CIA Director Gina Haspel departed for Turkey on Monday amid a growing international uproar over Saudi Arabia’s explanation of the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, according to people familiar with the matter.
The visit by the U.S. spy chief comes as Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in a speech planned for early Tuesday vows to reveal the full extent of what his aides are calling a Saudi-directed murder and attempted coverup.
The arrival of the director suggests an effort by the U.S. intelligence community to assess the information the Turks have, including what Turkish officials have said is audio that captures the killing. Intelligence officials are increasingly skeptical of the Saudi account and have warned President Donald Trump that the idea that rogue operators flew to Istanbul and killed Khashoggi without the knowledge or consent of Saudi leaders is dubious, a White House official said.
On Monday, Trump told reporters that “I am not satisfied with what I’ve heard” from Saudi Arabia and pledged to get to the bottom of what happened.
“We have top intelligence people in Turkey. We’re going to see what we have. I’ll know a lot tomorrow,” he said. “They’ll be coming back either tonight or tomorrow morning. But we have people in Saudi Arabia and in Turkey.”
A CIA spokeswoman declined to comment. Other officials spoke about the director’s travels on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the trip.
The chief concern for Washington is that Erdogan will reveal details about Khashoggi’s killing that implicate Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the kingdom’s de facto ruler, who has been a key ally for the Trump administration.
On Saturday, the Saudi government acknowledged that Khashoggi was killed by Saudi agents after he visited the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on October 2. The 33-year-old prince has denied any knowledge of the killing and his top diplomat, Adel al-Jubeir, called it a tragic “rogue operation” by a group of people acting outside Mohammed’s consent.
A U.S. official who has not heard the audio that purportedly captures the killing but is familiar with its contents said it does not corroborate Saudi Arabia’s version of events that Khashoggi’s death was the result of a fistfight.
Turkish investigators concluded days ago that Khashoggi was killed and dismembered by a Saudi team dispatched to Istanbul.
At least 12 members of the Saudi team are connected to Saudi security services, and several have links to Mohammed, according to a review of passport records, social media, local media reports and other material.
(c) 2018, The Washington Post · John Hudson, Shane Harris, Josh Dawsey