The top American intelligence official, in a rare intervention, has blocked a federal court case against a top former Saudi intelligence official, invoking the rarely-used state secrets privilege.
Avril Haines, the Director of National Intelligence in the Joe Biden administration who oversees all 16 US intelligence agencies, has moved to stop classified information from coming into the public domain, which could potentially cause "exceptionally grave" harm to US national security.
The declaration by Haines was submitted on Friday to the Massachusetts District Court and says it is "based upon my own knowledge" of what could be revealed in the civil case brought by a state-owned Saudi holding company against former Saudi counter-terrorism official Saad al-Jabri, a CNN report said.
Al-Jabri has claimed that Saudi Arabia's notorious Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman tried to kill him and has held his children hostage in the Kingdom.
Last month, the US Department of Justice made the extremely rare move of intervening in the case against al-Jabri and his two sons, fearing “the disclosure of information that could reasonably be expected to damage the national security of the United States.”
Al-jabri, who fled to Canada in 2017, has been extremely critical of the Saudi heir apparent. He worked for a long time under Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, considered bin Salman’s rival to the throne.
A group of Saudi companies owned by Saudi’s sovereign wealth fund, which is controlled by Mohammad bin Salman, pressed charges of embezzlement against al-Jabri, first in Canada and now the US.
The former Saudi official has rejected the charges while accusing the prince of sending an assassination squad to Canada to try to kill him.
Al-jabri has alleged that the Saudi prince made many attempts to bring him back to his home country and that the team sent to Canada to kill him was part of the same team that killed dissident Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Turkey in October 2018.
The intervention by Haines in the case, according to Bob Litt, a former general counsel for the Office of Director of National Intelligence is “very rare”.
“I don't think that either Avril [Haines] or [Attorney General] Merrick Garland is going to assert the state secrets privilege simply because something is embarrassing," Litt was quoted as saying by CNN. "You can assume that somebody has persuaded them there would be significant damage to our equities if whatever information it is came out."
In a letter to President Joe Biden in July, a group of US senators called on him to help secure the release of al-Jabri’s two sons, both in their early 20s, who are held in Al-Hayer prison.
“The Saudi government is believed to be using the children as leverage to blackmail their father and force his return to the kingdom," said the letter signed by Senators Marco Rubio, Patrick Leahy, Tim Kaine and Ben Cardin.
"The prolonged persecution of Dr. al-Jabri and his family members has now evolved to risk the exposure of classified U.S. counter-terrorism projects," the letter concludes. "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 U.S. national security interests."
In addition to the two imprisoned children, Saudi authorities have detained some 40 other al-Jabri family members and associates who remain in detention, according to human rights watchdogs.
Since Mohammed bin Salman became Saudi Arabia’s de-facto leader in 2017, the kingdom has arrested scores of activists, bloggers, and intellectuals for dissent, despite global outrage.
Muslim Saudi scholars have been executed, women’s rights campaigners have been put behind bars and tortured, and freedom of expression has been muzzled.