US alarmed as Saudi lawsuits threaten to reveal secrets
Two lawsuits pitting Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler against a former intelligence czar threaten to reveal highly sensitive U.S. government secrets, prompting Washington to consider rare judicial intervention, documents show.
The cases before the US and Canadian courts relate to allegations of corruption brought by Saudi state-owned companies against Saad Aljabri, a former spy master who has long worked closely with US officials on covert operations to fight against terrorism.
This marks the latest twist in a long-standing feud between Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) and Aljabri.
Aljabri boss Prince Mohammed bin Nayef (MBN) is currently in Saudi custody after being deposed as heir to the throne in a palace coup in 2017.
The legal drama sheds light on Shakespearean rivalries in the upper echelons of the Saudi royal family, but Washington fears that a bitter court showdown could expose sensitive information related to its covert operations.
A rare US Department of Justice filing in a Massachusetts court in April noted Aljabri’s intention to “describe information regarding alleged national security activities.”
“The (US) government is examining whether and how to participate in this action, including if necessary and applicable, through an assertion of appropriate government privileges,” the file said, without further details.
In a second case, a month later, the justice ministry asked the court for more time, as national security issues require “sensitive” and “complex” judgments from senior officials.
The file indicated that the government was prepared to “provide further information” to the court in secret.
Legal experts have said Washington could invoke “state secret privilege,” which would allow it to resist a court-ordered disclosure of information deemed harmful to US national security.
The CIA declined to comment to AFP. The Justice Ministry, which experts say rarely intervenes in civil suits, did not respond to a request for comment.
– ‘Vendetta’ –
Last year, Aljabri alleged in another lawsuit that MBS sent assassins from the “Tiger Squad” to kill him in Canada, where he lives in exile, while detaining two of his children to force him to return home. .
The feud took a new turn in March when state-owned Sakab Saudi Holding accused Aljabri of embezzling $ 3.47 billion while working at the Interior Ministry under MBN. He urged the Massachusetts court to freeze its $ 29 million real estate assets in Boston.
It came weeks after several crown corporations sued Aljabri in Toronto over similar allegations. A Canadian court subsequently announced a global freeze on Aljabri’s assets.
While denying any financial wrongdoing, Aljabri’s legal team say he is caught up in the rivalry between MBS and MBN, which has not been seen publicly since his detention in March 2020.
Sakab, a state-owned enterprise, which according to court documents was established in 2008 by MBN, was part of a network of shell companies to cover covert security operations with the United States.
In order to prove his innocence, the court should investigate Sakab’s finances, including how they were used to “fund sensitive programs” operated in partnership with the CIA, the US National Security Agency and the US Department. American Defense Force, according to an Aljabri file. .
“Dr Saad would never expose secret counterterrorism projects that have saved thousands of lives, including Americans,” a source close to the former spy master told AFP.
“Sadly, MBS’s blind vendetta against Dr Saad has left him in a position where he is forced to do so to defend himself in court.”
– “Putting lives at risk” –
As the Justice Department considers measures to prevent any disclosure of state secrets in Massachusetts, it remains unclear how it could do the same in the Ontario court, over which it has no influence. direct.
The Aljabri source acknowledged that any exposure could endanger “those who have participated in (counterterrorism) operations, reveal sources and methods, and hinder (…) similar operations in the future) “.
A US attorney representing MBS declined to comment on the litigation.
But a source close to the Saudi leadership repeated allegations of multibillion-dollar corruption, while accusing Aljabri of “poisoning Saudi-US relations.”
Several US officials who worked alongside Aljabri have expressed support for him, with some acknowledging that he was aware of sensitive information.
“Dr Saad has worked directly with at least the CIA, the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security, the White House, the State Department and the Treasury Department,” wrote former CIA official Philip Mudd. in an affidavit in a US court.
“When the United States had actionable intelligence or tactical information, we gave it to Dr. Saad.”
In its April brief, the Justice Department said it planned to engage with both sides to understand their positions, suggesting it wanted an out-of-court settlement.
“The most important thing for me is that MBS is holding Dr Saad’s children, essentially extorting Dr Saad,” Daniel Hoffman, former director of the CIA’s Middle East division, told AFP.
“It is totally contrary to the humanitarian values of the United States.”
© 2021 AFP