CNN has been granted exclusive access to correspondence between Khashoggi and Montreal-based activist Omar Abdulaziz. The messages shared by Abdulaziz, including voice recordings, photographs, and videos, sketch a picture of a man who is deeply troubled by what he regarded as the delusion of the powerful young prince of his kingdom.
The exchanges revealed an advance from talking to action – the couple had started planning an online youth movement that would hold the Saudi state accountable. "[Jamal] believed that MBS is the issue, is the problem and he said that this child should be stopped, "said Abdulaziz in an interview with CNN.
But in August, when he believed that their talks might have been intercepted by Saudi authorities, a sense of disaster descends over Khashoggi. "God help us", he wrote.
He was dead two months later.
Abdullziz launched a court case against an Israeli company on Sunday that invented the software that he thought was used to hack his phone.
"Hacking my phone played a big part in what happened to Jamal, I'm really sorry to say," Abdelaziz told CNN. "The fault makes me broken."
Sim cards and financial support
Abdulaziz began to speak out against the Saudi regime as a university student in Canada. His sharp criticism of government policy drew the attention of the Saudi state, which canceled its university scholarship. Canada granted him asylum in 2014 and made him a permanent resident three years later.
During almost daily exchanges between October 2017 and August 2018, Khashoggi and Abdulaziz came up with plans to form an electronic army to take young Saudis back home and deny state propaganda on social media, using the location profile. from Khashoggi and the 340,000-strong 27-year-old Abdulaziz Twitter follows.
The digital offensive, the "cyber bees", was the result of earlier discussions about creating a portal for documenting human rights violations in their home country and an initiative to produce short films for mobile distribution. "We do not have a parliament, we just have Twitter," Abdulaziz said and added that Twitter is also the strongest weapon of the Saudi government. "Twitter is the only tool they use to fight and spread their rumors, we've been attacked, we've been insulted, we've been threatened so many times, and we've decided to do something."
The scheme of the pair included two important elements that Saudi Arabia might have seen as hostile acts. The first involved sending foreign SIM cards to dissidents at home, so they could tweet without being traced. The second was money. According to Abdulaziz Khashoggi promised a first $ 30,000 and promised to support the support of rich donors under the radar.
In an exchange, dated May this year, Abdulaziz writes to Khashoggi. "I have sent you a few ideas about the electronic army, by e-mail."
& # 39; Gorgeous report & # 39 ;, replies Khashoggi. "I will try to arrange the money, we have to do something."
A month later, another message from Abdulaziz confirms that the first transfer of $ 5,000 has been received. Khashoggi answers with a thumbs up.
But in early August he said that he was informed by Saudi Arabia that government officials were aware of the couple's online project. He passed on the news to Khashoggi.
"How did they know?" Khashoggi asks in a message.
"There must have been a gap," says Abdulaziz.
Three minutes pass before Khashoggi writes: "God help us."
The & # 39; hack & # 39;
Abdulaziz first spoke publicly about his contact with Khashoggi last month after researchers at the University of Toronto Citizen Lab reported that his phone had been hacked by military-grade spyware.
According to Bill Marczak, a research employee at the Citizen Lab, the software was the invention of an Israeli company called NSO Group and was commissioned by the Saudi government.
Marczak said that at least two other Saudi dissidents are the target of the NSO tools: an activist named Yahya Assiri and an employee who was involved in Amnesty International's work on Saudi Arabia.
Danna Ingleton, an Amnesty deputy program director, said that the technology experts studied the staff member's phone and confirmed that it was focused on the spyware. Amnesty is currently investigating potential recourse against the NSO group and wrote a letter last week to the Israeli Ministry of Defense to revoke NSO's export license, Ingleton said.
On Sunday, Abdulaziz lawyers filed a lawsuit in Tel Aviv claiming that the NSO violated international laws by selling its software to oppressive regimes, knowing that it could be used to violate human rights. "NSO should be held responsible for protecting the lives of political dissidents, journalists and human rights activists," said Jerusalem lawyer Alaa Mahajna, who is acting for Abdulaziz.
The lawsuit follows another that was filed in Israel and Cyprus by citizens in Mexico and Qatar.
In a statement to CNN Monday after the trial was filed, NSO Group said it was "completely unfounded" and "no evidence shows that the company's technology was used" to hack Abdulaziz's phone. NSO also said that its technology is helping governments and law enforcement agencies "fight terrorism and crime in modern times" and has been fully screened and endorsed by the Israeli government.
The statement added: "The lawsuit seems to be based on a collection of press clippings generated for the sole purpose of making headlines and not reflecting the reality of NSO's work."
"In addition, products supplied by NSO are operated by the government customer to whom they have been delivered, without the intervention of NSO or its employees."
& # 39; Tyranny has no logic & # 39;
The fact that the Abdulaziz telephone contained spyware means that Saudi officials could have seen the same 400 reports that Abdulaziz had exchanged with Khashoggi during the period.
The reports portray Khashoggi, a Saudi former establishment figure, who is becoming increasingly afraid of the fate of his country when bin Salman consolidates his power.
"He likes violence, oppression and has to show them," says Khashoggi about bin Salman, "but tyranny has no logic."
Such discussions can be considered treacherous in Saudi Arabia, a country with one of the world's worst records of free speech. In a sign that Khashoggi and Abdulaziz were aware of their security in exile, they flashed back and forth between calls, voice messages and chats on WhatsApp and other coded platforms such as Telegram and Signal.
While Khashoggi speculated about the future of bin Salman, Abdulaziz was already in the sights of the crown prince and was about to receive a visit with a message from the top.
& # 39; Message from MBS & # 39;
Abdulaziz said in May that two Saudi government envoys wanted to meet him in Montreal. He agreed and said he secretly took 10 hours of their calls during their five-day stay. He has shared them with CNN.
In Arabic, the men, who are only referred to as Abdullah and Malek, tell Abdulaziz that they were sent by order of Salman himself, circumventing the usual channels such as the Ministry of Security. Bin Salman observes him on his Twitter feed, they say, and wants to offer him a job.
"We came to you with a message from Mohammed bin Salman and his insurance to you", one of them says.
The recorded messages from Abdelaziz are significant, because Saudi Arabia always claimed that his crown prince had nothing to do with plots such as those leading to the death of Khashoggi, and accused that incident of a failed rendition attempt, conceived by advisers and subordinates of the security personnel.
"If Saud al-Qahtani himself hears your name, he will immediately know and you can meet Prince Mohammed directly," says another man.
They then recommend that Abdulaziz visit the Saudi embassy to pick up some paperwork.
Sternly enough, Abdelaziz said that it was possible Khashoggi's advice that saved his life.
"He told me I should not go and only meet them in public places."
Khashoggi did the opposite on 2 October. It was the last time that he checked his WhatsApp messages.