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By the time the CIA assessment finally emerged it was an anticlimax, its conclusions already known: America believes Muhammad bin Salman, the kingdom’s crown prince and de facto ruler, approved the operation to capture or kill Mr Khashoggi.

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I'm not sure what other tense you might expect: it is an event which took place in the past and is complete.

If it were in a main clause, you could use the perfect and say The CIA assessment has finally emerged, if you wished to relate it to the present. (You could also use the simple past, if it was not important or relevant to relate it to the present),

But by the time locates the event in at a specific time (in this case, in the past) with no relevance to the present, so it would not be normal to use a perfect construction within that clause.

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  • So far as I can see, if we do use Simple Present tense after by the time, we're actually always referring to something that will happen in the future (not something that's currently happening). So Present Perfect seems to be the only way to indicate that "[by] the time" referred to is in fact now. Mar 4, 2021 at 17:22
  • Yes indeed, as follows from the fact that the so-called present is in fact non-past. If you use a present perfect inside by the time it will have future (perfect) meaning: By the time I've seen him, it'll be too late.
    – Colin Fine
    Mar 4, 2021 at 18:06
  • John Lawler tells me English only has two tenses (Present, and "not-Present"). Does your "the so-called present is in fact non-past" imply English only has two tenses (Past, and "not-Past")? Mar 4, 2021 at 18:10
  • Does he really, @FumbleFingers? I am astonished. Where? While I worked out for myself that there is no such thing as a future tense in English, I thought it was from John Lawler that I'd got the clarity of past vs non-past being the only two tenses.
    – Colin Fine
    Mar 4, 2021 at 19:22
  • It was several years ago. We seem to agree we both got "only two tenses" from John, and I'm sure that would always have been a more "accessible" concept to you than to me, so perhaps I'm misremembering (or I misunderstood). Anyway, whichever of Past and Present you choose for the "named" one of the "only two", the typical "non-that-choice" alternative will in fact be the other one. And temporally speaking there's only really Past, Present, Future, so the thing it mostly implies either way round is "English doesn't have a Future Tense*. Mar 4, 2021 at 23:39

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