Archive | October, 2018

KhashoggiGate Continued.

19 Oct

By Sherifa Zuhur.


The #Saudi actors who ordered #Khashoggi‘s death were aware he had requested his proof of divorce document. They told him on September 28th that he had to return to the Saudi consulate on October 2nd.  They hadn’t anticipated his fiancee’s telephone call to Yasin Aktay, a Turkish official close to Erdogan, after she had waited for him to emerge from the consulate in vain. This call had some swift consequences. Turkish authorities rushed to the airport where one of the planes leaving with part of the murder team was about to depart, but they apparently found nothing of interest and allowed the plane to take off.

The Turkish intelligence agency, MIT decided to review an audio-visual feed from inside the consulate. This is not a legal bugging, but it is understood that there is surveillance on consulates and embassies.  “Grisly details [from the AV feed] suggest that Khashoggi was tortured then killed soon after entering the consulate.”


Had Hatice Cengiz, Khashoggi’s fiancee, not been present that afternoon, or not called Aktay, the Turks wouldn’t have suspected as soon as they did that Khashoggi had been killed. The information about that clandestine AV feed’s contents was leaked over the week as the Saudis were swift to deny, and slow to cooperate with the investigation (the joint investigators were finally admitted to the consulate on Monday of this week).

Saudi Twitter bots attacked Cengiz viciously. They accused her of not being Khashoggi’s fiancee, made much of a photoshopped photo of them together, and even accused her of being a male Muslim Brotherhood figure. In Saudi Arabia, a new restriction was passed to punish sedition on social media. Meanwhile people in West were trying to wrap their heads around the audacity of the murder, wondering how the team thought they would get away with it. Saudi-observers reiterated that even the kidnapping of another country’s (Lebanon) prime minister (Hariri), arrests of female activists and the outrageous abduction, confinement and shakedown of senior Saudi princes by MbS at the Ritz-Carlton hotel had not brought any serious consequences down on MbS thus far.

Inside KSA, there is radio silence on #Khashoggi‘s case from figures who typically comment on important events – a senior journalist and editor; a leading woman journalists, in Saudi Facebook groups. Obviously everyone is afraid. The point is made in this article that prior to MbS, there were channels for differences of opinion.–for-the-worse/2018/10/18/f48eaafc-d254-11e8-83d6-291fcead2ab1_story.html?utm_term=.9a37a91eef8e

#Khashoggi‘s main danger to Muhammad bin Salman was a) he insulted President #Trump (mildly) b) he was an insider and  knows a great deal about inter-Saudi loyalties c) he also had assessed #KSA‘s failures in regional policy in depth, and would likely have opposed Kushner’s ME peace deal d) opposed torture and imprisonment of his colleagues and fellow countrymen.

To those who can’t understand the brazenness of whoever ordered this hit, and obtained a green light from MbS, you must realize that it is foremost a #Saudi message to #SaudiArabians. Think of the purpose of public executions held in Saudi Arabia — deterrence.

The royal court is upset; there are reports that some suggested that #Khalid bin Salman might be appointed as the deputy crown prince. Muhammad bin Salman would remain as crown prince unless a larger faction within al-Sa’ud family change their stance. Following the Ritz-Carlton shakedown, too many fear him.

There are also rumors and reports that United States wants to weigh in on that decision. Well, the US is NOT part of the succession process; but of course it is heavily influential – a situation that is resented by some Saudi Arabians.

Reportedly, some princes insisted to meet with MbS and/or with each other and these meetings were held clandestinely. When news was floated that MbS would accuse General al-Asiri (another figure close to the Crown Prince and who has been the ‘face’ of the Saudi campaign on Yemen) some were shocked that MbS would try to quickly shift blame from himself.  This only increased the anxiety of other Saudi royals.

Saud al-Qahtani, a media advisor of MbS, known as Mr. Hashtag and with the reputation of an enforcer, hasn’t been seen at his office since October 9th. He was active on Twitter, now someone else is supposed to be managing his Twitter account.

The #Saudi succession process has been changed and fine-tuned in recent years; these changes, and the weakness of previous Crown Prince allowed for the appointment of Muhammad bin Salman. That represented a leap forward to the next generation of Saudi royals. Due to that bold move, Muhammad bin Salman sought to consolidate his power and undermine his enemies with the “anti-corruption campaign” whereby he imprisoned key Saudis and forced them to pay him off. This was pulled off with relatively little criticism in the Western press, probably because of the Crown Prince’s increasing proximity to Trump and the Kingdom’s media campaign through image consultants.

