Monday, October 15, 2018

My thoughts on L'Affair Khashoggi

This whole thing looks less like an orchestrated murder than a planned snatch op (kidnapping) gone bad. If they wanted him dead it could have been done anywhere under circumstances that would have given the Kingdom plausible deniability. Any competent intelligence service knows how to make problems go away in a manner that can be passed off as a robbery gone bad, a suicide or even death by natural causes. The Russians are very good at this sort of thing. I'd ask Vlad for some confirmation but I don't want to spend the rest of my life checking my food and drinks with a geiger counter.

Back to Mr. Khashoggi. Assassinating someone in their consulate would have been bone crushingly stupid. No government or intelligence service with more than two brain cells in operation would do that. I think they planned to grab him, probably drug him, and smuggle him back to Saudi Arabia where they could put him on ice for a while until he agreed to play nice and/or they decided what to do with him long term.

Clearly something went wrong. A purely educated guess is he put up a fight and the subsequent interrogation got ugly. Maybe he had a heart attack. Maybe he had a bad reaction to a drug. Maybe he said somethings that ticked off people in the snatch team and somebody overreacted. We will probably never know.

But my gut says this did not start out as a planned hit.

1 comment:

Gregory DeLassus said...

This whole thing looks less like an orchestrated murder than a planned snatch op (kidnapping) gone bad. If they wanted him dead it could have been done anywhere under circumstances that would have given the Kingdom plausible deniability.

Your conclusion only follows from your premise if one adds an additional premise---i.e., that one would only commit a murder if one could achieve plausible deniability. I do not credit that unspoken premise. I think that Saudi Arabia committed this crime in the manner that it did because it did not care about plausible deniability. Indeed, I would not be surprised if Saudi Arabia want other dissidents to regard this killing as a pre-meditated murder. There is a certain disincentive to dissent if other Saudi dissidents look at this incident and think "they are coming for me next."

Certainly the Kingdom is looking for plausible deniability now. But that does not necessarily mean that they wanted plausible deniability ex ante. I think that they realize now that they went too far, but back when the deed was being done they did not expect that repercussions that have actually followed.