The assembly was rushed and, for Jamal Khashoggi, as dangerous as they arrive. The famed Saudi journalist, residing in exile within the suburbs of northern Virginia, was livid with his authorities. He had simply discovered that it had imposed a journey ban on his grownup son, blocking him from leaving Saudi Arabia — a transparent punishment for Khashoggi’s more and more forceful criticisms of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
And so, on the morning of Oct. 26, 2017, an agitated Khashoggi did one thing that for him would have been unthinkable just a few years earlier. He known as a former FBI agent working for the households of 9/11 victims who had been suing his authorities and requested to get collectively straight away to talk about how he may help them.
Catherine Hunt. (Catherine Hunt)
Khashoggi’s rendezvous that morning with ex-agent Catherine Hunt at a northern Virginia espresso store has lengthy been a topic of thriller and intrigue. Why would Khashoggi — as soon as a Saudi spin physician who vigorously defended his nation over the occasions of 9/11 — need to speak to a consultant of the legal professionals searching for to maintain his authorities accountable for the terrorist assault? And much more important, did senior Saudi officers know what he was up to that morning? And in the event that they did know, did that play a task in his brutal slaughter contained in the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul lower than a 12 months later?
In a particular bonus episode of the Yahoo News podcast “Conspiracyland,” Hunt — a veteran agent who labored counterterrorism and counterintelligence circumstances from Los Angeles to Baghdad — offers an unique account of her unusual encounter with the Saudi journalist. It comes at a time when the legal professionals for the victims’ households are getting into a brand new and essential section of their case, having just lately deposed three of their most vital witnesses: a former Saudi Embassy official, a reputed Saudi intelligence operative and a radical imam at a Saudi-government-funded mosque, all of whom had been suspected for years by the FBI of getting offered help to two of the al-Qaida hijackers within the run-up to 9/11.
How sturdy a case the households have in opposition to the Saudi authorities stays removed from clear, on condition that these and different depositions stay coated by a court docket-imposed gag order in addition to a “state secrets” privilege imposed by former Attorney General William Barr that has blocked key particulars concerning the FBI investigation into the Saudi function in 9/11 from turning into public. (The legal professionals for the households — with backing from members of Congress — are asking present Attorney General Merrick Garland to carry the privilege.)
Then-Attorney General William Barr in December 2020. (Michael Reynolds/AFP through Getty Images)
But both approach, Khashoggi’s assembly with Hunt stands out. It represents a tantalizing second when the 9/11 households and their authorized workforce, no less than for a short second, appeared on the verge of getting the cooperation of a nicely-related Saudi insider with intimate data of his nation’s interactions with al-Qaida.
In reality, it was Khashoggi’s distinctive background — as a onetime good friend of Osama bin Laden who was later employed because the media adviser to a strong Saudi prince and former chief of Saudi intelligence — that had prompted Hunt to attain out to him within the first place, about two weeks prior to their assembly.
“If you look back on the history of his career, he had a tremendous amount of connections and access to information,” Hunt mentioned. “So he really was in a position to potentially be very helpful to us.”
When she first talked to Khashoggi, he was — in accordance to Hunt — “very interested” in getting collectively, and so they started discussing organising a gathering. And then, early on the morning of Oct. 26, Khashoggi known as her and needed to transfer the assembly up, telling her he had pressing enterprise to attend to and needed to see her straight away. She rushed over to the espresso store within the Tysons Corner shopping center that Khashoggi urged. When she bought there, she says, he was “very upset” that his son had been barred from leaving Saudi Arabia by authorities there. It had occurred, as Khashoggi defined it, solely as a result of he was “being targeted by the regime.”
At that time, Hunt mentioned, “he began to instruct me lots concerning the Ministry of Islamic Affairs, and that they had been charged with the accountability of spreading Islam all through the world. He defined that actually, it was a fundamentalist model of Islam that was being propagated, and that the present authorities was attempting to reform that place.
