Instrument of the Crown Prince
[In Arabic: السعودية-رئاسة-الاستخبارات-العامة ]
As the intelligence apparatus of the Saudi monarchy, the GIP is instrumental to the power of Crown Prince Muhammed bin Salman (MBS), the heir apparent to the Saudi king. MBS has used the GIP to demonize, harass, repress, and assassinate critics of the Saudi regime.
MBS’s governing style has been called “electronic authoritarianism” for his aggressive use of surveillance against critics, including the alleged hack of the cell phone of the world’s richest man. One former Saudi intelligence official says the GIP is out to kill him for breaking with the government.
The GIP was tested by crisis in U.S-Saudi relations triggered by the disappearance of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in October 2018. CIA director Gina Haspel travelled to Turkey where she heard an audio recording of Khashoggi’s apparent murder in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. After 11 Saudis were charged with the crime, MBS announced a reorganization of GIP in October 2018 that changed very little.
In June 2019, Agnes Callamard, the special rapporteur for extrajudicial executions, releasing the findings of her investigation into Khashoggi’s killing, asserting that there is evidence that responsibility extended beyond the 11 individuals put on trial in Saudi Arabia. The mission to execute Khashoggi required “significant government coordination, resources and finances,” Callamard said. The special rapporteur determined that there was credible evidence warranting further investigation of high-level Saudi officials, including the Crown Prince for their role in the murder.
In December 2019, former GIP deputy director, Ahmed al-Asiri, the highest ranking intelligence official charged in the case, was acquitted along with two other defendants. Eight underlings were convicted, and five of them sentenced to death.
“Saudi authorities in 2019 continued to repress dissidents, human rights activists, and independent clerics,” according to Human Rights Watch. “Saudi prosecutors in 2019 continued to seek the death penalty against detainees on charges that related to nothing more than peaceful activism and dissent.”