Skip to main content

Leaked documents in Saudi Arabia claim to reveal state surveillance secrets

A Twitter account in Saudi Arabia claims to have leaked cables detailing surveillance methods used by the defence and interior ministries
Some of the leaked documents are addressed to new deputy crown prince Mohammed bin Nayef (AFP)

Documents claimed to be from Saudi Arabia’s interior and defence ministries were leaked on Twitter this week, purporting to reveal details of surveillance tactics used to monitor citizens of the oil-rich Gulf state.

The Monaseron account posted on Sunday a raft of documents that appeared to have official seals and detailed cases of people under surveillance, lists of individuals said to be members of the banned Muslim Brotherhood and citizens who have travelled to Qatar in recent years.

Monaseron has over 90,000 Twitter followers and is an account that advocates the release of political prisoners held in the conservative al-Qassim province.

It said the “secret intelligence apparatus has been infiltrated” but did not provide details of how the documents were leaked.

Translation: Important: The secret intelligence apparatus has been infiltrated and we have a number of documents which haven’t been vetted and we will be publishing a sample of it tonight God willing.

One of the documents – titled confidential and urgent – highlights the activities of Saudi citizen Ahmed bin Amer al-Sanusi.

“He (Sanusi) called for freedom of expression and opinion and for the Saudi government not to interfere in this,” the document said.

Sanusi is reported to have called for “political reform and a constitutional monarchy” and is quoted as having said: “The Saudi government accuses lawyers, who defend detainees, of rebelling against the rulers.”

The document said Sanusi, who is studying in the US on a state-sponsored scholarship, was to be “monitored and those influencing or supporting him will be identified to clarify his situation.” It also recommended Education Minister Khaled al-Faisal suspend the scholarship “given his clear ingratitude to his homeland and affronts to the policies of the kingdom.”

The letter is addressed to Mohammed bin Nayef, who is the country’s interior minister and recently appointed deputy crown prince. Bin Nayef is second in line to the throne and analysts have said he is the “de facto king of Saudi Arabia”, claiming 79-year-old King Salman is suffering from the debilitating Alzheimer's disease that means he is unable to carry out all his duties as monarch.

Another document accuses Saudi citizen Zuhair Katbi of “treason” because he told his wife in a phone call that he was tired of life in the Gulf state and was considering seeking political asylum in Germany.

It goes on to detail a phone conversation monitored by authorities between Katbi and a man called Khaled Nahhas, in which the former said he did not accept the appointment of Muqrin bin Abdulaziz as deputy crown prince. Muqrin has since been promoted to crown prince, making him first in line to the throne, after the recent death of King Abdullah.

Authorities noted, however, that Katbi made some comments they approved of, including when he said that the visit of US President Barack Obama to Riyadh was useful for securing the security of Saudi Arabia.

The document states Katbi should be sentenced to two years in prison for his indiscretions, after having previously received clemency when he pledged to stop “his writings [that] inflame the public opinion and go against the orientations of the state.”

Other leaked documents include the names of 29 people who have travelled from the kingdom to Qatar over the previous three years, 27 Saudi citizens said to be members of the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood and 16 princes who have Twitter accounts.

None of the documents provide reasons why these lists have been compiled by authorities.

Commentators said the importance of the leak was not that authorities in Saudi Arabia monitor their citizens – which is already widely known – but that the public can learn about how it is done.

“Saudi Arabia being a police state won’t come as news to most people,” Mohamed Nazzal wrote in al-Akhbar, a Lebanese news site. “What is new, however, is that the public can now examine the kingdom’s administrative mechanisms for spying and surveillance.”

The Monaseron account said it has more documents to be revealed, which it said would be posted when it was deemed the “right time.”

Translation: We shall stop at this sample, which will suffice for now. And God willing we will publish what we see as suitable at the right time.

Stay informed with MEE's newsletters

Sign up to get the latest alerts, insights and analysis, starting with Turkey Unpacked

Middle East Eye delivers independent and unrivalled coverage and analysis of the Middle East, North Africa and beyond. To learn more about republishing this content and the associated fees, please fill out this form. More about MEE can be found here.