CIA Director Gina Haspel Travels To Turkey To Investigate Killing Of Jamal Khashoggi

Oct 23, 2018
Originally published on October 23, 2018 3:49 pm
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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

The Trump administration says it's taking action against some of the Saudi officials it believes are responsible for the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made the announcement today.

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MIKE POMPEO: We have identified at least some of the individuals responsible, including those in the intelligence services, the royal court, the foreign ministry and other Saudi ministries who we suspect to have been involved in Mr. Khashoggi's death. We are taking appropriate actions, which include revoking visas, entering visa lookouts and other measures.

CORNISH: Meanwhile, Gina Haspel, the head of the CIA, is in Turkey today to investigate Khashoggi's killing at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. NPR's Greg Myre is here to tell us more about that visit. Welcome, Greg.

GREG MYRE, BYLINE: Hey, Audie.

CORNISH: So what is Haspel's role here?

MYRE: Well, she's got a very significant role, not only with her title as head of the CIA. This is a place she knows really well. We know she speaks Turkish. In a rare speech recently, she said Istanbul, along with London, are two of her favorite cities in the world. The CIA never says exactly where somebody spent their undercover days, but she clearly knows this place. She's a player. She knows how the - how things take place there. And, remember; the U.S., Turkey and the Saudis are allies, and they're conducting these sort of separate investigations, but there's also negotiations going on. This is probably not likely to end so much in a courtroom as in a political agreement and some sort of negotiation. So that's the key thing I think to keep watching.

CORNISH: So what is the White House hoping to accomplish by sending Haspel there?

MYRE: Well, the president clearly wants this to end very quickly. He's been very close to the Saudis. He wants to resume these close ties and have business go on pretty much as usual. But he's been very inconsistent in his responses. He's talked about a credible investigation, and then he's talked about things he's not so sure of - severe punishment but then he talks about the value of arms deals. So he's been all over the place. Here's what he said just today.

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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Somebody really messed up, and they had the worst cover-up ever and where it should have stopped is at the deal standpoint when they thought about it because whoever thought of that idea I think is in big trouble.

MYRE: So I think the president is looking for Haspel and Mike Pompeo to give him a clearer picture of actually what happened, who is responsible, so that there can be some sort of clear policy put in place.

CORNISH: In the meantime, Turkey has been revealing more and more information each day about what they say happened inside the Saudi consulate. Do we have a better sense about what they want to happen next?

MYRE: Yeah. I think we saw today - President Erdogan gave this big speech, and he talked about this being a premeditated murder. So he's clearly still playing hardball with the Saudis. And they've got some real issues. Turkey and Saudi Arabia are rivals. Turkey wants to be seen as the preeminent Sunni-Muslim country. Turkey has a very bad economy. They would like investment from Saudi Arabia or Saudi contracts. So the Turks are likely to keep playing this out, drawing it out, whereas the Americans and the Saudis would probably like to finish it up pretty quickly. The Turks have, we believe, the audiotapes. There is still the question of where the body is. So I talked to Bruce Riedel of the Brookings Institution, and here's what he had to say about the Turkish thinking.

BRUCE RIEDEL: I think Erdogan enjoys watching MBS twist in the wind, and I think he's probably going to play that game for some time to come.

CORNISH: In the meantime, you mentioned the Saudis wanting to move on quickly. How have they responded to all this?

MYRE: Well, today was the beginning of this big business conference in the capital, Riyadh, the so-called Davos in the desert. And Mohammed bin Salman, the crown prince, MBS, backed out, but then he made a surprise cameo appearance and got a standing ovation. So this is clearly the Saudi playbook to business as usual. Let's find a way out of this and move on. The big question, of course, will be will Mohammed bin Salman remain as the crown prince? His father is in his 80s and ailing. So far, MBS is still in line to succeed him.

CORNISH: That's NPR's Greg Myre. Thank you for your reporting.

MYRE: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.