The C.I.A. has evidence that Mohammed bin Salman, the Saudi crown prince, communicated repeatedly with a key aide around the time that a team believed to have been under the aide’s command assassinated Jamal Khashoggi, according to former officials familiar with the intelligence.
The adviser, Saud al-Qahtani, topped the list of Saudis who were targeted by American sanctions last month over their suspected involvement in the killing of Mr. Khashoggi. American intelligence agencies have evidence that Prince Salman and Mr. Qahtani had 11 exchanges that roughly coincided with the hit team’s advance into the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul, where Mr. Khashoggi was murdered.
The exchanges are a key piece of information that helped solidify the C.I.A.’s assessment that the crown prince ordered the killing of Mr. Khashoggi, a Washington Post columnist and Virginia resident who had been critical of the Saudi government.
“This is the smoking gun, or at least the smoking phone call,” said Bruce Riedel, a former C.I.A. official now at the Brookings Institution. “There is only one thing they could possibly be talking about. This shows that the crown prince was witting of premeditated murder.”
The existence of the intercepts was first reported by The Wall Street Journal, which reviewed a highly classified document on the C.I.A. assessment of Mr. Khashoggi’s killing. The leak of the secret report, according to officials, infuriated Gina Haspel, the C.I.A. director. It has also intensified calls by members of Congress to have Ms. Haspel go to Capitol Hill to brief them.
Mr. Qahtani has been one of Prince Mohammed’s closest advisers. When the head of the hit team, Maher Abdulaziz Mutreb, was recorded by Turkish intelligence saying “tell your boss” that the team had carried out the mission, he was believed by American intelligence agencies to have been communicating with Mr. Qahtani.
People briefed on the intelligence said they believed that the 11 exchanges between Prince Mohammed and Mr. Qahtani could very well have been the time when the aide shared the news.