Saudi Arabia has said it is creating government bodies to boost oversight of its intelligence operations, in the wake of international outrage over journalist Jamal Khashoggi‘s murder.
The kingdom has said Khashoggi was killed inside its Istanbul consulate on October 2 in a “rogue operation” led by the then Deputy Intelligence Chief Ahmad al-Assiri and Royal Court Adviser Saud al-Qahtani, both of whom have been sacked.
King Salman subsequently ordered a restructuring of the main intelligence agency under the supervision of his son, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS), who has faced global criticism over the journalist’s murder even though the government denies he was involved.
A committee headed by the prince has approved the creation of three departments to ensure intelligence operations are in line with the national security policy, international human rights law and “approved procedures”, the official Saudi Press Agency said on Thursday.
The statement made no mention of Khashoggi.
Bessma Momani, professor of political science at the University of Waterloo, said the modifications were an attempt to shift attention away from the crown prince.
“I think the optics of reform are clear,” she told Al Jazeera. “The message being portrayed here is that there are checks and balances in the system, that there is oversight, but frankly is doesn’t really address a bigger cloud hanging over the crown prince, that he was implicated in ordering this murder of Khashoggi.
“The key issue doesn’t go away, but I think the cosmetic restructuring is meant to try and deflect attention.”
“The idea here is that these three departments are going to be overseen by this committee, and this committee is going to be the crown prince. It really is, I think, quite difficult to see it as a genuine effort.”
The intense global backlash over Khashoggi’s killing has tarnished the prince’s international reputation and left the oil-rich kingdom diplomatically weakened, analysts say.
It has also cast a fresh spotlight on the Saudi-led conflict in Yemen, which is gripped by what the United Nations describes as the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.
The US Senate voted last week to end American military support for Riyadh’s military campaign in Yemen, and separately held Prince Mohammed responsible for Khashoggi’s killing.
Earlier this week, Saudi Arabia slammed the Senate resolutions as “blatant interference”, warning that the move could have repercussions on its strategic ties with Washington.