Silence over sudden death of Jordan’s ex-spy chief in Vienna

There is widespread silence in Jordan about the sudden death of the country’s former intelligence chief, at his luxury Vienna hotel room, on Wednesday. The country’s tightly controlled press barely mentioned the news of the death of Field Marshal Said Bashir Saad Kheir, 56, whose body was reportedly discovered in bed by a maid in Vienna’s Hotel Imperial.

Austrian police representatives have ruled out foul play in Kheir’s death, which they attributed to heart failure. But there is conflicting information about the purpose of the former spy chief’s visit to the Austrian capital, which is considered the world’s largest espionage hub, with the highest density of foreign intelligence agents on Earth.

Kheir headed Jordan’s General Intelligence Department, Dairat al-Mukhabarat al-Ammah, from November 2000, and later became principal national security adviser to Jordan’s King Abdullah II bin al-Hussein. At the peak of his career, he was considered the second most powerful figure in the country, after the King, and was also close to the Bush-era CIA director George John Tenet. But he was abruptly fired in 2005 and replaced with Jordan’s former ambassador to Israel, Dr. Marouf Suleiman al-Bakhit, reportedly with US approval. Kheir, representing the so-called conservative wing of Jordan’s governing elite, was critical of what he saw as Jordan’s silent complicity in the US invasion of Iraq, which, he argued, was detrimental to Jordanian security.

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