It is key to understand that the al-Sa’ud family need to maintain unity. Otherwise, the entire basis of their rule could be shaken. That has been achieved or at least managed through family councils during other periods of turmoil. If a Deputy Crown Prince is appointed, then we might also expect some other purges of figures closely associated with Muhammad bin Salman up to now.

I also wanted briefly to mention the red herring that Saudi bots (and US conservatives) have thrown into the mix linking Khashoggi to the Muslim Brotherhood organization. The Muslim Brotherhood were not political enemies in Saudi Arabia until recently; many were (and remain) within the educational system, and a strand influenced Saudi Arabia’s neo-salafis. Muslim Brotherhood from Egypt and Syria fled to KSA decades ago, where they were monitored but permitted to stay.

They also hold governmental and educational positions in Kuwait, Bahrain, Jordan (their cousins in Morocco, Gaza, Tunisia). It is in Egypt that the group was outlawed since 2013, and Saudi Arabia went along with this stance.   A senior journalist claimed Khashoggi joined the Muslim Brotherhood “in the 70s” – but recall, he was in that decade, 11 to 21 years old. And then he left the organization.  He has associates and friends who are in various groups which either support (like Turkey’s AKP) or are in favor of Muslim Brotherhood ideals, inasmuch as they are anti-corruption, and in more recent decades, pro-democracy (as their support base enlarged).

But it’s a terrible mistake to see the Khashoggi assassination as a Qatar/Turkey or MB plot (for which there is no motive) and not useful to utilize these divisions as key regional determinants.  In the MENA, the mixture of political trends cannot easily be reduced to pro- or anti- Ikhwan.   No, Khashoggi was a loyal Saudi, who did not oppose the al-Sa’ud’s rule, but he tried to stand up to some of its current actions – imprisonment and torture of activists, kidnappings, suppression of the press.

I fear that a new Deputy Crown Prince won’t fix these problems.




Naseeha to President Trump and Others on #KhashoggiGate

15 Oct

By Sherifa Zuhur.

Reactions to Jamal al-Khashoggi’s assassination, have ranged from despair from activist Manal al-Sharif, journalists’ sorrow and outrage, official demands for information from the UK, France and Germany to statements of support for Saudi Arabia by various Arab countries.

Jamal Khashoggi’s keen eye and voice on regional policy has also been lost. An official response is needed to underline non-tolerance for assassination and deter future similar actions.

It may be challenging for the Trump administration to craft a response to the assassination of Jamal Khashoggi by Saudi Arabia, since that country is so important to the U.S.’s current regional policy and business interests. Nevertheless, journalists, policy advisors, and those who support the U.S.’s moral role to support human rights internationally must urge it to act beyond bluster and prevarication.

On Monday, President Trump on echoed the Saudi King Salman’s denial of the Kingdom’s involvement in the murder of veteran journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Trump said after speaking with Salman, “He firmly denied that.” And “it sounded to me like these [murderers] could have been rogue killers. Who knows?” This notion had earlier come up in a call between the Saudi King and Turkey’s President Erdogan. Surely Trump’s advisors are capable of explaining the identities and government links of certain of the fifteen member Saudi team which traveled to Istanbul, was admitted to the embassy and residence, conveyed by chartered aircraft and in diplomatic vehicle, and that no such operation proceeded without the highest levels of approvals.

Trump cited the joint investigation being carried out by Turkey and the U.S. and dispatched Secretary of State Pompeo to the region. It’s unclear how thorough this investigation will be, and if it will include alleged audio (and now visual) evidence earlier claimed in Turkish leaks. A cleaning crew was spotted Monday prior to the entrance of investigators without any tools or protective gear. The integrity of the murder scene may have been compromised in the days between Oct. 2 and 14.

The first order of business is for the President and Pompeo to respond to the international audience without repetitions of Saudi disavowals and denials of responsibility.  Communications at the highest level, particularly in the absence of a U.S. ambassador, are symbolic, but not meaningless. It is possible to assure an ally that one is listening, but does not agree.


Whether the Saudis continue to state that the assassination team sent to Istanbul was a rogue operation, and the Turkish authorities release their compelling evidence or not, this should mark a turning point in U.S.-Saudi relations.

Trump’s options include:

*Breaking off of diplomatic relations with Saudi Arabia.

This seems unlikely given Trump’s initial comment that Khashoggi was not a U.S. citizen, although he is a U.S. resident, which indicates some confusion about the status of human rights, are they for U.S. citizens only? Side note: there is no U.S. ambassador in Saudi Arabia for the Saudis to summon, or request to leave, but some action would be taken.

