The approval would have allowed members of the Saudi Royal Guard to enter the United States on visas processed by the American Embassy in Riyadh. The path is similar to the one followed by Second Lt. Mohammed Alshamrani, a Royal Saudi Air Force officer who opened fire in 2019 at a naval air station in Pensacola, Fla., where he was receiving military flight training. The attack killed three people and wounded eight.
Tier 1 Group was founded to train U.S. military personnel, taking advantage of an expanded Pentagon budget for military personnel training in basic counterinsurgency skills, according to former American officials familiar with its operations.
One of the company’s founders, Steve Reichert, a former Marine, was working as an instructor for the security contractor then known as Blackwater when he met Mr. Feinberg. With Mr. Feinberg’s backing, Mr. Reichert set up Tier 1 Group, according to Mr. Reichert’s 2020 account of the company’s founding and former intelligence officials familiar with the efforts.
But as U.S. military training budgets began to shrink, the company, like other private security firms, began searching for new clients. By 2014, it was beginning to train foreign military units, including Saudis.
Decisions about granting licenses to American firms to train foreign nationals are usually made after getting input from numerous government agencies, said R. Clarke Cooper, the assistant secretary of state for political-military affairs during the Trump administration. The Pentagon and intelligence agencies often play a role, he said.
“These things don’t just come out of the ether,” he said.
Mr. Cooper said he could not recall any discussion about the Tier 1 Group training of Saudis, even after Mr. Khashoggi’s killing. He said there were intense deliberations inside the Trump administration about how to respond to the killing after the government concluded that Prince Mohammed most likely approved it.
In the end, he said, administration officials did not want to squander America’s relationship with the kingdom — and the strategy of isolating Iran — by taking a heavy-handed approach after Mr. Khashoggi’s death.
“No government is going to flush a significant bilateral relationship over this murder, no matter how horrific it was,” he said.
Adam Goldman contributed reporting.