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US refuses to train Saudi intelligence following Khashoggi murder

A candle light vigil to remember journalist Jamal Khashoggi outside the Saudi Arabia consulate on 25 October 2018 in Istanbul, Turkey [Chris McGrath/Getty Images]
A candle light vigil to remember journalist Jamal Khashoggi outside the Saudi Arabia consulate on 25 October 2018 in Istanbul, Turkey [Chris McGrath/Getty Images]

The US State Department has recently rejected a proposal to train the Saudi intelligence services due to concerns over the kingdom’s lack of judicial accountability and security restraints.

The proposal made by the US global service provider and aviation company DynCorp International was refused as the kingdom does not yet possess stable measures to prevent illegal undercover operations and assassinations against dissidents, such as was the case with the killing of the Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi last year.

It is not only the murder of Khashoggi – committed on 2 October 2018 at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul – that has caused the CIA and State Department to refuse to train the kingdom’s intelligence, but also other more recent reports that it is continuing such practices. These include surveillance on Khashoggi’s family abroad, attempts to force and lure dissidents back into the country, and the widespread arrest of human rights activists and figures.

The officials in the State Department allegedly remain worried that Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman has not yet established accountability of the intelligence services and the reform of laws dealing with these issues. These, they say, are entirely necessary to stabilise and strengthen the relationship between the US and Saudi Arabia.

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An example of this lack of justice and accountability is that of Saud Al-Qahtani, a close adviser of the Bin Salman who was identified as one of the organisers of the operation to murder Khashoggi has not been detained.

Among the more recent actions of the Saudi government which have concerned the US officials was an attempt to lure a young Saudi dissident back into the Gulf nation who was living in the US. According to a US official who revealed the information to the Washington Post, the FBI deemed that it would be too dangerous for the dissident to return as he would be arrested upon his arrival in the kingdom, and so warned him against travelling. The unidentified official also reported that Khashoggi’s fiancé, Hatice Cengiz, as well as one of his sons were being subjected to Saudi surveillance during their time in London last summer.

There are high chances that if the Saudi intelligence and espionage service – known as the General Intelligence Presidency (GIP) – were to be modernised and subject to better management, efficient performance, and ethical standards, then both the US and the Kingdom would greatly benefit from it and another training proposal could likely be accepted.

“We want the GIP to be stronger, but we don’t think this is the way,” one State Department official was reported as saying, affirming that the governmental sector was obligated to review and certify every significant military and security training program or trade deal, ensuring that in this case the US would not help in enabling further illegal covert operations.

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