Two lawsuits pitting Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler against a former intelligence czar threaten to expose highly sensitive US government secrets, prompting Washington to consider a rare judicial intervention, documents show.
The cases in US and Canadian courts center on corruption allegations leveled by state-owned Saudi companies against Saad bin Khalid al-Jabri, a former spymaster who long worked closely with US officials on covert counterterrorism operations.
That marks the latest twist in a long-running feud between Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman (MBS) and al-Jabri.
Photo: AFP / Aljabri family handout
Al-Jabri’s patron, Saudi Arabian Prince Mohammed bin Nayef (MBN), is in Saudi detention after being deposed as heir to the throne in a 2017 palace coup.
The legal drama sheds light on Shakespearean rivalries in the top echelons of the Saudi royal family, but Washington fears that a bitter courtroom showdown risks exposing sensitive information related to its covert operations.
A rare US Department of Justice filing in a Massachusetts court in April noted al-Jabri’s intention to “describe information concerning alleged national security activities.”
“The [US] government is considering whether and how to participate in this action, including if necessary and applicable, through an assertion of appropriate governmental privileges,” the filing said, without elaborating.
In a second filing a month later, the department asked the court for more time as national security matters require “‘delicate’ and ‘complex’ judgements by senior officials.”
The filing said that the US government was prepared to “provide further information” to the court in secret.
Legal experts have said Washington could invoke the “state secrets privilege,” which would allow it to resist a court-ordered disclosure of information deemed harmful to US national security.
Last year, al-Jabri alleged in another lawsuit that MBS sent “Tiger Squad” assassins to kill him in Canada, where he lives in exile, while detaining two of his children to pressure him to return home.
The feud took a new turn in March when state-run company Sakab Saudi Holding accused al-Jabri of embezzling US$3.47 billion while working at the Saudi Arabian Ministry of Interior under MBN. It urged the Massachusetts court to freeze his US$29 million Boston property assets.
This came weeks after multiple state-owned companies sued al-Jabri in Toronto on similar allegations. A Canadian court subsequently announced a worldwide freeze of his assets.
While denying any financial wrongdoing, al-Jabri’s legal team has said he is caught in the rivalry between MBS and MBN, who has not been publicly seen since his detention in March 2020.
State-run Sakab, which court filings say was established in 2008 by MBN, was part of a network of front companies to provide cover for clandestine security operations with the US.
To prove his innocence, the court would need to probe Sakab’s finances, including how they were used to “finance sensitive programs” operated in partnership with the CIA, the US National Security Agency and the US Department of Defense, a filing by al-Jabri said.
“Dr Saad would never expose covert counterterrorism projects that saved thousands of lives, including Americans,” a source close to the former spymaster told reporters. “Unfortunately, MBS’ blind vendetta against Dr Saad has cornered him in a position where he is compelled to do so in order to defend himself in court.”
While the justice department considers moves 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 direct sway.
The al-Jabri source acknowledged that any exposure could endanger “those who participated in [counterterrorism] operations, reveal sources and methods, and hinder ... similar operations in the future.”
However, a source close to the Saudi leadership repeated multibillion-dollar corruption allegations, while accusing al-Jabri of “poisoning the Saudi-US relationship.”
Several US officials who have worked alongside al-Jabri have voiced support for him, with some acknowledging that he was privy to sensitive information.
“Dr Saad worked directly with at least the CIA, FBI, Department of Homeland Security, White House, Department of State, and Department of the Treasury,” former CIA official Philip Mudd wrote in a US court affidavit. “When the United States had actionable intelligence or tactical information, we gave it to Dr Saad.”
In its April filing, the justice department said it anticipated engaging with both sides to understand their positions, suggesting it was keen for an out-of-court settlement.
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