*Cancel or put off promised arms sales to the Kingdom. The President has already stated his disinclination to do so to avoid the loss of U.S. jobs in the defense sector. Congress could step in; Senator Rubio has in fact promised that it would if the President does not act, but this was contingent on a determination that Khashoggi was murdered.

If Congress took such an action, in adopting sanctions which impacted arms sales, this might either postpone them, or set moratorium on future sales could be announced to be cancelled if progress towards civil freedoms in Saudi Arabia is assessed.   How would this occur? Think of something similar to the annual report of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedoms, perhaps a joint body made up of governmental and other monitoring organizations in a series of periodic executive reports.

*Congress, not the president must order an investigation into the lack of warning given to Khashoggi on intelligence received concerning plots against him, and the precise nature of that intelligence. It must also seek to understand if names of dissidents were passed to Muhammad bin Salman or those who work for him by individuals in the U.S. even to include Jared Kushner. Normally information obtained in this manner is not shared with the public unless someone is prosecuted for a crime related to national security. In this case, an exception should be made.

*acting to slow visa issuances. The Department of State could slow down visa issuance and cut back on the numbers of Saudi students admitted into the U.S. Trump’s likely response to such a suggestion would probably be negative. Similar actions were taken following 9/11 and then reversed. I’ve never considered these to be a good idea because students need education and exposure to the world, but a temporary action may send the desired message to the Saudi government.

*Some advised stepping back from the U.S. reliance on Saudi Arabia, which has been reinforced under the anticipation of a Kushner et al. ME peace plan.  Or, for pushing for a resolution to the Qatar – Saudi Arabia and UAE feud or ending U.S. cooperation with the war on Yemen.   Iran’s performance on human rights is as disastrous as Saudi Arabia;its regional ambitions are extremely strong and cooperation in any bargain is dubious. Thus while some action must be taken vis Saudi Arabia, the alternative is not to be found in Tehran at this time. Ending cooperation with the war on Yemen is strongly problematic with Ansarallah still active in Sana’a, but I agree that U.S. participation in the air bombing campaign could and should cease. The squabble with Qatar has been a distraction and a foolish effort to “end Islamism” by targeting one variety of that trend, whilst leaving others in place. However, none of these actions would ensure the integrity of exiles, journalists or civil society’s actors in the future without an explicit commitment to do so.

*Some called for King Salman to name a different Crown Prince. There is talk for instance about different candidates, or that the King might name a Deputy Crown Prince. More discussion of MbS writing a letter of resignation or  temporarily stepping down during an investigation has been active since Erdogan announced that he will disclose a lot in his AKP parliamentary meeting on Tuesday Oct. 23rd.  But this may be wishful thinking by parties already angered by this and many other incidents. This is not up to Trump, and note his previous silence during the months when Muhammad bin Salman tightened his grip on power, imprisoning other family members and Saudis in the Ritz-Carlton hotel under the guise of an “anti-corruption campaign.” But if the U.S. has little influence on political succession, it certainly can demand an end to thuggery.

The US can also call for the release those imprisoned or detained on political charges now, from Loujain to Raif al-Badawi to Hatoon al-Fassi. And a lifting a travel bans placed on many Saudis including the family members of Jamal Khashoggi.

Horrifying Attack on Jamal Khashoggi

12 Oct

This drama is 9 days old.  Khashoggi disappeared after entering the Saudi embassy in Istanbul on Feb. 2nd. He had gone there with no appointment on Sept. 28th but was told he must return to obtain his record of divorce so he could remarry.  He and his fiancee planned to marry on Feb. 3rd.

I haven’t yet processed this event.  As tweep Tanti Nazeeha put it I feel a huge “sense of gloom.”  They can kill you anywhere, anytime and in any manner they want.


I wanted to post this article here in the meantime regarding the U.S.’ duty to have informed Khashoggi of an intercepted threat against his life.



Revealing Intelligence on Jamal Khashoggi

By Carrie Cordero  

Wednesday, October 10, 2018, 10:19 AM



Washington Post Global Opinions columnist Jamal Khashoggi has been missing since entering the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul, Turkey on Oct. 2. As of this writing, Turkish officials have said that they believe Khashoggi was killed inside the consulate, and details are emerging regarding the timing of his entry, where Turkish security cameras were located and the entry and exit of Saudi officials precisely around the time of Khashoggi’s disappearance. The Saudi Arabian government denies involvement or knowledge of his whereabouts.

The manner in which Turkish officials have revealed new details raises questions about what other  intelligence information the government of Turkey—or other governments—may have available to them that might reveal or confirm what has happened to Khashoggi. Turkish officials are clearly being cautious by speaking to reporters without named attribution, but they are also providing—as evidenced by this New York Times report—highly detailed information regarding their conclusions.

