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Feature Article
Encore Une Fois - The Return Of Bandar bin Sultan 2012-08-08
The appointment of Prince Bandar bin Sultan as Saudi Intelligence Chief may herald a new orientation in Saudi foreign policy, while sowing confusion and panic among Iranian and Syrian intelligence circles.

by Senior Analyst Talal Kapoor

In an unexpected development, the Saudi Press Agency reported on July 19 that Prince Muqrin bin Abd al-Aziz had been relieved of his position as Head of the General Intelligence Directorate, adding that Bandar bin Sultan had been appointed the new Intelligence chief in his stead. Bandar, however, would also retain his role as Secretary General of the National Security Council, which he has helmed since 2005. A member of the Allegiance Commission, Muqrin had been at the head of Intelligence since November 2005.

Interestingly, Muqrin had been the recent target of harsh criticism on social media platforms such as Twitter. There, the widely-followed user known as "Mujtahid" who, claims inside knowledge of affairs (though his allegations are unsubstantiated) and has been an especially harsh critic of the royals, has lately alleged personal incompetence and vice on the part of Muqrin. Indolence, incompetence, and even drinking while on duty by members of the agency have been alleged. With the royal family particularily wary of its image at the moment, could scandalous gossip have been the impetus for a closer look at the workings of Intelligence, and prompted quick action to "clean house" and remove Muqrin? Admittedly, Muqrin's tenure at the agency has not been the success that had been hoped; on the other hand, he seems to retain the senior royals' confidence, being named an adviser and special envoy to King Abdallah bin Abd al-Aziz with responsibility for affairs in Southeast Asia.

Bandar served in Washington as the Kingdom's Ambassador to the United States from 1983 to 2005, when he was recalled by King Abdallah. Born in Ta'if in March 1949, he was the son of then Defense Minister Sultan bin Abd al-Aziz and a concubine from the Asir region. Sultan refused to recognize the dark complexioned child, who grew up outside of the royal palace with his grandmother Hussa al-Sudayri. He was eventually reconciled with his father, however, and had a successful career as a fighter pilot in the Saudi Air Force, and later as the Kingdom's long-serving ambassador. A lightning-rod for fabricated news and lurid gossip, Bandar was notoriously unconcerned by such talk, in fact relishing the confusion and uncertainty it caused in foreign intelligence circles. He kept a low profile for a while following his recall, then made a somewhat triumphal reappearance on the public stage, generating widespread buzz that "Bandar was back", and speculation that major happenings were afoot. He then just as suddenly disappeared.

Talk in general revolved around an alleged coup that Bandar had supposedly engineered to place his father on the throne, and that he was under house arrest. Iranian media was oddly precise about the details of his incarceration and accomplices. He was even said to have died, his death being kept secret, with Bandar's body in deep freeze until the royals could overcome their panic. In fact, Bandar's effective disappearance from public life was mainly a matter of health - Bandar was spending a considerable amount of time was in hospitals and spa treatments abroad for various ailments, as well as depression and dependency.

On a more consequential level, Bandar was also the target of disinformation over his foreign policy initiatives. Stories of his involvement with Syrian tribes to cause dissension and undermine the regime there date back decades. More recently, in 2008, he was accused of working with Jeffrey Feltman, then United States Ambassador to Lebanon and later Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs, to mastermine a plot to remove Bashar al-Assad from power. Filka Israel, a website with ties to Hizbullah and Syrian intelligence, had disseminated detailed stories about the mechanisms they supposedly were employing. With last year's uprising in Syria, those accounts resurfaced.

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