A year before the assassination of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, senior Saudi intelligence officials close to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman held a series of meetings with a group of businessmen to discuss the potential use of private companies to assassinate Iranian enemies, the New York Times reported Sunday.
According to the report, the businessmen, who also had intelligence backgrounds, considered giving $2 billion to the cause. Among those they mulled assassinating was Iran's Qassem Soleimani, chief of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards’ Quds Force.
Among the group of businessmen was also George Nader, a Lebanese-American fixer whose long history included intrepid back-channel mediation between Israel and Arab countries. An Israeli, social media expert Joel Zamel, was present at those meetings.
Maj. Gen. Ahmed al-Assiri, who Saudi officials have blamed for Khashoggi's killing and who has since been fired, was also present in one of these meetings.
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Nader and Zamel are both witnesses in Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into foreign interference in the 2016 presidential elections.
According to the New York Times, Nader and Zamel had also worked together since early 2016 to wage a campaign of economic warfare against Iran. Mueller's prosecutors have reportedly asked them both about their conversations with Saudi and American officials about the Iran plan.
Their plan included, according to the report, "operations like revealing hidden global assets of the Quds force; creating fake social media accounts in Farsi to foment unrest in Iran; financing Iranian opposition groups; and publicizing accusations, real or fictitious, against senior Iranian officials to turn them against one another."
Nader met "frequently" with Trump's While House officials to discuss the plan, according to the report.
Zamel's company Psy-Group is suspected of having developed an online manipulation campaign that involved usage of thousands of fake social media accounts to help Trump win. The New York Times had previously reported that Zamel and Nader met with Trump's son three months before the 2016 elections to discuss ways to help him beat Hillary Clinton.
Khashoggi is a longtime Saudi journalist, foreign correspondent, editor and columnist whose work has been controversial in the past in the ultraconservative Sunni kingdom. He went into self-imposed exile in the United States following the ascension of Prince Mohammed, now next in line to succeed his father, the 82-year-old King Salman.