The Biden administration, worried about possible disclosure of sensitive counterterrorism operations, is considering whether to intervene in a lawsuit that pits a former Saudi spymaster against Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

The courtroom drama is the latest chapter in what has become a blood feud between MBS, as the crown prince is known, and former intelligence official Saad Aljabri, whose patron, former crown prince Mohammed bin Nayef, was MBS’s chief rival until Nayef was deposed in 2017.

This is a dark tale, with echoes of the 2018 murder of Post contributor Jamal Khashoggi by a Saudi hit team. Aljabri alleges in a lawsuit that MBS sent a similar “Tiger Squad” shortly afterward to kidnap or kill him in his exile home in Canada. He also alleges that the Saudis imprisoned his children as hostages in Saudi Arabia to force him to return home. MBS’s lawyers have denied the allegations.

The Biden administration wants to encourage a settlement that would free the children and resolve the snarl of litigation. But so far, there has been no progress in resolving the legal mess. An attorney who represents MBS and other Saudi government interests declined to comment on the litigation.

The dilemma facing the administration presents a classic test of law and national security. Lawyers for Aljabri have filed a civil suit claiming that in 2008 he helped organize a network of front companies “with the primary purpose of carrying out covert and clandestine national security programs with the United States Government.”

But the Saudi companies, which are owned by the government, claim in several lawsuits that Aljabri and Nayef fraudulently skimmed at least $3.4 billion from the operation. “This was simply an outright theft,” one of the lawsuits, filed in Canada, alleges about some of the disputed money. A Canadian judge has temporarily frozen Aljabri’s assets.

Here’s the part that gives intelligence officers heartburn. To defend Aljabri against the fraud claims, his lawyers warn, will “require examination of the counterterrorism and national security activities of the United States Government.” In other words, to protect himself, Aljabri may have to disclose some of the very secrets he was trying to protect.

The Biden administration signaled its concern in a Justice Department filing on April 26 in a Massachusetts federal court, noting Aljabri’s intent “to describe information concerning alleged national security activities” and adding, “Accordingly, the Government is considering whether and how to participate in this action, including if necessary and applicable, through an assertion of appropriate governmental privileges.”

The CIA, which is most directly involved, is reviewing the matter, a knowledgeable official said. The CIA and the Justice Department declined to comment.

Though it’s not clear how the Justice Department might eventually intervene in the case, attorneys familiar with national security litigation say one possibility is that the government might invoke what’s known as the “state secrets privilege,” which allows the government “to resist court-ordered disclosure of information during civil litigation if there is a reasonable danger that such disclosure would harm the national security of the United States,” according to a 2011 monograph by the Congressional Research Service.

This case is wrenching partly because Aljabri worked so closely with U.S. intelligence officials to counter al-Qaeda’s terrorist operations. Numerous U.S. officials have written testimonials extolling his service. A State Department official wrote senators last August that Aljabri “has been a valued partner to the United States Government, working closely with us to ensure the safety of Americans and Saudis.”

Cofer Black, a former CIA counterterrorism chief, said in an affidavit filed in February in the Canadian suit brought by the Saudi companies against Aljabri: “Within the CIA and State Department, it is widely known … that [Aljabri] is personally responsible for thwarting terrorist plots in the Middle East and the United States.” He also noted that Aljabri “is privy to tremendous amounts of classified information.”

What gives the litigation a human face is the plight of Aljabri’s two children, Omar and Sarah, now 22 and 21, respectively. They were prevented from leaving Saudi Arabia in June 2017. When Aljabri pleaded in a text message to MBS to let them go, the crown prince responded, “I want to resolve this problem of your son and daughter, but there is a very sensitive file here that is related to [MBN],” urging Aljabri to return to the kingdom. The children were arrested in March 2020 and convicted in a Saudi court of alleged criminal offenses, Aljabri’s lawyers said.

When personal feuds become courtroom legal battles, they’re very hard to untangle. But this one has gone on long enough. Aljabri’s family tell me that he is seeking an amicable resolution of all the disputes that would free the children and protect U.S. national security secrets.

Letting this squabble to keep festering until it breaches secrets that would damage the kingdom and the United States would be a serious mistake.

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