Jamal Khashoggi in 2014. (Mohammed Al-Shaikh/AFP through Getty Images)
“He mentioned it extra in a query: ‘Is my country responsible for tolerating and even supporting radicalism? Yes. And they must take responsibility for that.’”
Even that relatively small concession, Hunt thought, was “golden.” Here was a prominent Saudi apparently prepared to say his country should be held accountable for the spread of radical Islam — and the ensuing acts of terrorism it caused. But then Khashoggi said something even more surprising. He asked if the New York-based law firm Hunt was working for, Kreindler & Kreindler, was prepared to offer him a job as a consultant to the 9/11 families’ legal team. If so, he emphasized, they would have to be secretive about it. No more get-togethers in the Washington, D.C., area, where the Saudi presence was extensive.
“He was very interested in talking about it,” Hunt said. “He wanted to have the next meeting in New York, not the D.C. area.
“I was excited,” she added. “I was thrilled that he was so positive about it. I think he could have added a tremendous amount.” As to Khashoggi’s motivation in making such an offer, Hunt said: “Here he was, he found himself in exile. And I think working with the law firm would have given him a chip in the game, if you will.”
But Hunt never heard from Khashoggi again — and the full significance of their meeting didn’t hit home until more than a year later, in the weeks after his murder inside the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2, 2018. The Washington Post had reported that the then Saudi ambassador to the United States, Khalid bin Salman (or KBS, the brother of Mohammed bin Salman), might have played a role in luring Khashoggi to Istanbul. The ambassador responded in a tweet that he’d had no contact with Khashoggi since they communicated via text on Oct. 26, 2017 — the same day as the meeting with Hunt.
Saudi Prince Khalid bin Salman in 2019. (Brendan Smialowski/AFP through Getty Images)
What Khashoggi and KBS (now the nation’s deputy protection minister, who met with Biden administration officers this week during a trip to Washington) texted or communicated about that day stays unknown. But Jim Kreindler, the lead lawyer for the 9/11 households, mentioned he’s satisfied Khashoggi sought to use the assembly with Hunt as leverage with the Saudi ambassador to help his son.
“There isn’t a doubt in my mind that after speaking to Catherine, he called KBS and said, ‘Hey, the plaintiffs’ lawyers had an FBI agent talking to me. I didn’t give them anything yet, but, you know, you mess with my son and I’m going to spill the beans.’”
To be sure, Kreindler has no hard evidence to support his speculation. But the curious timing of Khashoggi’s meeting with Hunt — on the same day he was communicating with the Saudi ambassador to the United States — adds one more mystery to the many surrounding the last year of the journalist’s life before the Saudi team of assassins injected him with a lethal dose of drugs, suffocated him and then carved up his body inside the consulate in Istanbul.
In case you missed it:
Episode 1: “Exclusive: Saudi assassins picked up illicit drugs in Cairo to kill Khashoggi”
Episode 2: “Arms, harems and a Trump-owned yacht: How a Khashoggi family member helped mold the U.S.-Saudi relationship”
Episode 3: “‘I just fell apart crying heartbreak to you’: A murdered journalist’s years-long relationship with Osama bin Laden”
Episode 4: “From royal insider to goal: How the Arab Spring propelled Jamal Khashoggi into the Saudi management’s crosshairs”
Episode 5: “‘A personality type that feels absolutely no guardrails’: How Saudi Arabia’s leader charmed Washington while cracking down on opponents”
Episode 6: “A direct trail of blood drops’ leads from a Twitter hack to Jamal Khashoggi’s murder”
Episode 7: “’He gave nobody a full view of his life’: In his final days, Jamal Khashoggi juggled a secret wife in the U.S. and a fiancée in Turkey”
Episode 8: “‘Was there a bone noticed?’ How Trump helped the Saudis whitewash the homicide of Jamal Khashoggi”
Bonus Episode 1: “Training the assassins“
Cover thumbnail photograph illustration: Yahoo News; images: Eric Feferberg/AFP through Getty Images, Middle East Monitor/Handout through Reuters, Robert Giroux/Getty Images
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