An Israeli company close to the Trump campaign claimed to have recruited The Washington Times journalist Jamal Khashoggi who was murdered in the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul. Forensic News looks deeper…

Documents and interviews with former Wikistrat employees cast new suspicion on the company and its relationship to murdered journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

Forensic News has detailed a series of troubling documents and events relating to Wikistrat’s connections to Khashoggi and to Saudis reportedly involved in his murder. 

These connections began with a leaked internal document showing one senior executive who claimed the firm had “recruited” Khashoggi just weeks before his murder while urging a lower-level employee to make contact with other journalists who had been critical of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman.

Separate leaked documents showed the same executive later denied Wikistrat had ever worked with Khashoggi after the journalist’s murder. When Forensic News reached out to Wikistrat for comment before publishing that piece, a spokesperson issued a statement claiming Khashoggi, in fact, did work for the firm, and that he “was one of many analysts within the [Wikistrat] community for a while”.

A still image from a security cam claims to show Jamal Khashoggi arriving at Saudi Arabia’s consulate in Istanbul.

The firm’s connections to Khashoggi add confusion to existing reporting regarding its relationship to Saudi Arabia. Wikistrat’s owner, Joel Zamel, met multiple times with Saudi officials in 2017, including Major General Ahmed Al-Asiri – one of the men now on trial for Khashoggi’s murder.

In at least one meeting, according to the New York Times, Saudi officials broached the idea of using private intelligence firms to murder political dissidents. Zamel reportedly declined.

Wikistrat and Khashoggi

In 2018, internal correspondence from Wikistrat shows a senior executive told an employee that it had recruited Khashoggi for an undefined Saudi Arabia project and asked the employee to recruit similar academics and journalists. The employee then forwarded that message to other Wikistrat recruiters, records show.

“Here is a person who we’ve already recruited and we are looking for the same: Jamal Khashoggi

Senior Wikistrat executive, June 2018

Days after Khashoggi was murdered by Saudi agents in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, the same Wikistrat executive who reported Khashoggi’s recruitment denied that the Washington Post columnist ever worked for Wikistrat. That denial was included in the cache of internal messages obtained by Forensic News.

He was on a list of people we wanted to bring but he wasn’t a member of the community”

Senior Wikistrat executive, October 2018

In preparation for the Forensic News article regarding these communications, journalists reached out to Wikistrat to inquire about the firm’s relationship with Khashoggi. Wikistrat was given an opportunity to comment on the internal messages that Forensic News was ready to publish.

The company responded with a statement attributed to Wikistrat Management, in which it said that he was not hired “weeks before”, but “was one of many analysts within the community for a while”.

This new position not only contradicts the firm’s internal messages – the details of which the firm was unaware of at the time it issued the new statement – but it is also inconsistent with numerous interviews Forensic News has conducted with former Wikistrat employees, as well as other internal Wikistrat data.

A timeline of the conflicting Wikistrat statements

Multiple former employees at Wikistrat say that they never saw Khashoggi’s name or profile. At least seven employees who responded to requests for information on the matter said that they were entirely unaware of any Wikistrat work done by Khashoggi or any relationship the firm had with the journalist. Some of the employees expressed suspicion about Wikistrat’s statement to the contrary.

Testimony of Wikistrat Employees

When asked about Khashoggi and the undefined Saudi Arabia project, Amanda Skuldt, Wikistrat’s Senior Project Manager until April 2017, said: “I don’t know anything about it.”

One Wikistrat employee told Forensic News that Skuldt was the head of the Middle East desk within Wikistrat until her resignation in 2017. Wikistrat documents confirm that account. If Khashoggi was a member of the community within Wikistrat, Skuldt would have known about it, the employee said.

Jan Faltys, a former researcher at Wikistrat’s Middle East Desk in 2016, corroborated Skuldt’s sentiment: “I haven’t seen his name in any simulation or war games” – two of Wikistrat’s primary communities for analysts.

Tor Jörgensen, another researcher with Wikistrat who worked there from 2014 to 2017, said that he “cannot recall ever seeing an entry by Khashoggi. I was not even aware that he was a part of the platform, to be honest”.

Sreeja Kundu, an analyst who worked for Wikistrat’s private clients from March to November 2018 indicated that she never saw a reference to Khashoggi either. “I haven’t seen his name,” she said.

Another analyst at Wikistrat, who was eventually promoted to supervisor before he departed the firm, told Forensic News that he had “never seen [Khashoggi’s] name in any simulations” or war-games during his tenure at the company. He was there for four years.

A sixth researcher directly involved with Wikistrat’s Middle East affairs in 2018 also said, on the condition of anonymity, that he never saw Khashoggi participate in any Wikistrat reports. This employee was particularly troubled by what he perceived to be lies by Wikistrat officials in its October 2019 statement to Forensic News.

A seventh analyst who was with the company until early 2018 put it plainly: “I did not see any mention of Khashoggi anywhere.”

Internal Wikistrat Data

One former Wikistrat employee gave Forensic News an exclusive look inside the company’s online portal.

The data reviewed pours cold water on the firm’s assertion that its connection to Khashoggi existed because he worked for Wikistrat. The employee confirmed that the Middle East Community was broken up into country-specific blocs, as seen here:

Wikistrat expert community
Inside the Wikistrat members-only portal as of July 2018

The employee who gave Forensic News this access confirmed that they never saw Khashoggi within the generalised Middle East Community or the post-2017 “Expert Community: KSA” area, nor anywhere else in Wikistrat operations.

Forensic News also reviewed a full roster of all members of Wikistrat’s pre-2017 Middle East Community, reproduced here. Absent is Jamal Khashoggi.

The company’s October 2019 statement, that Khashoggi “was one of many analysts within the community for a while”, appears misleading at best and has not been supported by any evidence by Wikistrat. 

Wikistrat has not been accused of any legal wrongdoing and the firm vigorously denies any connection to the murder of Khashoggi or related crimes.

This article was originally published on Forensic News


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