It would've been nearly impossible for journalist Khashoggi to record inside the Saudi Consulate using his Apple Watch

Key Points
  • A report from the pro-government Turkish newspaper Sabah said journalist Jamal Khashoggi used an Apple Watch to record audio of his alleged killing by Saudis inside their consulate in Istanbul.
  • The way the report described how Khashoggi recorded the audio is at odds with how the Apple Watch actually works.
  • It would have been nearly impossible for Khashoggi to record audio and upload it to his iPhone or the internet, and it raises questions as to how Turkish officials obtained the audio and video evidence of the alleged killing.
Apple Watch Series 4
Todd Haselton | CNBC

Although Turkish officials haven't said how they obtained both audio and video evidence that they say proves journalist Jamal Khashoggi was killed by Saudis inside their consulate in Istanbul, a new report from a pro-government Turkish newspaper claims at least some of that evidence comes from an audio recording made from Khashoggi's Apple Watch.

But the method the newspaper said Khashoggi used to record the alleged incident inside the Saudi Consulate is at odds with the way the Apple Watch works, and it's doubtful the story is true. The report also raises new questions about whether Turkish officials are accurately disclosing how they obtained the audio that they say gives evidence of Khashoggi's killing.

The Turkish newspaper Sabah reported Saturday that Khashoggi recorded audio of the alleged killing using an app on his Apple Watch and was able to upload the recording to his iPhone and iCloud account. Sabah is a pro-Turkish government newspaper that the country's security officials use to leak information, The Associated Press reported Saturday.

Apple declined to comment on the report. CNBC has reached out to Sabah for comment. Saudi Arabia has denied involvement in Khashoggi's disappearance.

Here's what the Sabah report said and how the story's details don't correspond to how the Apple Watch actually works.

Joint 'inspection' of Saudi consulate today: Report
Joint 'inspection' of Saudi consulate today: Report

There's no fingerprint sensor on the Apple Watch

Sabah's report says the Saudis attempted to delete the audio recording using Khashoggi's fingerprint to unlock his Apple Watch. But there is no fingerprint sensor on any model of the Apple Watch. It can only be unlocked with a passcode. Only some models of the iPhone, iPad and MacBook have fingerprint sensors. The Apple Watch remains unlocked as long as the wearer keeps it strapped to their wrist after inputting the passcode. The watch locks again after it's removed from the wrist.

The fact that the Sabah report mentions a fingerprint sensor on the Apple Watch is enough reason to doubt the story, but there's more.

How the Apple Watch connects to the iPhone and the internet

The Sabah report says the audio recording was sent to Khashoggi's iPhone from his Apple Watch. But earlier reports said Khashoggi left his iPhone with his fiancee outside the Saudi Consulate where the attack allegedly took place. The Apple Watch needs a Bluetooth connection to send data to the iPhone it's paired with, and it would be next to impossible for Khashoggi's watch to maintain that Bluetooth connection if it was outside the consulate.

The report also says the audio recordings were uploaded to Khashoggi's iCloud account, but that's unlikely unless his watch had a connection to the internet without his phone.

Some observers have pointed to photos of Khashoggi wearing a version of the Apple Watch that can connect to cellular data networks. But that model of the Apple Watch is incompatible with cellular networks in Turkey, according to Apple's own carrier list, and the audio files could've been uploaded that way.

It is possible Khashoggi's watch could have connected his watch to the internet over the consulate's Wi-Fi network. However, that would mean Khashoggi would have had to connect his watch to the consulate's Wi-Fi during a previous visit. That way, his watch would've automatically connected to the consulate's Wi-Fi when he entered the building on the day of his alleged killing.

If Khashoggi hadn't connected his watch to the consulate's Wi-Fi network during a previous visit, the only other way he could have connected to it would be if he had time to input the password into his watch face moments after he walked into the consulate. The latest watch software from Apple, watchOS 5, was released a few weeks ago and allows users to manually input Wi-Fi passwords by using the device's "Scribble" feature, which lets users draw characters on the screen to input text. It's unlikely Khashoggi would have had time to do that if he was under attack.

Trump says 'rogue killers' may have murdered Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi
Trump says 'rogue killers' may have murdered Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi

Recording apps and iCloud

Then there's the question of what app Khashoggi could have used to record from his Apple Watch. Apple does not ship the Apple Watch with a recording app, but there are several third-party apps that enable audio recording on the watch.

But Apple's privacy rules require third-party recording apps to display a red indicator on the watch's screen while it's recording audio, so anyone who looked at the watch would know they were being recorded.

Third-party recording apps can send audio files to the cloud via Apple's iCloud service, but those files can only be retrieved by the iPhone version of the app. It's possible Khashoggi's fiancee had access to the iPhone version of a recording app, but she has so far made no public mention of any recordings, and it's not known whether she possessed Khashoggi's passcode. It's also unlikely that Turkish officials had the iPhone passcode, which they would need to access any Apple Watch recording that came in.

A thin story

Overall, Khashoggi would have had to overcome several hurdles to record audio inside the consulate and have those audio files sent to the outside. It's highly unlikely the events lined up as explained in the Sabah report.

And again, the fact that the report mentions a fingerprint sensor on the Apple Watch casts serious doubt that the paper's sources understood how the Apple Watch and iCloud function and were accurately describing how they obtained the audio recordings they say proves the alleged killing.

Turkish officials have also claimed to have video evidence of Khashoggi's killing within the Saudi Consulate but did not say how they obtained it.

When it comes to the purported audio recordings from Khashoggi's Apple Watch, it's unlikely they exist or were obtained in the way described in the Sabah report.

Correction: Journalist Jamal Khashoggi disappeared while visiting the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul. An earlier version misstated the type of office.

CNBC goes hands-on with Apple's new Watches
CNBC goes hands-on with Apple's new Watches