Germany’s leading right-of-center daily Die Welt this morning reveals that Jamal Khashoggi was not a journalist, but a high-level operative for the Saudi intelligence service, an intimate of Osama bin Laden, and the nephew of the shadiest of all Arab arms dealers, the infamous Adnan Khashoggi. John Bradley reported last week in the Spectator that Khashoggi, who allegedly met a grisly end in a Saudi consulate in Istanbul, was a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, the Islamist organization that among other things wants to replace the Saudi monarchy with a modern Islamist totalitarian state.
So much for the whining in the Establishment media about freedom of the press and protection of the rights of journalists. The presumed-dead Khashoggi was a top-level spook who swore fealty to some of the Arab world’s nastiest elements, and who played a high-stakes game in Saudi spookdom. We don’t know why he disappeared, but we know what we don’t know.
Among other things, we know that Khashoggi was bitterly opposed to the new Saudi government’s rapprochement with the state of Israel. As a Muslim Brotherhood member, he backed Palestinian intransigence.
Die Welt interviewed the German-Egyptian political scientist Asiem El Difraoui, co-founder of the Berlin think tank Candid Foundation, who met Khashoggi for the first time during the American occupation of Iraq. Here is a translation of the nub of the interview
Die Welt: Mr El Difraoui, you have met Jamal Khashoggi several times. What kind of person was he?
Asiem El Difraoui: I met him in about 2003 or 2004, in the circle of former Saudi Arabia intelligence chief Turki Bin Faisal Al Saud. He and Prince Turki were already considering how the kingdom could be modernized. And Jamal had met Osama bin Laden several times. He had tried during the 1990s to move him away from militancy. That was obviously important why he visited bin Laden in Sudan and Afghanistan. He told bin Laden that he should mitigate his criticism of the royal family and return home. Of course, within the elite everyone knows each other. Both came from the same generation and from two of the richest families in the kingdom – bin Laden’s father was the country’s largest contractor, Khashoggi’s uncle Adnan was an influential arms dealer. In addition, Khashoggi’s grandfather was personal physician to the Saudi King Abd al-Aziz. But Khashoggi himself also had sympathy for the Muslim Brotherhood, in which he saw a more modern, more democratic form of Islamism. For today’s Saudi leadership, however, the Muslim Brothers are their principal enemy in the world.
Die Welt: What do you suspect, what could have happened to Khashoggi?
Difraoui: If he was murdered, then I would be surprised if his journalistic activities were the only reason. The Saudis own half of the international Arab media. They have generally built up a very effective media shield. As a journalist and activist, Khashoggi may have been extremely annoying, but no real threat. But Khashoggi knew a lot. He was not just the media officer of intelligence chief Prince Turki. He was one of his main advisers and was said to have worked for the secret service for a while. Khashoggi was extremely familiar with sensitive issues of the kingdom. And he was a member of the super-elite. He might have known too much.
Die Welt: What sort of knowledge could have become dangerous for him?
Difraoui: Corruption or past knowledge about links to extremism. Above all, however, the internal conflicts or misconduct of the royal family. If the secret service protects the security of the country, it must also know what is happening in the ruling family. The current, often unpredictable crown prince Mohammed bin Salman is currently the really strong man in the country. But he has also made enemies in the family. What if his father Salman dies? Then Mohammed will probably have to fight for his position once again. Perhaps Khashoggi’s knowledge was dangerous in this regard. His old patron, Prince Turki, wanted to position himself as Crown Prince. He has surprisingly not commented on the case so far. Turki knows almost all internals of the family.
The American Establishment media either ignores or distorts the relevant facts. The Muslim Brotherhood is a “democratic movement,” according to the Wall Street Journal’s write-up on Jamal Khashoggi: “One of the country’s best-known journalists, he clashed with the clerical establishment for his socially liberal views. His sympathy for democratic movements drew the ire of the Saudi government, particularly for the Muslim Brotherhood, which the royal family views as a threat to its absolute monarchy.”
On the contrary: as my friend Frank Gaffney has shown at the Center for Security Policy, the Muslim Brotherhood is a terrorist organization and has been since its founding. It is also a threat to American security. Of course, Khashoggi was beloved of Establishment types who believe in the Islamist route to democracy, e.g., David Ignatius of the Washington Post. Ignatius covers the intelligence community, and a big section of the intelligence Establishment remains enamored of the notion of Islamist democracy, for example, George W. Bush’s former CIA chief Michael Hayden.
There are no good guys in Saudi Arabia, just bad guys and worse guys. This, after all, is a country ruled by a family, and its family politics often recall Game of Thrones. I condone nothing and endorse no-one, but I don’t believe it’s America’s job to fix the problems of the kingdom of Saudi Arabia. I’m not interested in bad guys or good guys, just in our guys vs. their guys. So a bit of caution is warranted in drawing conclusions from the Khashoggi affair. We don’t know what happened and I don’t trust the intelligence Establishment to tell us.