The plausible, wild theory of how Jamal Khashoggi could have recorded his own death

Khashoggi enters the Saudi consulate in October.
Khashoggi enters the Saudi consulate in October.
Image: Reuters TV/via REUTERS
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Earlier today (Oct. 13) Sabah, a pro-government Turkish newspaper, reported that Turkish officials have an audio recording of the torture and murder of Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi journalist who has gone missing. The source of that audio, the newspaper says, is none other than Khashoggi’s Apple Watch.

Turkey has accused Saudi leaders of murdering Khashoggi, who has long been critical of Saudi leadership. Saudi Arabia has fervently denied this, calling the claims “baseless.”

The audio recording could provide the basis Turkey needs. The theory of how Khashoggi could have created it using an Apple Watch goes like this. Khashoggi was last seen on Oct. 2, via CCTV footage that shows him entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. According to Sabah, he had given his phones to his fiancée before going in. One of those phones, according to the theory, was paired to the watch.

While the consulate presumably would not have allowed any phones into a secure area, they may have let an Apple Watch slip by. If that were the case, it would be perfectly possible for Khashoggi to use it to discretely record audio. It is also easy enough to set the watch to automatically sync completed recordings to an iPhone, and from there to iCloud, using an app like Just Press Record. Indeed, Sabah says that officials recovered the recordings from Khashoggi’s iCloud account, adding that those responsible for his death tried unsuccessfully to delete the files after noticing the watch.

That story makes sense, but it’s not as clean as it looks. For one thing, Sabah says that Khashoggi’s “interrogation, torture and killing were audio recorded and sent to both his phone and to iCloud,” according to a CNN translation. But an Apple Watch usually syncs with an iPhone through Bluetooth, which won’t work once the watch is more than about 50 feet from the phone. So it seems unlikely Khashoggi’s watch could have sent the recordings all the way to one of the phones his fiancée was holding outside the consulate. It may have worked if both devices were somehow on the same WiFi network, which also seems like a stretch, given that he was at the consulate of a repressive regime and not Starbucks. What’s more, the recordings would only send once stopped. If Khashoggi recorded up until his own death, he clearly could not have done that himself. The assailants, then, would have had to stop the recording while trying to unlock the phone.

Even if Turkish officials do have genuine audio of Khashoggi’s death, his watch may have had nothing to do with it. The watch theory, published by a pro-government newspaper in a country famous for locking up journalists, would work well as a cover story if the Turkish government had the Saudi consulate wiretapped.

Either way, the Apple Watch narrative highlights the fact that, at any time, anyone could be discretely recording audio that is automatically uploaded to a cloud, which may in turn be subject to legal search. That can solve a murder; it is also just really creepy.