Knight Institute and Committee to Protect Journalists v. CIA – FOIA Suit for Records on Government’s “Duty to Warn” Journalist Jamal Khashoggi

The Knight Institute and the Committee to Protect Journalists are seeking documents showing whether U.S. intelligence agencies fulfilled their “duty to warn” reporter Jamal Khashoggi of threats to his life and liberty.

Khashoggi—a U.S. resident, a Washington Post journalist, and a prominent critic of Saudi Arabia—was killed in the Saudi embassy in Istanbul on October 2, 2018. The CIA has reportedly concluded that Khashoggi’s assassination was ordered by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, a conclusion endorsed by the Senate in its unanimous passage of a resolution condemning the Crown Prince for the killing.

News reports indicate that, before Khashoggi’s killing, U.S. intelligence agencies intercepted communications of Saudi officials discussing plans to capture him. It is not publicly known precisely what the agencies learned from these communications, or what steps, if any, the agencies took to warn Khashoggi of the threat to him. However, Intelligence Community Directive 191 provides that when a U.S. intelligence agency acquires information indicating an impending threat of intentional killing, serious bodily injury, or kidnapping directed at a person, the agency must “warn the intended victim or those responsible for protecting the intended victim, as appropriate.”

In the weeks following Khashoggi’s killing, the Knight Institute and the Committee to Protect Journalists submitted FOIA requests to five intelligence agencies: the Central Intelligence Agency, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the National Security Agency, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, and the Department of State. The requests sought records concerning whether the agencies learned of the threat to Khashoggi before the events of October 2, 2018, what they learned, whether they considered their obligations under Directive 191, and whether and how they complied with those obligations. Because none of the agencies substantively responded to the requests or produced any responsive documents, the Knight Institute and the Committee to Protect Journalists filed this lawsuit.