WASHINGTON (AP) — A former CIA officer has spied on top soccer officials for years while working for Qatar, the tiny Arab country hosting next year’s World Cup tournament, an investigation by The Associated Press has found.
Qatar sought an edge in securing hosting rights from rivals like the United States and Australia by hiring former CIA officer turned private contractor Kevin Chalker to spy on other bid teams and key soccer officials who picked the winner in 2010, the AP’s investigation found.
Chalker also worked for Qatar in the years that followed to keep tabs on Qatar’s critics in the soccer world, according to interviews with Chalker’s former associates as well as contracts, invoices, emails, and a review of business documents.
It’s part of a trend of former U.S. intelligence officers going to work for foreign governments with questionable human rights records that is worrying officials in Washington.
“There’s so much Gulf money flowing through Washington D.C.,” said Congressman Tom Malinowski, a Democrat from New Jersey. “The amount of temptation there is immense, and it invariably entangles Americans in stuff we should not be entangled.”
The World Cup is the planet’s most popular sports tournament. It’s also a chance for Qatar, one of the wealthiest countries in the world, to have a coming-out party on the world stage.
The AP’s investigation shows Qatar left little to chance. The surveillance work included having someone pose as a photojournalist to keep tabs on a rival nation’s bid and deploying a FacebookA honeypot was an online sham where someone claimed to be a woman to gain access to targets. According to records, operators for Chalker and Persian Gulf sheikhdom wanted cell phone logs from at least one FIFA official in advance of the 2010 election.
“The greatest achievement to date of Project MERCILESS … have come from successful penetration operations targeting vocal critics inside the FIFA organization,” Chalker’s company, Global Risk Advisors, said in one 2014 document describing a project whose minimum proposed budget was listed at $387 million over nine years. It’s unclear how much the Qataris ultimately paid the company.
Company documents also highlight the company’s efforts to win over Jordan’s Prince Ali Bin Al-Hussein, a key figure in the soccer world and who ran unsuccessfully to be FIFA’s president in 2015 and 2016. In a 2013 document, Global Risk Advisors recommended the Qataris give money to one a soccer development organization run by Ali, saying it would “help solidify Qatar’s reputation as a benevolent presence in world football.”
A representative for Ali said the prince “has always had a direct good personal relationship with Qatar’s rulers. He certainly wouldn’t need consultants to assist with that relationship.”
The full scope of Chalker’s work for Qatar is unclear but the AP reviewed a variety of projects Global Risk Advisors proposed between 2014 and 2017 show proposals not just directly related to the World Cup.
They included “Pickaxe,” which promised to capture “personal information and biometrics” of migrants working in Qatar. A project called “Falconeye” was described as a plan to use drones to provide surveillance of ports and borders operations, as well as “controlling migrant worker populations centers.”
“By implementing background investigations and vetting program, Qatar will maintain dominance of migrant workers,” one GRA document said.
Another project, “Viper” promised on-site or remote “mobile device exploitation,” which Global Risk Advisors said would deliver “critical intelligence” and enhance national security. Global Risk Advisors has documented numerous instances of autocratic nations around the globe using such private-sector technology, even in the Gulf.
As the Persian Gulf witnessed an increase in information warfare using state-sponsored hacking operations, the private surveillance industry has prospered.
In accordance with a Deferred Prosecution Agreement, three former U.S. military and intelligence officials admitted that they provided hacking services to DarkMatter (a UAE-based business) in a recent deferred prosecution agreement. A Reuters investigation from 2019 reported that DarkMatter hacked phones and computers of Qatar’s Emir, his brother, and FIFA officials.
Chalker opened an office in Doha, and maintained a Qatari government email address. statement provided by a representative that he and his companies would not “ever engage in illegal surveillance.”
According to former Chalker Associates, his companies offered a range of services to Qatar as well as intelligence work. Global Risk Advisors bills itself as “an international strategic consultancy specializing in cybersecurity, military and law enforcement training, and intelligence-based advisory services” and its affiliates have won small contracts with the FBIFor a course in rope training and technical consulting for the Democratic National Committee.
Chalker refused to be interviewed or answer any questions regarding his work with the Qatari government. Chalker also stated that certain documents examined by the AP were forged.
The AP reviewed hundreds of pages of documents from Chalker’s companies, including a 2013 project update report that had several photos of Chalker’s staff meeting with various soccer officials. Multiple sources granted access to documents were provided to the AP by authorized persons. The sources said they were troubled by Chalker’s work for Qatar and requested anonymity because they feared retaliation.
The AP took several steps to verify the documents’ authenticity. That includes confirming details of various documents with different sources, including former Chalker associates and soccer officials; cross-checking contents of documents with contemporaneous news accounts and publicly available business records; and examining electronic documents’ metadata, or digital history, where available, to confirm who made the documents and when. Chalker provided no evidence to back up his claim that certain documents had been forged to the AP.
Officials from Qatar did not reply to inquiries for comment. FIFA was also unavailable for comment.
Many documents that Chalker’s companies and their employees reviewed in the AP for work done on Qatari matters are also listed in a lawsuit Elliott Broidy filed the petition as a fundraiser for an ex-U.S. President Donald Trump. Broidy is suing Chalker and has accused him of mounting a widespread hacking and spying campaign at Qatar’s direction that includes using former western intelligence officers to surveil FIFA officials. Broidy’s lawyers did not respond to requests for comment. Chalker’s legal team has argued the lawsuit is meritless.
According to ex-colleagues, Chalker was an operations officer at the CIA for five years before moving to Qatar. Most operations officers work in covert situations to try to find spy assets on behalf of the United States. The CIA refused to comment on the matter and doesn’t usually speak about its past officers.
But the agency sent a letter to former employees earlier this year warning of a “detrimental trend” of foreign governments hiring former intelligence officers “to build up their spying capabilities,” according to a copy of the letter obtained by the AP and first reported By the New York Times.
Congress is currently considering legislation that would place additional reporting requirements on ex-intelligence officers from the United States who are working abroad.
Graham Dunbar provided reporting from Geneva. Nomaan Merchant contributed to this report from Washington.