CNN was granted exclusive access to correspondence between Khashoggi and Montreal-based activist Omar Abdulaziz. Abdulaziz's messages, which include voice recordings, photos, and videos, paint a picture of a man deeply disturbed by what he considered to be the poverty of the mighty young prince of his kingdom.
The exchange reveals progress from conversation to action – the couple had started planning an online youth movement that would hold the Saudi state accountable. "[Jamal] I believe that MBS is the problem, the problem is and he said that this kid should be stopped, "said Abdulaziz in an interview with CNN.
However, when he thought in August that their talks could have been intercepted by the Saudi authorities, Khashoggi beamed. "God help us," he wrote.
Two months later he was dead.
Abdulaziz filed a lawsuit on Sunday against an Israeli company that invented the software he believes was used to hack his phone.
"The hacking of my phone has an important role in what happened to Jamal, I'm really sorry to say," Abdelaziz told CNN. "The guilt kills me."
SIM cards and financial support
Abdulaziz began to speak out as a student in Canada against the Saudi regime. 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 permanent resident three years later.
In an almost daily exchange between October 2017 and August 2018, Khashoggi and Abdulaziz planned to form an electronic army to recruit young Saudis at home and expose state propaganda in social media, with Khashoggi's establishment profile and 340,000- year old Abdulaziz, 27 years old, have been used Twitter follows.
The digital offensive, also known as "cyber-bees", emerged from previous discussions about setting up a portal to document human rights abuses in their home country and an initiative to produce short films for mobile distribution. "We do not have a parliament, we only have Twitter," said Abdulaziz, adding 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 have been insulted, we've been threatened so many times and we've decided to do something."
The couple's system included two key elements that Saudi Arabia might have regarded as hostile acts. The first was to send foreign SIM cards to dissidents at home so they could tweet unsolicited. The second was money. According to Abdulaziz, Khashoggi initially pledged $ 30,000 and promised to increase the support of rich donors under the radar.
In an exchange of May this year, Abdulaziz writes to Khashoggi. "I sent you some ideas about the electronic army – via e-mail."
"Brilliant report," Khashoggi replies. "I'll try to find 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.
In early August, he said he had learned from Saudi Arabia that government officials knew about the couple's online project. He passed the message on to Khashoggi.
"How do you know that?" asks Khashoggi in a message.
"There must have been a gap," says Abdulaziz.
Three minutes pass before Khashoggi writes back: "God help us."
Abdulaziz spoke publicly for the first time about his contact with Khashoggi last month after researchers from the University of Toronto's Citizen Lab reported that his phone had been hacked by military spyware.
According to Bill Marczak, a Citizen Lab researcher, the software was the invention of an Israeli company called the NSO Group, which was commissioned by the Saudi Arabian government.
Marczak said at least two other Saudi dissidents were targeted with NSO tools: an activist named Yahya Assiri and an associate involved in the work of Amnesty International in Saudi Arabia.
Danny Ingleton, Amnesty Deputy Program Director, said his technology experts examined the employee's phone and confirmed that it was spyware. Amnesty is currently investigating a possible legal remedy against the NSO Group and last week wrote a letter to the Israeli Ministry of Defense urging it to revoke NSO's export license, Ingleton said.
On Sunday, Abdulaziz lawyers filed a lawsuit in Tel Aviv. They claimed that NSO violated international laws by selling their software to oppressive regimes, knowing it could violate human rights violations.
"Tyranny has no logic"
The fact that Abdulaziz & # 39; s cell phone contained spyware meant that Saudi officials could have seen the same 400 messages that Abdulaziz had exchanged with Khashoggi during the period.
The messages show that Khashoggi, a former Saudi founding figure, is increasingly afraid of the fate of his country, as Salman strengthens his power.
"He loves violence and oppression and must demonstrate it," says Khashoggi of bin Salman, "but tyranny has no logic."
Such discussions could be considered treacherous in Saudi Arabia, a country with one of the world's lowest free speech rates. In one sign, Khashoggi and Abdulaziz paid attention to their safety in exile. They swayed between calls, voice messages and chats on WhatsApp and other encrypted platforms like telegrams and signals.
When Khashoggi speculated about the future of bin Salman, Abdulaziz was already in the eyes of the Crown Prince and was about to visit with a message from above.
"Message from MBS"
Last May, Abdulaziz said two Saudi officials had asked him to meet in Montreal. He agreed and said he secretly held talks for 10 hours during their five-day stay. He shared it with CNN.
In Arabic, the men who are referred to only as Abdullah and Malek, Abdulaziz say that they were sent by order of Salman himself and bypass the usual channels such as the Ministry of Security. Bin Salman watches him on his Twitter feed and wants to offer him a job.
"We came to you with a message from Mohammed bin Salman and his assurance," says one of them.
The recorded news from Abdelaziz is related because Saudi Arabia has always maintained that his Crown Prince had nothing to do with plans that led to Khashoggi's death and blamed this incident for a failed attempt to rally, led by security personnel and advisers.
"If Saud al Qathani himself hears your name, he will know immediately and you can meet directly with Prince Mohammed," says another man.
Then they recommend Abdulaziz to visit the Saudi embassy to pick up some paperwork.
Allegedly, Abdelaziz says Khashoggi's advice may have saved his life.
"He told me not to go and only meet her in public places."
On October 2, Khashoggi did the opposite. It was the last time he checked his WhatsApp messages.