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Saudi Arabia: US intervenes to protect state secrets in 'vendetta' against former official

Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman attends a meeting during the G20 Summit in Osaka on June 28, 2019 [BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP via Getty Images]
Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman attends a meeting during the G20 Summit in Osaka on June 28, 2019 [BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP via Getty Images]

Saudi Arabia's relentless pursuit of former top intelligence official Saad Al-Jabri has prompted a rare intervention by the US Justice Department over concerns that state secrets could be leaked. The exiled 63 year old is locked in a legal battle with a group of Saudi companies owned by the Kingdom's sovereign wealth fund that could lift the lid on years of secret cooperation between Washington and Riyadh and expose highly sensitive information.

Al-Jabri is said to be respected widely by US intelligence and counterterrorism officials having worked closely with them. He has been credited with saving hundreds, maybe thousands, of American lives, according to a report by CNN on the latest development in the case.

After falling out of favour in 2017 following the soft-coup which saw Prince Mohammed Bin Salman replace Mohammed Bin Nayef as crown prince, Al-Jabri left the kingdom and settled in Turkey before moving to Canada. Last year he filed a lawsuit in the US claiming that Bin Salman had ordered a hit squad to seek out and kill him just thirteen days after the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul. The Saudi government has also filed a case in the US against Al-Jabri, alleging that he embezzled state funds. He has denied the allegation.

Read: Saudi Arabia slammed for practicing 'collective punishment' against children of ex-official

Highlighting Riyadh's relentless pursuit of Al-Jabri for the past four years his children and members of his extended family have been used as pawns in a high-stake feud that has drawn the attention of US President Joe Biden. "It appears to me a very personal vendetta that doesn't have long term interests both for the kingdom and for the US and for intelligence cooperation in the future," one former US official with knowledge of the case is reported as saying. He accused the Saudis of putting the US in a difficult position by prioritising the feud with Al-Jabri over their relationship with Washington.

A motion filed by the Justice Department earlier this week warned that if the case is allowed to proceed it may lead to the "disclosure of information that could reasonably be expected to damage the national security of the United States."

According to CNN's source, the classified information that could come to light includes intelligence relationships, operations, classified sources and methods. He also said that the revelations could be embarrassing, particularly to officials from the era of former US President Barack Obama, because of what he described as the "unseemly" nature of the intelligence world.

Last week US lawmakers urged President Joe Biden in a letter to advocate personally for the release of Al-Jabri's two children being held by the Saudi authorities, while warning of the potential leak of secrets. "The Saudi government is believed to be using the children as leverage to blackmail their father and force his return to the kingdom from Canada, where he currently resides in fear of possible retribution for his previous support for a rival of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salmon [sic]," they wrote.

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Asia & AmericasMiddle EastNewsSaudi ArabiaUS
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