The Persian Gulf nation of Qatar has for years employed a former CIA officer to help spy on soccer officials as part of a no-expense-spared effort to win and hold on to next year’s FIFA World Cup tournament, an investigation has found.
The investigation found that Qatar sought an edge in securing hosting rights by hiring Kevin Chalker, a former CIA officer who became a private intelligence contractor, to spy on rival bid teams, as well as key soccer officials tasked with picking the winner in 2010.
The investigation is based on interviews with Chalker’s former associates, as well as contracts, invoices, e-mails and a review of business documents.
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 showed.
Operatives working for Chalker and Qatar also sought cellphone call logs of at least one top FIFA official ahead of the 2010 vote, a review of the records showed.
Qatar is a country with a population of 2.8 million people, of whom only 300,000 are citizens.
Chalker, who opened an office in the country’s capital, Doha, and had a Qatari government e-mail account, said in a statement provided by a representative that he and his companies would not “ever engage in illegal surveillance.”
Hundreds of pages of documents from Chalker’s companies were reviewed, including a 2013 project update report that had several photographs of Chalker’s staff meeting with various soccer officials.
Multiple sources said that they were troubled by Chalker’s work for Qatar and requested anonymity because they feared retaliation.
Chalker worked at the CIA as an operations officer for about five years, former associates said, adding that his CIA background was attractive to Qatari officials.
“That was part of his mystique. All these young wealthy Qataris are playing spy games with this guy and he’s selling them,” said one former associate, who like others interviewed spoke on the condition of anonymity.
The US was Qatar’s biggest rival to win the 2022 World Cup, and former US president Bill Clinton and other celebrities were part of the bid effort.
Chalker pitched his services to Qatar as an aggressive private intelligence and security agency that could help the nation fulfill its ambitions.
“The time for half-measures is over and serious consideration needs to be given to how important the 2022 World Cup is to Qatar,” said one project document from 2014, which also promised a “full-court press utilizing unique, non-traditional capabilities against a wide-ranging set of targets.”
Chalker promised the Qataris the use of information technology and “technical collection specialists,” as well as top field operatives, company materials showed.
David Downs, who was executive director of the US bid effort in 2010, said that he was not surprised to learn that Qatar was spying on its rivals, given how weak their bid was compared with others.
“It’s very telling that they would be hiring ex-CIA operatives to get inside information,” Downs said. “A lot of what they did was either bending the rules or outright breaking the rules.”
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