Deciding whether and how much intelligence information to reveal can be a difficult call for a country unaccustomed to revealing its intelligence methods, especially when it involves such sensitivities as diplomatic facilities. But sometimes the gravity of a situation requires exposing intelligence collection activities.

Although not involving the same global awareness or foreign relations sensitivities, here’s an example of something that happened in the United States, decades ago:

Around 1991, the FBI was conducting surveillance of a U.S. citizen, Zein Hassan Isa, inside the United States for foreign intelligence purposes. The surveillance was directed at Isa in his home in Missouri and, in accordance with U.S. law, was conducted pursuant to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). Accordingly, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) had approved the surveillance based on a probable cause finding that Isa was an agent of a foreign power. Under normal circumstances, this type of surveillance would not be revealed publicly unless an individual was prosecuted for a national security-related crime—espionage or terrorism, for example. But in this case, the U.S. Attorney General made an exception. He authorized the use of the evidence at Isa’s murder trial, which meant that the surveillance became public.

The surveillance recorded tapes that revealed Isa, with his wife’s assistance, stabbed their 16-year-old daughter to death in the family’s home. According to later written narratives of the case, Tina Isa had become too Americanized, and her father was enraged when he found her at home with a boyfriend. In his mind, perhaps, she had betrayed him, or their heritage.

Based on public reports, the picture that is emerging is that there is intelligence information Turkish officials or other international partners may have that either provides evidence of or information about what has happened to Khashoggi. Reports that U.S. intelligence may have had some advanced information regarding a plot to harm Khashoggi raises additional questions about intelligence services’ duty to warn. Under normal circumstances, intelligence services would want to protect their sources, whether human or technical. Intelligence services in Turkey and elsewhere likely have additional information that would shed light on events leading up to Khashoggi’s disappearance. The Turkish government may need to reveal sources it does not want to reveal if the Saudi Arabian government continues to deny involvement despite evidence Turkey has in its possession. Alternatively, one way for other countries to assist the Turkish government in protecting its sources while following through on its apparent desire to provide information to the public would be for cooperating governments to create a joint statement based on combined intelligence regarding threats to and the disappearance and alleged murder of Khashoggi.

Sometimes the greater public interest is served by releasing information, even if it means revealing how the information was obtained. This is such a case.

This article was accessed here:


Pres. Trump’s 10/18 National Strategy for Counterterrorism

6 Oct

In the past, I was asked to respond to earlier National Strategies and the QDR. After I responded, my boss, Steve Metz would castigate my comments, but our research group as a whole might have some useful discussion. I indulged in this on Twitter and assemble the comments here.


Dr. Sherifa Zuhur‏ @SherifaZuhur


The White House: “President Trump has released a new National Strategy for Counterterrorism that will protect American citizens and interests at home and abroad.” (the Executive Review section). Do continue to read the actual document here:


My response is that this new strategy will not make our nation safer; in other words less safe than it might be if the strategy involved building a true international partnership in counterterrorism.

Part of the dilemma concerns partisan political themes which have been embedded in this strategy, which itself should be non-partisan. Naturally, the document is constrained by a certain level of vagueness or generality, and perhaps its crafters will elaborate. Probably not to me, however.


This NSCT was written for Pres. #Trump, not by him. He neither understands nor supports key elements in it. It declares that “America First does not mean America alone” yet Trump’s words & actions re. trade, diplomacy and foreign policy have attacked certain key partnerships abroad. And notably where terrorist influence has been strongest – thus attacking “US interests abroad.”

This strategy specifies “working with our North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) Allies and partners” yet Trump has acted & issued statements which attack the import and purpose of NATO.

It claims to counter ALL #terrorists and “not focus on a single organization” yet, the President has given a thumbs up to white supremacists and the NRA, which stands in the way of important counters to domestic terrorism. Although the document eventually mentions certain right wing organizations, very odd examples are included, while major racist, fascist bodies in the U.S. are not.

Echoing President Trump’s comments in various public for a, the document self-congratulates on having ” liberated nearly all of” #ISIS‘ territory. Ask any expert on #ISIS: its franchises are active, dangerous and spread around the world.

The strategy’s stated goals rework and enhance Pres. George W. Bush’s “4 Ds” as stated in his NSCT of February ’03 in the ‘global war on terror’: to defeat (terrorists) deny (them sanctuary, support and sponsorship) diminish conditions which terrorists exploit, and defend the U.S. The authors of this National Strategy, fifteen years hence, have not thought through the contradictions implied by a fascist, nationalist America First framework as in the punitive actions on (legal and illegal) immigrants in defending “strong borders.”

