Saudi Operatives Who Killed Khashoggi Acquired Paramilitary Coaching in U.S.


The approval would have allowed members of the Saudi Royal Guard to enter the United States on visas processed by the American embassy in Riyadh. The path is similar to that of Second Lt. Mohammed Alshamrani, a Royal Saudi Air Force officer who opened fire in 2019 at a naval air base in Pensacola, Florida, where he received military flight training. Three people were killed and eight injured in the attack.

The Tier 1 Group was formed to train U.S. military personnel using an expanded Pentagon budget to train military personnel in basic counterinsurgency skills, according to former American officials familiar with their operations.

One of the company’s founders, Steve Reichert, a former Marine, was working as an instructor for the security company then known as Blackwater when he met Mr. Feinberg. With the support of Mr. Feinberg, Mr. Reichert founded the Tier 1 Group, according to Reichert’s 2020 report on the establishment of the company and former intelligence officials familiar with the efforts.

But as the US military training budgets began to shrink, the company, like other private security firms, began looking for new customers. In 2014 it began training foreign military units, including Saudis.

Decisions about licensing American firms to train foreign nationals are usually made after receipt by numerous government agencies, said R. Clarke Cooper, assistant secretary of state for politico-military affairs during the Trump administration. The Pentagon and intelligence agencies often play a role, he said.

“These things don’t just come out of the ether,” he said.

Mr Cooper said he could not recall any discussion of Saudis training in the Tier 1 group even after Mr Khashoggi was murdered. He said there had been intense deliberations within the Trump administration on how to respond to the murder after the government concluded that Prince Mohammed most likely approved it.

In the end, he said, government officials did not want to gamble away America’s relationship with the kingdom – and its strategy of isolating Iran – by taking a clumsy course of action after Mr Khashoggi’s death.

“No government is going to silence a significant bilateral relationship because of this murder, no matter how awful it was,” he said.

Adam Goldman contributed to the coverage.