The host of next year’s World Cup tournament, Qatar, used a former CIA officer to spy on rival countries and FIFA officials picking the winner, it has been revealed.
An investigation by The Associated Press found that Qatar sought an edge over countries like Australia and the United States that were also bidding for the hosting rights, by hiring ex-CIA private contractor Kevin Chalker.
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.
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 Facebook honeypot, in which someone posed online as an attractive woman, to get close to a target, a review of the records show.
Operatives working for Chalker and the Persian Gulf sheikdom also sought mobile phone call logs of at least one top FIFA official ahead of the 2010 vote, the records show.
“The greatest achievement to date of Project MERCILESS … have come from successful penetration operations targeting vocal critics inside the FIFA organisation,” 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 a soccer development organisation run by Prince Ali, saying it would “help solidify Qatar’s reputation as a benevolent presence in world football”.
A representative for Prince 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”.
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 not “ever engage in illegal surveillance”.
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 with authorised access provided documents to the AP.
The sources said they were troubled by Chalker’s work for Qatar and requested anonymity because they feared retaliation.
The AP took steps to verify and confirm details of documents it obtained.
Chalker did not provide to the AP any evidence to support his claim some of the documents in question had been forged.
Qatari government officials did not respond to requests for comment. FIFA also declined to comment.