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Khashoggi: Expert panel advised Biden to declassify full intelligence report on murder

A government panel recommended Biden fully release the report concluding Saudi crown prince ordered Khashoggi's killing, The Wall Street Journal reports
US President Joe Biden and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman during the Jeddah Security and Development Summit at a hotel in Jeddah on 16 July 2022.
US President Joe Biden and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman during the Jeddah Security and Development Summit at a hotel in Jeddah on 16 July 2022 (AFP)
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Washington

US President Biden was advised by a government panel of experts to declassify the full US intelligence report on the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, the Wall Street Journal reported on Thursday citing documents and people familiar with the matter.

The recommendations submitted by the Public Interest Declassification Board, a panel of experts selected by presidents and congressional leaders to advocate for more transparency around national security information, were delivered to the White House in June - just a few weeks before the president travelled to Saudi Arabia and met with the kingdom's leadership including Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

During his visit to Saudi Arabia in July, Biden said he confronted the crown prince about the killing, but the visit, in general, was seen as a softening of the administration's stance towards the kingdom.

Khashoggi, a Middle East Eye and Washington Post columnist, was killed inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on 2 October 2018, in a murder that shocked the world and which continues to have diplomatic and political ramifications.

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In February 2021, the White House cleared the release of a long-delayed intelligence report that concluded the crown prince ordered the operation that led to Khashoggi’s death in 2018. 

It is not clear what information is contained in the full intelligence report that has not already been made public.

The US subsequently placed sanctions and travel bans on a number of Saudi security officials, however, stopped short of sanctioning the crown prince himself.

The potential to sanction Mohammed bin Salman may be even more difficult now, after his elevation to the position of prime minister of Saudi Arabia earlier this week. The role of prime minister is traditionally reserved for the king of Saudi Arabia.

The government panel consists of nine members, five of whom are presidentially appointed while the remaining four are selected by majority and minority leaders of each chamber of Congress. It was unanimous in its recommendations, sources familiar with the matter told the newspaper.

"Fixing the classification and declassification system so it better supports our 21st-century national security missions and our democracy is an urgent and non-partisan issue," Ezra Cohen, chair of the board, said in a statement.

The panel's review of the Khashoggi report came after Senator Chris Murphy made a request in September 2020, along with a request for the board to review other documents including ones on foreign election interference.

The panel accepted Murphy's request in October, but the review did not take place until November due to delays brought on the by Covid-19 pandemic, according to The Wall Street Journal.

Between the time of Murphy's request and the review, the Biden administration publicly released declassified versions of its intelligence assessments concerning Khashoggi's killing.

In its letter, seen by The Wall Street Journal, the panel told Murphy that it had completed the review of the Khashoggi report and recommended the file be "declassified in its entirety".

The White House did not respond to Middle East Eye's request for comment by the time of publication.

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