The shocking and brutal murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi by members of the Saudi Arabian government late last year was breathtaking in its audacity and execution. Lured to the Saudi consulate in Turkey by Saudi government officials, Khashoggi was strangled and dismembered by a team of Saudi security operatives.
Khashoggi was a legal resident of the United States, in self-imposed exile from Saudi Arabia as a result of the government's treatment of dissidents. As a lawful resident, Khashoggi was technically protected by the many of the same laws and rights US citizens are. While the US government limits those rights and protections when legal residents (but not citizens) travel out of the country, the US intelligence community still bears a "duty to warn" lawful residents of any violent threats against them.
The IC knew Khashoggi was a target of the Saudi government. It knew Riyadh had "something unpleasant" waiting for Khashoggi should he return to Saudi Arabia. A plan to lure Khashoggi back to Saudi Arabia was intercepted by US intelligence. No one knows whether Khashoggi was ever warned by US intelligence of these plans.
The Committee to Protect Journalists -- along with the Knight Institute -- wants to know if any attempts were made to inform the murdered journalist of Saudi Arabia's plans. So far, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence has refused to publicly comment on the IC's "duty to warn." These two entities have filed FOIA requests seeking info about the IC's duty to warn Jamal Khashoggi, asking each of the IC's five components to release documents detailing their actions/inactions. These were filed shortly after news broke of Khashoggi's murder. So far, none of the agencies have handed over any documents.
As the Knight Institute points out, there definitely should be documents related to Khashoggi and the government's "duty to warn."
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.” The directive further obligates the agencies to “document and maintain records” on any actions taken pursuant to that duty.
"Document" is a key part of "document and maintain," but so far, the IC agencies haven't turned over any documents, or even admitted they have any. All five agencies have rejected the request for expedited processing and most haven't even gotten around to deciding whether or not a fee waiver applies. So, the two entities have sued [PDF], hoping to jolt the Intelligence Community out of its complacency.
Documents pertaining to the IC's duty to warn are extremely newsworthy... right now. The IC knows this just as much as the plaintiffs know this. But the IC has much more to gain by stonewalling these requests. If these agencies failed to pass on information to Khashoggi -- in effect allowing him to end up in the hands of people who wanted him dead -- it's not going to reflect well on the IC. The longer it takes for the news to get out, the greater the chance a new obscenely-disturbing incident will grab the attention of the American public and allow it to walk away from any dereliction of duty unscathed.
If it does have documents and it did warn Khashoggi of the Saudi government's plans for him, it would make little sense to withhold these facts and allow public perception to fill the void. But the IC tends to indulge in secrecy for secrecy's sake, viewing frustrated requesters, Senators, and Congresspersons as a reward in itself.