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US intervenes in former Saudi spymaster's lawsuit to protect state secrets

The Justice Department files a motion to intervene in court case between Saad al-Jabri and Saudi companies accusing him of defrauding them
Jabri is a former top Saudi counterterrorism official, and has had close ties with the Central Intelligence Agency in the US.
Jabri is a former top Saudi counterterrorism official and has had close ties with the Central Intelligence Agency in US (AFP)
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Washington

The US Justice Department has filed a motion to intervene in a court case against former Saudi intelligence official Saad al-Jabri, in a bid it says is to protect classified intelligence secrets, CNN reported.

The department said in a motion filed on Tuesday that the continuation of the case could lead to "the disclosure of information that could reasonably be expected to damage the national security of the United States".

"The United States has a weighty interest in intervening where it is necessary to prevent harm to its national security and foreign policy interests," the department said in its filing.

The case was brought against Jabri in a Massachusetts court by a group of Saudi companies owned by the kingdom's sovereign wealth fund, chaired by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. A similar case was previously brought to a Canadian court.

The companies accuse Jabri of embezzling billions of dollars in state funds while working closely under former Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, who in 2017 was ousted, placed under house arrest, and replaced by his cousin bin Salman, also known by his initials MBS.

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In order to defend himself against the charges, the Justice Department says Jabri intends "to describe and present evidence regarding alleged sensitive national security information".

The US is also considering asserting its state secrets privilege, which would allow Washington to block information that is harmful to national security. A final decision will be made by the end of the month.

The Saudi embassy in Washington did not respond to Middle East Eye's request for comment by the time of publication.

Jabri is a former top Saudi counterterrorism official and has had close ties with the Central Intelligence Agency 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, bin Nayef, was ousted, he fled the country and landed in Canada in 2018, where he currently resides. 

A source familiar with his situation previously told MEE that Jabri's loyalty to bin Nayef and his decades-spanning knowledge of the inner workings of the kingdom's powerful interior ministry had made him a target of MBS.

A source close to Jabri previously dismissed the allegations brought forward by the Saudi companies as a "blind vendetta", and denied any financial wrongdoings.

US senators call for release of Jabri's children

The court case comes months after Jabri himself filed a lawsuit in Washington against MBS, accusing the crown prince of sending a 50-person assassination team known as the "Tiger Squad" to Canada to try to kill him, and of holding two of his children hostage in Saudi Arabia.

Last week, a bipartisan group of senators wrote to President Joe Biden, calling on him to personally advocate for the release of Saad al-Jabri's two children in Saudi Arabia. They also highlighted that the lawsuit against Jabri presents risks to US national security.

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

"The prolonged persecution of Dr Aljabri and his family members has now evolved to risk the exposure of classified US counter-terrorism projects.

"In light of these recent developments, we urge you and your administration to pursue an amicable resolution that secures the immediate release of Omar and Sarah and protects US national security interests."

Human Rights Watch has said that Saudi authorities detained as many as 40 other Jabri family members and associates.