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A blog by Leon Oudejans

Plausible deniability

16 October 2018

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Turkey claims a Saudi journalist was murdered inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. Turkey also claims that the U.S. had prior knowledge of these Saudi intentions. Saudi Arabia claims the journalist left the building (alive) and disappeared. Unless any party shows evidence of its claims, Saudi Arabia may get away with their plausible deniability.

Turkey claims that it has an audio/video recording of the murder inside the Saudi consulate, supposedly from an Apple smart watch. Turkey might also be eavesdropping on foreign nations, and/or Turkish consulate employees may have recorded the murder on their cell phones. Showing this evidence would compromise Turkish intelligence gathering.

Without proof, people are inclined to adhere to the presumption of innocence until proven guilty. Hence, plausible deniability is a powerful weapon between (business or romantic) partners, companies, and/or nations. Distrust is an emotion that will fade over time.

An exiled Saudi royal “claims the Saudi authorities regularly lure regime critics, including princes, to meetings to kidnap them” (Independent). This recent Independent article mentions several Saudis who are still missing after such meetings, and a few who are presumed dead.

People who are “missing” allow for the continued use of plausible deniability. Contrary to the saying, dead people do tell a tale, often through forensic science. The 2017 case of the “missing” Swedish journalist on a Danish inventor’s submarine, illustrates that plausible deniability only holds in the absence of any evidence.

The official Saudi Twitter account stated: “The news circulating in the media of the KSA orders to kill Jamal Khashoggi are lies and baseless allegations”. This is an interesting choice of words as there’s no explicit denial. Just a clear belief that no evidence will ever be found. This belief may rely upon a 15-man Saudi “kill squad”.

Although Saudi Arabia and Turkey both belong to Sunni Islam, there are several fault lines: Iran, Syria and Yemen. Moreover, Turkey is a would-be SuperPower without money. Saudi Arabia hides behind another SuperPower (USA) and gets its way through its abundant oil-money. Saudi Arabia was hardly punished by the U.S. for the 9/11 attacks, despite the Saudi citizenship of 15 of the 19 terrorists.

This time the 45th President promised “severe punishment” for the Saudis if the murder allegations are proven correct. The immediate Saudi response was a promise to retaliate with their “economic might” (eg, oil price up, oil supply down). This response suggests accountability or responsibility – or plain guilt rather than innocence.

The Saudis also suggested a reconciliation with Iran and Shia-Islam. Such an unlikely event could be compared to a reconciliation between Christianity, Islam and/or Judaism. Today, it’s highly unlikely but someday it might happen. However, it’s more likely that first Iran and USA would become buddies again, similar to the years before the 1979 Iranian Revolution.

From a geopolitical point of view, the (alleged) Saudi murder on Turkish soil is a major gift to the Turkish President. The absence of his usual inflammatory rhetoric underlines this.

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After a call with the Saudi King, the 45th President floated a “rogue killers” theory (BBCNYT, USA Today). Clearly, the political “spinning” of the explanation has begun.

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BREAKING HAARETZ NEWS: “Saudi Arabia to Admit That Missing Journalist Was Killed in Botched Interrogation and Abduction Operation, CNN Reports. Saudi report will conclude that interrogation was intended to lead to Jamal Khashoggi’s abduction from Turkey, an operation that was carried out without clearance, CNN says”.

Clearly, this event has now become a case of geopolitical damage control.

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