July 20, 2005

Saudi Arabia - Ambassador Prince Bandar Resigns

Saudi Arabia's ambassador to the United States, Prince Bandar bin Sultan bin 'Abd Al-'Aziz Al Sa'ud, has submitted his resignation. Bandar is the son of Sultan bin 'Abd Al-'Aziz, the Minister of Defense and Aviation, and grandson of the current king. His father will become the crown pronce when the current king dies.

I have always liked Bandar, and I think overall he has been an effective ambassador for his country, as well providing good counsel to the royal family about things here.

Bandar has been suffering from depression for many years. There has been depression in his branch of the family. One of his half-brothers, Khalid (of Gulf War fame), has also suffered from similar depression.

From what I am told, after 9/11, he got pregressively worse and had wanted to resign and go back home. He wanted to take over as Director of General Intelligence, but for whatever reason did not get the job. He may still get the internal security portfolio.

I will always remember being in Bandar's study in McLean (just down Chain Bridge Road from the CIA back entrance) two days before the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. My boss and I went over at Cheney's direction to Soyster to show Bandar how serious the Iraqis were. So, we took maps and satellite imagery - at the time no one was overly concerned about releasability - of the Iraqi deployments and the information on the continued flow of men and materiel to the border area. We had some large sheets, so he motioned for us to spread them out on the floor.

Here's a picture: The ambassador of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and me on our hands and knees crawling around sheets of annotated imagery with magnifying glasses. After about half an hour of this, Bandar, a military man, looked up at my boss and me and said, "This is bad, very bad. I must call His Majesty - shall I tell him they will invade?"

My boss said, "It would appear that way."

Bandar shook his head in disbelief, looked at me and said, "But Saddam said he would not."

I did the Gallic shrug, with the "what can I tell you" look.

Bandar is to be replaced by former Director of General Intelligence Prince Turki bin Faysal, currently the Saudi ambassador to the United Kingdom. In my opinion, he was the biggest impediment to any meaningful cooperation between American and Saudi intelligence for over 20 years.

During Desert Shield and Desert Storm, when the Saudis had a vested interest in total cooperation with the American intelligence services, the General Intelligence Directorate was evasive and unhelpful, and at times almost to the point of impeding our own efforts - I speak from personal experience. The military intelligence service was much better at working with us - they understood what was at stake. Later, when the United States sought to investigate the series of terrorist attacks against American facilities in the Kingdom, including the attacks on the Al-Khubar Towers in 1996 that killed 19 members of the U.S. Air Force, Turki stymied the investigations at every turn.

When he was appointed to be ambassador in London, many of his "fans" thought Turki had been marginalized and put out to pasture. Garnering the post of ambassador to the United States is not exactly "out to pasture."

Prince Bandar bin Sultan will be missed.