerberus Capital Management, according to a 2017 story in The New Yorker about Cerberus co-founder and CEO Stephen A. Feinberg. Cerberus bought portions of Jared Kushner 's distressed real estate debt when the market collapsed in 2008, shortly after Kushner had paid $1.8 billion for an office tower on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan, Bloomberg Businessweek reported in 2016.

Kushner and then-White House strategist Steve Bannon asked Feinberg and Erik Prince, founder of the private security firm Blackwater (now known as Academi ) to come up with proposals to replace U.S. troops in Afghanistan with military contractors, according to a New York Times story from July 2017. (Feinberg had expressed interest in purchasing Blackwater in 2008, but the deal never came to fruition.)

In May 2018, Trump appointed Feinberg to lead the President's Intelligence Advisory Board, a body described as "[providing] advice to the president concerning the quality and adequacy of intelligence collection, counterintelligence, and other intelligence activities." Would that include advising Trump on matters related to Saudi Arabia, despite Feinberg running the company that owns Tier 1 Group?

It's debatable whether America's best interests are being served by having a fund manager with financial interests in a company that provides private training to "International Allied Forces" supply Trump with advice on foreign intelligence.

This calls into question the overall credibility of Trump's Middle East policies, which Kushner seemed all too keen to take off former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson's plate. It was reported last year that Kushner communicated directly with the Saudi crown prince via the encrypted messenger service WhatsApp.

It calls into question the Trump administration's interest in selling American nuclear technology to Saudi Arabia -- an interest now being probed by Congress in the wake of whistleblower reports. It calls into question Trump's hard line against Saudi Arabia's archenemy, Iran, which has been the target of sanctions that run contrary to the position of the international community and American allies.

It calls into question Trump's decision to visit Saudi Arabia on his first trip overseas, instead of a customary close ally such as Canada or the United Kingdom. It calls into question Trump's inaction when the Saudi crown prince locked a bunch of wealthy Saudis inside a Ritz-Carlton hotel in Riyadh, where they were imprisoned and shaken down for cash. And it calls into question Trump's nonchalance towards the killing and dismemberment of a member of the American press inside a Saudi consulate.

Finally, it calls into question, yet again, America's role in providing training and knowhow to foreigners despite the obvious potential for blowback.

This administration owes the American public some answers.