Wednesday night, January 26, this bald royal decree was released without warning in Riyadh: “Prince Nawaf bin Abdulaziz, director of Saudi general intelligence, has been relieved of his post upon his request and named special adviser at the Royal Court. In appreciation of his noble services and considering our need of his services, we have appointed him special adviser to us with the rank of a minister, Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, King Fahd.”
Not a word about his successor.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s intelligence sources report that Prince Nawaf, 76, has been very ill since 2002 when he suffered a stroke during the Beirut Arab Summit. But he stayed on the job in between stints in the hospital.
Last November, doctors at King Faisal Hospital, Riyadh, described him as being at death’s door. A month later, he made a remarkable recovery. He was well enough to accompany deputy interior minister Ahmed Nayef bin Abdulaziz, brother of the powerful interior minister, Prince Nayef bin Abdulaziz, on a trip to Iran (as reported by DEBKA-Net-Weekly 185 on December 10, 2004).
The retiring intelligence chief has two princely deputies: Assistant Director Faisal bin Abdullah, son of the Crown Prince, who has held the job for five years; and Saud bin Fahd, son of the king, who has officiated for twenty years as Deputy to the Director of Saudi Intelligence.
The way the jobs were apportioned to this trio accurately reflects the traditional balance of power in the royal family, as well as the never-ending struggle among its rival branches over the order of succession and their jockeying for jobs and privileges.
Our Saudi experts note that the directorship of general intelligence reposed by custom with an anti-Sudairi faction of the royal house. In the 1960s and 1970s, Kemal Adham was director. He was replaced from 1978 until August 2001 (one month before 9/11) by Prince Turki bin Faisal, current Saudi ambassador in London.
The Sudairis, for their part, control internal security under interior minister Prince Nayef, and military intelligence, under defense minister Prince Sultan.
It is hard to imagine the royal house allowing Prince Nawaf’s departure to alter this fragile balance because the slightest change would not only send earth tremors shooting through the intelligence department but shake the entire mechanism holding the royal family in equilibrium. It is therefore the view of DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s intelligence and Saudi experts that intense bargaining for his successor, taking all these checks and balances into account, is still afoot among the various royal factions. This would explain why no new direct was named.
The chances of either of his two deputies taking over are fairly slim.
The king’s son Saud is not overly bright and on the quiet he is known in Riyadh as an idiot. The crown prince’s son is reputedly a first-rate intelligence executive with all the right attributes for the top job. His only fault is that he is the son of the wrong father in the carefully balanced royal galaxy. His elevation to director would give Crown Prince Abdullah precious points in the contest against the Sudairis which they would fight tooth and nail.
In any case, they would not get the job because the Sudairis would not be allowed to control all three intelligence arms of the kingdom. Abdullah on the other hand will be strongly contested if he tries to install a member of any of the princely factions in his camp – and not just his own son.
Intelligence overhaul urgent
Saudi Arabia’s intelligence apparatus is crippled by more than this standoff; without a complete overhaul, it is hardly in a fit state to defend the kingdom and its rulers.
On December 29, 2004, an al Qaeda attempt on the life of the interior minister’s son, Prince Mohammed bin Nayef and attack on a Saudi special forces base, came too close to success for comfort. The ministry and its security arms were clearly penetrated. A survey of internal security was conducted by American intelligence on the minister’s authority and its findings handed to him last week. The main conclusion was that even minimal security and most basic rules of secrecy were impossible to preserve in Saudi intelligence agencies when 80% of their personnel is educated at Islamic medressas and universities.
Reporting this, DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s sources add that the Saudis investigated their own intelligence structures after the December 6, 2004 terrorist attack on the US consulate in Jeddah, when al Qaeda was seen to have penetrated not only the interior ministry’s intelligence department but also the religious police, the Mutawa, which is headed by Sheikh Ibrahim al Gaith.
This was a bad blow for Prince Nayef. He had counted on turning the Mutawa around as his own tool for penetrating al Qaeda. Instead, he found himself pre-empted by the enemy.
The probe of the consulate attack resulted in the command of the religious police being transferred from the Ministry of Waqf (religious sites) to the Director-General of the National Security Agency, army Brigadier Siad bin Abdullah al Qahtani.