Source: United States House of Representatives – Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz (FL-23)
A controversial air marshal program that provides training assistance for Saudi Arabia is no longer operational in the wake of journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s murder, according to testimony provided by Transportation Security Administration leader David Pekoske today to U.S. Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz (FL-23) at the House Committee on Oversight and Reform.
“We had done some assessments with the Saudi government before Mr. Khashoggi’s killing. To the best of my knowledge, since that occurred, we have not done any training,” Pekoske told Wasserman Schultz. “We haven’t done any training since that happened.”
It is not clear from Pekoske’s testimony today when exactly the TSA ended its assistance to the Saudi-based air carriers, and his stance does not appear to mirror other Administrative actions taken in response to the journalist’s killing.
TSA officials told CNN in March that the program was operational at that time, despite standing concerns then over Khashoggi’s death in October. A TSA statement given to CNN at the time stated: “In support of a Department of State initiative with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, TSA is contributing aviation security guidance and technical advice to assist Saudi Arabia in strengthening their aviation security capabilities.”
Pekoske said today that it was not clear that any actual training has been provided to the Saudis, but TSA had provided some level of assistance – and in the wake of the journalist’s murder, that was no longer being provided.
“Are you still providing technical assistance to this program?” Wasserman Schultz asked Pekoske. “To the best of my knowledge, no,” he replied.
Last week the United Nations released an investigation into the October 2018 murder of the U.S.-based journalist inside the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul. The report found: “Mr. Khashoggi’s killing constituted an extrajudicial killing for which the State of Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is responsible,” and that there is “credible evidence, warranting further investigation of high-level Saudi Officials’ individual liability, including the Crown Prince’s.”
The murder of Khashoggi reportedly did not come up in Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s meeting with the Saudi king on Monday. In an interview aired Sunday, President Donald Trump was dismissive of taking additional action in the death of the Saudi dissident and Washington Post columnist who resided in Virginia, telling Meet The Press host Chuck Todd that he did not raise the new U.N. report in his recent conversation with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
Wasserman Schultz said she planned to press for more specific answers around the timing and status of the program.
“Until there is some measure of real accountability secured for Mr. Khashoggi’s murder, this controversial Saudi air marshal assistance program should remain shut down,” Wasserman Schultz said. “I will continue to seek answers to confirm that this program is in fact shut down, to obtain more details about its status, and I will keep pressing for accountability for Mr. Khashoggi, his family and for all journalists who risk their life in pursuit of the truth.”