CNN reported on Monday that the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) switched the report several hours after it was published on Friday afternoon.
The first link to the report that was sent out by ODNI stopped working and was replaced with a second version, whose file name on the ODNI website includes “v2”, that removed three of the men it had just announced “participated in, ordered, or were otherwise complicit in or responsible for the death of Jamal Khashoggi”.
CNN said the change went largely unnoticed amid outrage over the failure of Joe Biden’s administration to impose sanctions on Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman after the report confirmed that he had directly approved the assassination.
Khashoggi, a former advocate of the Saudi royal court who later became a critic, was killed in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on October 2, 2018, after he entered the premises to collect documents for his planned wedding to his Turkish fiancée Hatice Cengiz.
According to Turkish officials, Khashoggi was killed and his body was cut into pieces by a 15-man Saudi squad inside the consulate.
The Washington Post, where Khashoggi was a columnist, reported in November the same year that the CIA had concluded that bin Salman had personally ordered the murder.
During his election campaign, Biden pledged to treat Riyadh as a “pariah”.
The ODNI declined to clarify why the names were originally inscribed on the list and what roles, if any, they may have had in the crime.
“We put a revised document on the website because the original one erroneously contained three names which should not have been included,” an ODNI spokesperson told CNN.
A top administration official had argued on Friday afternoon before the change was noticed that the report contained no new information.
“This [is] information that has been known to the US government and briefed to select committees and members of Congress over one year ago,” the official said.
Yet three of the names that ODNI had first listed had not previously been mentioned in reports on Khashoggi’s killing.
The three names that disappeared are Yasir Khalid Alsalem, Ibrahim al-Salim and Abdulla Mohammed Alhoeriny.
CNN cited a person familiar with the inner workings of Saudi intelligence as saying that Alhoeriny is the brother of General Abdulaziz bin Mohammed al-Howraini, a minister who is in charge of the powerful Presidency of State Security which oversees multiple intelligence and counterterrorism agencies. Abdulla appears in Saudi reports as the assistant chief of state security for counterterrorism.
A House Intelligence Committee official said ODNI has been asked for clarification of the discrepancy between the two lists of names.
The revised report concludes with a list of 18 names who US intelligence has “high confidence” were involved in the brutal murder.
The 18 have also been sanctioned by the US for Khashoggi’s murder.
Washington, however, cited national interests to justify why Biden has let bin Salman, commonly known as MBS, off the hook.
The report assessed that “Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman approved an operation in Istanbul, Turkey to capture or kill Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi”.
Cengiz, Khashoggi’s fiancée, said in a statement posted on her official Twitter account on Monday, “It is essential that the Crown Prince, who ordered the brutal murder of a blameless and innocent person, should be punished without delay.”