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CIA chief 'prohibited from briefing' US Senate on Khashoggi murder

Khashoggi was killed and dismembered inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul [Getty]

Date of publication: 28 November, 2018

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Gina Haspel will not be present at a planned private briefing on US relations with Saudi Arabia, in which the secretary of state and the defence secretary will attend.

The CIA chief has been prevented from attending a Senate briefing on the murder of Saudi dissident and Washington Post columnist, Jamal Khashoggi, the Guardian reported on Tuesday.

Gina Haspel will not be present at a planned private briefing on US relations with Saudi Arabia, in which the secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, and the defence secretary, James Mattis are due to attend.

The briefing will take place on Wednesday ahead of a vote that could potentially cut US support for Saudi Arabia’s deadly military campaign in Yemen, where more than 10,000 people have been killed.

The move to deny access to a senior intelligence official at a national security briefing of such importance is uncustomary but all the more striking considering Haspel recently returned from Turkey where she was given access to audio tapes of Khashoggi’s murder. 

“There is always an intel person there for a briefing like this,” a Senate staffer told the Guardian. “It is totally unprecedented and should be interpreted as nothing less than the Trump administration trying to silence the intelligence community.”

National security adviser, John Bolton denied the absence of Haspel was due to a direct White House order, although he fell short of providing a reason.

The latest reports came after Bolton himself said on Tuesday that he will not listen to the tape recording of Saudi dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi's murder because he doesn't understand Arabic.

The gruesome tape - a key piece of evidence in the murder allegedly ordered by US ally Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman - was distributed by Turkey after Khashoggi was killed inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on October 2.

But Bolton told journalists that there is no point in him listening to the events unfolding in the recording because he can't understand the language.

"I guess I should ask you why you think I should, what you think I'll learn from it," he responded to a journalist.

Asked why he couldn't listen with the help of a translator, he answered "I can read a transcript."

Bolton's reluctance to hear the recording mirrored President Donald Trump's position that there is no need for him to listen.

After press reports that the CIA was pointing the finger directly at Prince Mohammed, Trump issued a statement saying that US-Saudi relations and oil market stability were too important to rock over the scandal.

But US lawmakers, some of which from the president's party, urged Congress to take concrete action against the US ally after Trump vowed to maintain relations with the kingdom.

After repeated denials of any knowledge about Khashoggi's disappearance, Saudi Arabia finally admitted the 59-year-old had been murdered at the mission in a "rogue" operation.

Earlier this month, Turkey said Trump intended to turn a "blind eye" to the murder of Saudi journalist and dissident Jamal Khashoggi, saying Washington's ties with Riyadh would not be harmed.

"In one sense, Trump is saying 'I will turn a blind eye'," Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said in an interview with CNN Turk broadcaster, referring to Trump's continued support for Saudi Arabia, which has committed to billions of dollars in US weapons contracts.

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