A legal battle between Saudi Crown Prince MBS and a former spy chief Saad Aljabri risks making anti-terror operation details public.
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 the US and Canadian courts centre on corruption allegations levelled by Saudi-owned companies against Saad Aljabri, a former spymaster who long worked closely with American officials on covert counterterrorism operations.
That marks the latest twist in a long-running feud between Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) and Aljabri.
Aljabri's patron, Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, is currently 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 Justice Department filing in a Massachusetts court in April noted Aljabri'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 Justice Department asked the court for more time as national security matters require "'delicate' and 'complex' judgements by senior officials".
The filing said the 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.
A tale of hit squad
Last year, Aljabri 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 this March when state-linked company Sakab Saudi Holding accused Aljabri of embezzling $3.47 billion while working at the Ministry of Interior under bin Nayef. It urged the Massachusetts court to freeze his $29 million Boston property assets.
This came weeks after multiple state-owned companies sued Aljabri in Toronto on similar allegations. A Canadian court subsequently announced a worldwide freeze of Aljabri's assets.
While denying any financial wrongdoing, Aljabri's legal team says he is caught in the rivalry between MBS and bin Nayef, who has not been publicly seen since his detention in March 2020.
Sakab, which court filings say was established in 2008 by bin Nayef, was part of a network of front companies to provide cover for clandestine security operations with the United States.
In order 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 Defense Department, said a filing by Aljabri.
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.
Several US officials who have worked alongside Aljabri 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."