CIA Director Haspel’s Turkey trip and naked truths
In the United States as a journalist if you pose any question concerning the activities of intelligence agencies, there is a standard line you would get from government officials in front of the cameras: “We do not talk about intelligence matters.” Thankfully today we have President Donald Trump in office, who enjoys displaying the Oval Office agenda without excluding intimate details. Indeed that is how we learned CIA Director Gina Haspel had flown to Turkey ahead of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s speech on Oct. 23, which was supposed to reveal the naked truth behind Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s murder at his country’s consulate in Istanbul.
As far as we can know, that was the first visit of Ms. Haspel to Turkey in her new capacity after she was sworn in as the first female CIA director five months ago. Haspel is not a stranger to Turkey. She had served as an intelligence officer in Turkey presumably in the early 2000s and speaks Turkish. As CIA director, her counterpart in Turkey is crystal clear. What stroke me in stories in Turkish media on her trip was the rambling that suggested “She may or may not have met the chief of the National Intelligence Organization [MİT].”
I guess it was a little too late to try to create a total mystery around the subject after the president of the United States decided to publicize Haspel’s visit.
One does not need to be a genius to guess the reason behind Haspel’s sudden trip was to hear, watch and possibly ask for a copy of the hard evidence of Khashoggi’s murder which was about to be revealed to the whole world by the Turkish president. Not to mention that Haspel would not have not conducted such a crucial meeting with anyone else than MİT chief Hakan Fidan.
The Washington Post and Reuters both reported that Haspel had listened to the audio of the killing in Turkey.
One thing needs to be revisited regarding the audio, which is allegedly in possession of the Turkish intelligence. In the first week following Khashoggi’s disappearance Turkish leaks to the press implied that the Apple Watch on his wrist was able to record things which were later synced with the iPhone he had left outside with his fiancée. That flimsy narrative was later forgotten after some shockingly graphic leaks about the savagery stunned all of us and surfaced everything else.
Today it seems all interlocutors of Ankara are silently accepting that the Turkish intelligence is in possession of audio or visual recordings from inside the crime scene because they had wired the Saudi Consulate. Since what the Saudi hit team did over there is such a huge betrayal to humanity, international law and diplomacy we have not heard a true criticism of Turkey for violating the Vienna Convention by conducting surveillance over a foreign mission on its territory.
When I raised this dimension of the Khashoggi investigation in Turkey with quite a few diplomats from various countries including Westerners, they all implied this has not been a bigger deal because everybody wires or wiretaps one another and everybody knows. It seems it was only the Saudis who did not know that open secret!
Judging by how Ankara has played its hand so far, we might anticipate that the Turkish side probably did let Haspel only listen to the audio of the killing but refrained from sharing a copy of it. Especially if the audio was truly obtained through surveillance it is unlikely that the Turks would hand in a proof of their surveillance to an organization like the CIA.
Trump was briefed by Gina Haspel on what she listened to, saw or learned in Istanbul as soon as she got back to Washington. In fact, Trump’s rhetoric on the connection between Khashoggi’s murder and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman (MBS) was already dramatically changing while Haspel was still in Turkey. On those days Trump told the Wall Street Journal “He’s running things and so if anybody were going to be, it would be him.”
What we do not know yet is whether Trump will go as far as forcing the Saudi king to expel his son. What we do know however is that Trump’s policy toward the kingdom will be one of the primary discussions at the Capitol Hill in the next coming weeks.
Both Trump and his Secretary of State Mike Pompeo gave strong signals that they would work with the Congress to introduce Global Magnitsky sanctions against the Saudi officials involved in Khashoggi’s killing. At that point, the key question will be whether MBS will be officially implicated by the United States for orchestrating the whole thing or not. And Trump might not be able to control the debate especially if the Democrats win the majority at the House in the coming midterms on Nov. 6 as expected.
It is quite likely that the intelligence committees at the Senate and the House would invite Haspel to closed sessions to testify on what evidence she was shared in Turkey over Khashoggi’s killing. If that happens, we can be almost certain that precious details of her testimony will be leaked.
Haspel’s appearance in front of the committees at the U.S. Congress might leave an exit strategy, which is silently being shaped between Ankara, Riyadh and Washington, open to serious challenges.