WASHINGTON: Former CIA officer spied on senior football officials for years while working for Qatar, the small Arab country that will host next year’s World Cup, Associated investigates Press.
Qatar sought an advantage by securing hosting rights from rivals like the United States and Australia by hiring former CIA officer turned private entrepreneur Kevin Chalker to spy on other bidding teams and key officials footballers who picked the winner in 2010, the AP’s investigation revealed.
Chalker also worked for Qatar in the following years to keep an eye out for criticism of Qatar in the football world, according to interviews with former Chalker associates as well as contracts, invoices, emails. and a review of business documents.
It’s part of a trend in which former U.S. intelligence officers go to work for foreign governments with questionable human rights records, which worries officials in Washington.
“There is so much Gulf money flowing through Washington DC,” said Congressman Tom Malinowski, a Democrat from New Jersey. “The amount of temptation out there is immense, and it invariably entangles Americans in things that we shouldn’t be entangled in.”
The World Cup is the most popular sports tournament on the planet. It is also the occasion for Qatar, one of the richest countries in the world, to have an evening of coming out on the world stage.
The PA investigation shows that Qatar left little to chance. The surveillance job involved getting someone to pose as a photojournalist to keep an eye out for a rival country’s offer and deploying a Facebook honeypot, in which someone was posing as an attractive woman, to get closer to a target, according to a file review. Agents working for Chalker and the Sheikh of the Persian Gulf also searched the phone call logs of at least one senior FIFA official ahead of the 2010 vote, according to the records.
“The greatest success to date of the MERCILESS project … has come from successful penetration operations targeting the harsh criticism within the FIFA organization,” Chalker’s firm, Global Risk Advisors, said in a statement. 2014 document describing a project with a proposed minimum budget of $ 387. million over nine years. It’s unclear how much the Qataris ultimately paid for the company.
Company documents also highlight the company’s efforts to convince Jordanian Prince Ali Bin Al-Hussein, a key figure in the football world and who unsuccessfully ran for FIFA president in 2015 and 2016. In a 2013 document, Global Risk Advisors recommended that Qataris donate money to a football development organization led by Ali, saying it “would help strengthen Qatar’s reputation as a benevolent presence in football. global “.
A representative for Ali said the prince “has always had good, direct personal relations with the rulers of Qatar. He certainly wouldn’t need any consultants to help him in this relationship.
The full extent of Chalker’s work for Qatar is unclear, but the PA reviewed a variety of projects proposed by Global Risk Advisors between 2014 and 2017 that show proposals not only directly related to the World Cup.
They included “Pickaxe,” which promised to capture “the personal information and biometrics” of migrants working in Qatar. A project called “Falconeye” has been described as a plan to use drones to provide surveillance of port and border operations, as well as to “control population centers of migrant workers.”
“By implementing background investigations and a screening program, Qatar will maintain its dominance over migrant workers,” a GRA document said.
Another project, “Viper” promised “operation of mobile devices” onsite or remotely, which Global Risk Advisors said would provide “critical intelligence” and strengthen national security. The use of such technology provided by private companies is well documented by autocratic countries around the world, including the Gulf.
The private surveillance industry has flourished over the past decade in the Persian Gulf, as the region has seen the rise of information warfare using state-sponsored hacking operations that coincided with the preparation for the World Cup.
Three former U.S. intelligence and military officials recently admitted to providing hacking services to a UAE-based company called DarkMatter under a deferred prosecution agreement with the Justice Department. A 2019 Reuters investigation reported that DarkMatter hacked the phones and computers of the Emir of Qatar, his brother and FIFA officials.
Chalker, who opened an office in Doha and had a Qatari government email account, said in a statement provided by a representative that he and his companies would “never engage in illegal surveillance.”
Former Chalker associates say his companies have provided a variety of services to Qatar in addition to intelligence work. Global Risk Advisors bills itself as “an international strategic consulting firm specializing in cybersecurity, military and police training, and intelligence-based advisory services” and its subsidiaries have won small contracts with the FBI for a training course in rope and technical advisory work for the National Democratic Committee.
Chalker declined requests for an interview or answers to detailed questions about his work for the Qatari government. Chalker also claimed that some of the documents examined by the PA were forgeries.
The AP reviewed hundreds of pages of documents from Chalker’s companies, including a 2013 project update report containing several photos of Chalker’s staff meeting with various football officials. Multiple sources with authorized access provided documents to the PA. The sources said they were troubled by Chalker’s work for Qatar and requested anonymity because they feared reprisals.
The PA took several steps to verify the authenticity of the documents. This includes confirming details of various documents from various sources, including former Chalker associates and football officials; cross-reference document content with contemporary news reports and publicly available business records; and review electronic document metadata, or digital history, if applicable, to confirm who created the documents and when. Chalker did not provide the PA with any evidence to support its position that some of the documents in question had been forged.
Qatari government officials did not respond to requests for comment. FIFA also declined to comment.
Many of the documents reviewed by the AP describing work undertaken by Chalker and his companies on behalf of Qatar are also described in a lawsuit filed by Elliott Broidy, a one-time fundraiser for former US President Donald Trump. Broidy is suing Chalker and accused him of mounting a massive Qatari-led hacking and espionage campaign that includes the use of former Western intelligence operatives to monitor FIFA officials. Broidy’s lawyers did not respond to requests for comment. Chalker’s legal team argued that the lawsuit is without merit.
Chalker worked at the CIA as an operations officer for about five years before working for Qatar, according to former associates. Operations officers typically work undercover trying to recruit assets to spy on behalf of the United States. The CIA declined to comment and generally does not speak of its former officers.
But the agency sent a letter to former employees earlier this year, warning of a “nefarious trend” for foreign governments to hire former intelligence officers “to boost their espionage capabilities,” according to a copy of the letter. obtained by the AP and first reported by The New York Times.
Congress is currently proposing legislation that would impose new reporting obligations on former U.S. intelligence officers working overseas.