Riyadh, Asharq Al-Awsat—Information obtained by Asharq Al-Awsat has revealed that one of the 18 men arrested by Saudi authorities in connection with an espionage cell—the detection of which was announced the day before yesterday—works in the main branch of a high-profile bank in the Saudi capital Riyadh.
Asharq Al-Awsat has learned that individual has over 35 years banking experience, and had recently submitted his request for retirement after working for three months in the global transaction services department of the bank that employed him.
Following the announcement that a Lebanese citizen has been implicated in acts of espionage inside Saudi Arabia, the Lebanese interior minister Marwan Charbel said that the investigations currently being conducted by Saudi Arabia with a Lebanese businessman, allegedly involved with the cell, “remain secret.” In a telephone interview with Asharq Al-Awsat, Charbel added, “So far we have received no information about the accused”, saying that “we trust the Saudi government, and we will wait for whatever information becomes available.”
Further information obtained by Asharq Al-Awsat reveals that another member of the espionage cell works in academia, at a university in Riyadh, having previously obtained a master’s degree and a doctorate in the US in the field of education. He has taught a number of courses, including ones in philosophy, history, and economics, and has sat on a number of committees at university level. He has also co-prepared a number of national reports on higher education in Saudi Arabia.
The espionage cell also included a physician, working in one of the major hospitals in the Saudi capital as a renal consultant in the children’s ward. Here he was allegedly able to take advantage of his position to provide information about important Saudi figures undergoing treatment in the same hospital.
For his part, Dubai police chief Dahi Khalfan points out that the activity of espionage cells in the Gulf is growing, saying that “this is to be expected”. However, he added, “It is rare for citizens to conspire with foreigners to spy on their own countries”. Khalfan also explained that the fact that those arrested in connection with the Saudi espionage cell came from a variety of different professions illustrates the desire of those behind the cell to benefit from a variety of information from sources in different fields.
Major General Abdullah Al-Sadoun, a member of the security committee in the Saudi Shura Council, has warned of Iran and other states targeting Saudi Arabia by focusing on its communications systems and critical computer programs. Sadoun told Asharq Al-Awsat: “Cyber warfare begins in times of peace, to collect and analyze information, and then come the programs of defense or attack. Wars such as these can stretch on for years, and they are on the rise, but the methods and tools they employ vary.”