Is the CIA a Rogue Agency?

Someone leaked the CIA’s assessment that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman directed the murder of Islamist Jamal Khashoggi to the Washington Post. The Post’s account sounds like it came from inside the CIA, but we can’t be sure of that: perhaps someone in another agency, like the State Department, who was familiar with the CIA’s report was the leaker.

The CIA has concluded that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman ordered the assassination of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Istanbul last month, contradicting the Saudi government’s claims that he was not involved in the killing, according to people familiar with the matter.

The CIA’s assessment, in which officials have said they have high confidence, is the most definitive to date linking Mohammed to the operation and complicates the Trump administration’s efforts to preserve its relationship with a close ally.

There is much more, which you can read at the link. The Post attributes its leak, which includes information on the CIA’s methods, to “people familiar with the matter,” “people familiar with the call,” and “a U.S. official familiar with the CIA’s conclusions,” who seems to be the key leaker.

Why would CIA (or maybe State Department, etc.) officials leak this information to the Post? Their motive is the same as the Post’s reporters’: to reflect badly on the Trump administration, which (like prior administrations) is friendly to the Saudis, and to constrain President Trump’s freedom of action with regard to Saudi Arabia and its Crown Prince.

Whoever leaked the CIA’s conclusions, along with reporters Shane Harris, Greg Miller and Josh Dawsey, as well as the editors of the Post, behaved disgracefully. President Trump ordered the CIA review in order to inform his own decision-making, not to publicly impugn Mohammed bin Salman or to limit his own potential courses of action. Whatever officials were involved in the leak violated–at a minimum–a fundamental ethical standard, by making themselves political players rather than objective advisers to the President.

Juan Cole is a far leftist who is wrong about pretty much everything, but he gets this one right:

The CIA has leaked against Jared Kushner and Trump that Mohammed Bin Salman (MBS), the Saudi crown prince, ordered the murder of Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.

President Trump had asked the CIA to do an assessment of the murder. Apparently, from the leak to the US press, part of the evidence came from National Security Agency wiretaps of the Saudi Embassy in Washington, DC.
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Trump had asked for the report, but it is unlikely that he wanted it made public. The CIA is deliberately leaking it. Since the agency is aware that Mohammed Bin Salman is teflon inside Saudi Arabia, it seems probable that the target of the leak is in the US. The member of the administration closest to MBS is Jared Kushner, though Trump himself has admitted that he wants the sale of US arms to MBS more than he wants Khashoggi’s killer brought to justice. The CIA may be attempting to discredit Kushner and to detach Trump from his alliance with the crown prince.

It is not, of course, the business of the CIA to run a foreign policy in opposition to that of the President. I don’t have an opinion, offhand, on whether this leak violates the Espionage Act, or might subject the leakers, reporters and editors to criminal sanctions on some other ground. But this is precisely the sort of conduct that ought to land leakers, reporters and editors in a federal penitentiary. Let’s hope that President Trump’s Department of Justice is up to the task.

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