Perhaps the greatest failures of this NSCt and previous Nat’l Strategies for Counterterrorism have been in failing to erase “Terrorists’ ability to radicalize, recruit, and mobilize to violence.” And in drawing too sharp a line between domestic and international attacks.   Meanwhile, the Islamic State (and other groups) found ways to inspire and claim the actions of individuals who were not initially closely connected to it, for the purposes of terrorism. It accepted a bay’3a (oath of fealty) simply by a telephone call, or other communication. This has exaggerated the reach of the organization but made it far more difficult to “end,” “deny,” or defeat.

Yet this Oct. ’18 NSCT red flags #refugees to #Europe as if a) #IS had not already created networks there and b) anti-#migration is a bona fide counterterrorism strategy!! It names two perpetrators in the ’15 #Paris attacks, who posed (important!) as refugees. This is as flawed an approach to grand strategy as was invading #Iraq while targeting #AlQaeda in #Afghanistan , without considering the impact of each action and their respective, yet conflicting sets of goals.

The authors of this NSCT guess that #ISIS, #AQ and ‘other groups’ (names a few, but notably NOT the Taliban (!)) will “probably prioritize regional goals over attacks against the homeland or US interests” But it doesn’t spell out the downside of such attacks, nor any need for or means of response.


It defines #Iran as the “most prominent” sponsor of state terror, via IRGC-QF & Hizbullah and others. But if nations like #Israel or the #US aren’t also sources of ‘state terror’, they must adhere to #Geneva conventions. Here, in a shocking short paragraph, we see the plan to retain Guantanamo. It will fool some readers because it claims that doing so is a “use” of the the Law of Armed Combat when in fact, prisoners in Guantanamo were treated with shocking and flagrant violations of the LOAC.   The retention of Guantanamo, and the ‘forever’ prisoners there continues to be Li a violation of LOAC. Moreover, this is a clearly partisan move by #Trump, he promised his supporters to keep #Gitmo open because Obama promised to close it. Its use actually endangers Americans everywhere and diminishes the shining status of the #US‘s claim to provide a ‘rule of law’ as a principle of governance.

Ironically, the new NSCT is weak in explaining exactly HOW it will “COUNTER EXISTING AND EMERGING TERRORIST FUNDING METHODS” (p. 24) – an area of great interest to the Dept. of the Treasury. For example, President Trump’s idle boast that the US could have prevented #ISIS from selling oil is sheer delusion; #IS sold some of that oil to #Assad who used it to continue making electricity. Many experts were well aware of #iS‘ funding methods since late 2012-2013 (for some elaboration see my chapter in ) but the US was markedly unable to interrupt them, as they consist of: voluntary donations in response to private fundraising; use of oil income, but also drugs, kidnapping ransoms, antiquities proceeds, & more – all documented, but with no off-switch. (President Assad’s supporting militias and thugs also obtained funds from such sources.)


This Stategy promises that the U.S. Government will “educate the public on how to prepare for, respond during, and quickly recover after an [terrorist] attack.” There are so many questions here! The government has failed to train schools to prepare for, respond to and recover from school shootings and most of all, it has failed to support gun controls, no doubt because of the active funding to political candidates by the National Rifle Association.


So now, the government is going to train all citizens, whether they are accessible in such institutions as schools or not. How will this training be shared? In electronic training courses (if like any I took through the U.S. Army, may God help everyone! Ok, learning to create a unique password in cases of kidnapping might be useful as well as how to resist spilling secrets under torture.)? On television? In direct mailed sets of information? Going door to door?

Under the section “countering violent extremist ideologies” this Strategy paradoxically asserts that 1) terrorist ideologies “contain elements w. enduring appeal” – yet 2) we will show “their claims are false & do not offer effective solutions.” This is also an area of counterterrorism which has been stunningly unsuccessful and has produced comedically ridiculous efforts such as media claims that certain terrorists were homosexuals, engaged in porm, or that an American Catholic could force Muslims not to use the word “jihad”, or convoluted claims, articles, papers and books trying to demonstrate that the outcomes of U.S. foreign policy have not been deleterious to Muslim populations abroad.


As this has been an area of failure resulting in a wave of recruitment to terrorist organizations of a 2.0 generation despite all manner of propagandistic “Narrative” builders, it seems especially crucial to explain and introduce some new element here, and not merely mention how the propaganda will be shared (using civil society, going online, etc. which are detailed)