Did Americans help train Khashoggi's killers?

By: Rachel Marsden

PARIS -- After initial denials, Saudi Arabia has admitted that Washington Post journalist and U.S. resident Jamal Khashoggi died inside its consulate in Istanbul earlier this month. We're now supposed to believe that it was an interrogation gone wrong, ignoring reports that an autopsy expert entered the building with a bone saw. The Saudis also announced that they will be conducting an investigation in order to provide further details.
U.S. officials should be investigating American involvement in the incident as well, specifically to ascertain whether any Americans were involved in training the people responsible for Khashoggi's death.

Details are starting to come out about the 15 individuals who arrived in Istanbul hours before Khashoggi was killed and departed shortly thereafter. One has since died mysteriously in a car accident back home in Riyadh. The Washington Post reports that the majority of them have links to the Saudi security services and that some have made visits to the U.S., suggesting that they may be part of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman's personal security detail.

The backgrounds of these individuals must be investigated. Who trained them? Was there a transfer of security know-how from American sources? If so, what exactly were the Saudis taught -- or what did they fail to learn, given the botched operation?

This isn't the first time that the prince's personal security team has been accused of forcibly quieting dissent. Last year, the prince's posse staged a weeks-long crackdown on wealthy Saudis, detaining them at the Ritz-Carlton in Riyadh. Sources told me at that time that the prince's security team was American-trained, and it's indisputable that Americans have trained individuals who have violently served Saudi interests in the past.

America has a serious problem that is only now starting to come to light with high-profile instances of blowback. Former U.S. security and intelligence officials have been selling their taxpayer-funded expertise to nations whose values bear little resemblance to those that America claims to support. Foreign Policy magazine reported last year that former CIA and government officers have been working as security trainers for Persian Gulf states such as the United Arab Emirates.

The Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, the capital of the UAE, is considered a mentor to the young Saudi crown prince. And that's not all the two countries share. The Emiratis have invested considerable resources in developing a military comprised partly of foreign mercenaries, according to The Economist. The UAE's newfound military might is being used to help Saudi Arabia. In Yemen, the Saudis have primarily limited themselves to protecting their own border while the UAE has been fighting Iranian-aligned Houthis.

Yemen's news agency, Saba News, takes great pains to point out that the fighters being blown up inside Yemen are "Saudi-paid mercenaries," supporting the notion that Saudis aren't fighting their own wars against Iran, relying instead on outsourcing the hard labor of war to foreigners.

If former U.S. officials are training mercenaries in the UAE, and those mercenaries are serving Saudi Arabia's interests in places such as Yemen, then it logically follows that these Americans are serving Saudi Arabia's security interests. These are the same security interests that just perpetrated the ultimate act of violence on a member of the American press.

Congress might formally re-evaluate the sale of American weapons to Saudi Arabia and its complicit Gulf State allies, but is anyone going to look at whether sanctions should be in place to curtail the transfer of American security and military know-how to these same clients? It's not as if they're using what they've learned to guard pipelines or infrastructure. They're using it to crush dissent and to wage war.

The Central Intelligence Agency operates in the same countries where this knowledge transfer occurs. So if America decides there's a benefit to teaching foreigners how to assassinate people, then it should be done by the CIA, and those who do the teaching should be accountable to Congress and therefore to taxpayers.

You'd have to be naive to believe that the peddling of such skills to foreign entities is limited to the cases we already know about. China has also shown interest in milking Western security know-how. How do we know that it won't be used to suppress dissent both at home and in the poor countries where it extracts resources? That's the problem: We don't know. There are no intellectual property rights for such knowledge. Once it's sold, it can't be taken back. One day, it could very well be used against America or its allies.

Is the Khashoggi case an instance where Americans were involved in training one or more of his alleged assassins? That needs to be investigated. Or is everyone going to hope it all blows over so that those involved can keep stuffing their pockets as their patriotism is bought off by the highest foreign bidder?