New Saudi Intelligence Chief Appointed in Surprise Move

Prince Bandar Bin Sultan was named to replace Prince Muqrin in an unexplained shakeup of the General Intelligence Directorate, the kingdom’s spy agency. Bandar is known for his close relationship with former US president George W. Bush and has close relationships with many US leaders.

al-monitor Prince Bandar bin Sultan shakes hands with Russia's Prime Minister Vladimir Putin (not pictured) in Moscow July 14, 2008. Photo by REUTERS/Ria Novosti.

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saudi arabia, saudi

Jul 20, 2012

In an unexpected royal move, an order was issued by King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia yesterday [July 19] removing Prince Muqrin Bin-Abd-al-Aziz from his post as head of the General Intelligence Directorate (GID) and appointing Prince Bandar Bin-Sultan as his successor.

Royal Order A/161 instructed “the appointment of Prince Muqrin as advisor and special envoy of the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, with the rank of minister,” and “the appointment of Prince Bandar as head of the GID.” Bandar will also retain his position as Secretary General of the National Security Council with the rank of minister.

The order — which confirmed adherence to the system of ministers, deputy ministers, high-ranking officials and previously-issued royal orders — included an article that directed the notification of all authorities concerned to proceed with its implementation.

Prince Muqrin was appointed head of the intelligence services in 2005, succeeding his brother Nawaf.

The royal move came as a surprise, as no reasons pertaining to either figure, Muqrin or Bandar, were provided. Such a decision cannot be assessed without considering a number of factors. Firstly, it must be noted that the replacement move came shortly after the death of Crown Prince Nayef, who died nearly eight months after the death of Crown Prince Sultan. In this context, questions abounded about the aging and future of the monarchy, as well as the conflicts taking place among the members of the ruling family within the Kingdom’s corridors. Thus, yesterday’s move had several implications.

Furthermore, Prince Bandar’s rise to the top of the intelligence apparatus has regional and international implications. This can be clarified by taking a close look at the appointed prince’s biography. Bandar is close to the political and diplomatic circles in Washington, where he worked as an ambassador for his country for 22 years. He is also one of the key engineers of the arms deals signed by his country during the last two decades. Given the size of US influence in the kingdom, such a serious move cannot be overlooked.

Prince Bandar, who used to be nicknamed “Bush’s Bandar” due to his close ties with the Bush family in the United States, was known as a key link in relations between Washington and Riyadh. He also had exceptional relations with presidents and senior officials of successive US administrations over the past 30 years.

Evidence of the depth of the relationship between Bandar and the US was provided by famous American author Bob Woodward in an article of his in the Washington Post, which said that Prince Bandar was shown essential details of the war plan against Saddam Hussein, even before then-US Secretary of State Colin Powell.

Bandar graduated from the Royal Air Force College at Cranwell in England. He later joined the Saudi Air Force in 1968 and served as a fighter pilot for 17 years. The second son of Prince Sultan Bin-Abd-al Aziz, he is 63 years old. 

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