Skip to main content

US intelligence chief intervenes in Saad al-Jabri lawsuit to protect state secrets

Revealing classified information in case between ex-Saudi spymaster and Saudi company could harm US national security, says Avril Haines
Haines is attempting to prevent the release of classified information in legal proceedings brought forward by Saudi Arabia.
Haines is attempting to prevent the release of classified information in legal proceedings brought by Saudi Arabia (AFP/File photo)
By MEE staff in Washington

The US Director of National Intelligence has invoked a rarely used state secrets legal privilege to prevent the release of classified information in a court case against Saudi Arabia's former spy chief, Saad al-Jabri.

Director Avril Haines submitted the declaration in a Massachusetts district court last week, saying the information that was planned to be released as evidence in the ongoing court case between Jabri and a Saudi state-owned company could cause "exceptionally grave" harm to US national security.

The declaration comes a month after the US Justice Department filed a motion in the case, similarly saying it would intervene in the case to protect US security interests.

Bob Litt, a former general counsel for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI), told CNN that the filing by Haines was "very rare" because the litigation was between two private parties.

Ex-Saudi spy chief's children must be released, say US senators
Read More »

"You can assume that somebody has persuaded them there would be significant damage to our equities if whatever information it is came out," Litt told the news site.

The ODNI referred Middle East Eye's request for comment to the Justice Department, which did not respond by time of publication.

The Saudi embassy in Washington also did not respond to MEE's request for comment by time of publication.

The litigation was brought against Jabri earlier this year by the Sakab Saudi Holding Company, whose parent company is owned by the kingdom's sovereign wealth fund, which is chaired by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. A similar case was previously brought to a Canadian court.

Sakab has accused Jabri of embezzling state funds while working under former Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, who in 2017 was ousted, placed under house arrest, and replaced by his cousin bin Salman, known by his initials MBS.

A source close to Jabri previously dismissed the allegations as a "blind vendetta", and denied any financial wrongdoings, while another source familiar with his situation previously told MEE that Jabri's loyalty to bin Nayef and his decades of knowledge of the inner workings of the kingdom's powerful interior ministry had made him a target of MBS.

In order to defend himself against the charges, the Justice Department said last month that Jabri had intended "to describe and present evidence regarding alleged sensitive national security information".

In a filing last month, Sakab said it opposed the US government's decision to intervene and that Jabri's "intelligence background and cooperation with the United States have no relevance to Sakab's fraud claims".

'Nasty political feud'

By invoking the state secrets privilege, Haines is attempting to prevent the release of classified information in legal proceedings brought forward by Saudi Arabia, a close US ally and intelligence-sharing partner.

However, Jabri, a former top Saudi counterterrorism official, also has had close ties with the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in the US, and has been credited by lawmakers with saving the lives of hundreds of Americans. He had been a key go-between for western spy agencies and the Saudi intelligence apparatus.

After his former boss was ousted by MBS, he fled the country for Canada in 2018, where he now resides. Two of Jabri's children, Sarah and Omar, have been detained in Saudi Arabia.

Saad al-Jabri: The Saudi who could bring down Mohammed bin Salman
Read More »

Last month, a bipartisan group of senators wrote to President Joe Biden, calling on him to personally advocate for the release of Jabri's children.

"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]," reads the letter, which was signed by senators Marco Rubio, Tim Kaine, Patrick Leahy and Ben Cardin.

The former spy chief has also filed a lawsuit against MBS, accusing the crown prince of of sending a 50-person assassination team known as the "Tiger Squad" to Canada to try to kill him.

Jabri's son, Khalid, who is also a defendant in the case, told CNN that Haines' intervention is "legally and politically significant", but that his father would continue to be targeted by MBS unless there was an "amicable resolution to end this nasty political feud".

He added that the feud would "further threaten US national security interests".

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.