The killing by Saudi agents of [Jamal] Khashoggi, a columnist for The Washington Post, has focused the world’s attention on the kingdom’s intimidation campaign against influential voices raising questions about the darker side of the crown prince. The young royal has tightened his grip on the kingdom while presenting himself in Western capitals as the man to reform the hidebound Saudi state.
This portrait of the kingdom’s image management crusade is based on interviews with seven people involved in those efforts or briefed on them; activists and experts who have studied them; and American and Saudi officials, along with messages seen by The New York Times that described the inner workings of the troll farm.
Saudi operatives have mobilized to harass critics on Twitter, a wildly popular platform for news in the kingdom since the Arab Spring uprisings began in 2010. Saud al-Qahtani, a top adviser to Crown Prince Mohammed who was fired on Saturday in the fallout from Mr. Khashoggi’s killing, was the strategist behind the operation, according to United States and Saudi officials, as well as activist organizations.
Many Saudis had hoped that Twitter would democratize discourse by giving everyday citizens a voice, but Saudi Arabia has instead become an illustration of how authoritarian governments can manipulate social media to silence or drown out critical voices while spreading their own version of reality.They have an amen corner in the United States.
At WP, Robert Costa and Karoun Demirjian report that right-wing politicians and pundits "are mounting a whispering campaign against Jamal Khashoggi ... exchanging articles from right-wing outlets that fuel suspicion of Khashoggi, highlighting his association with the Muslim Brotherhood in his youth and raising conspiratorial questions about his work decades ago as an embedded reporter covering Osama bin Laden, according to four GOP officials involved in the discussions who were not authorized to speak publicly."
At Time, Alana Abramson provides some context; "According to data compiled by the Center for International Policy, a foreign policy think tank, that was provided to TIME, the Saudi government spent $10 million on lobbying in 2016. By 2017, that number had nearly tripled, increasing to almost $27 million."
Maureen Dowd sums it up: "Hollywood, Silicon Valley, presidential libraries and foundations, politically connected private equity groups, P.R. firms, think tanks, universities ... are awash in Arab money. The Saudis satisfy American greed, deftly playing their role as dollar signs in robes."