Qatar has for years employed a former CIA officer to help spy on football officials as part of a no-expense-spared effort to win and hold on to the 2022 World Cup tournament, an investigation by The Associated Press has found.
The AP’s investigation found that Qatar sought an edge in securing hosting rights by hiring a former CIA officer turned private contractor, Kevin Chalker, to spy on rival bid teams and key football officials who picked the winner in 2010.
He also worked for Qatar in the years that followed to keep tabs on the country’s critics in the football world, the AP found.
The investigation is based on interviews with Mr Chalker’s former associates as well as contracts, invoices, emails 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, a review of the records shows.
Mr Chalker also promised he could help the country “maintain dominance” over its large population of foreign workers, an internal document from one of his companies reviewed by the AP shows.
Qatar is heavily reliant on foreign labour to build the stadiums and other infrastructure needed for the tournament.
Qatari government officials did not respond to requests for comment. Fifa also declined to comment.
Mr Chalker said in a statement provided by a representative that he and his companies would not “ever engage in illegal surveillance”.
He declined requests for an interview or to answer detailed questions about his work. He also claimed that some of the documents reviewed by the AP were forgeries.
The AP reviewed hundreds of pages of documents from Mr Chalker’s companies, including a 2013 project update report that had several photos of his staff meeting various football officials.
Multiple sources with authorised access provided documents to the AP. The sources said they were troubled by Mr Chalker’s work for Qatar and requested anonymity because they feared retaliation.
The AP took several steps to verify the documents’ authenticity. That included confirming details of various documents with different sources, including former Chalker associates and football 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.
Mr Chalker did not provide to the AP any evidence to support his position that some of the documents had been forged.
He worked at the CIA as an operations officer for about five years, according to former associates. Operations officers typically work undercover trying to recruit assets to spy on behalf of the US. The CIA declined to comment and does not usually discuss its former officers.
Mr Chalker’s background in the CIA was attractive to Qatari officials, said former associates.
“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 spoke on condition of anonymity.
The Sunday Times has previously reported that unnamed ex-CIA agents helped Qatar’s 2010 bid team, but the AP’s investigation is the most detailed to date.
Qatar’s successful bid has long been dogged by allegations of corruption. It has denied wrongdoing but has also had to fend off allegations by labour watchdogs of worker abuses, and an effort by neighbouring countries to isolate, weaken and embarrass it through an economic boycott and informational warfare.
Mr Chalker pitched his companies as an aggressive private intelligence and security agency Qatar needed to fulfil 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 of Global Risk Advisors’ project documents from 2014.
Mr Chalker also emphasised aggression and discretion, saying his plans included “patsies” and “lightning rods”, psychological operations, and “persistent and aggressive distractions and disruptions” aimed at Qatar’s enemies, all while giving the country “full deniability”, company records show.
Specific spying and hacking methods are classified, but there’s no general ban on working for foreign governments.
The CIA sent a letter to former employees earlier this year warning of a “detrimental trend” of foreign governments hiring former intelligence officers, according to a copy of the letter obtained by the AP and first reported by the New York Times.
“We ask that you protect yourself and the CIA by safeguarding the classified tradecraft that underpins your enterprise,” wrote Sheetal Patel, the agency’s assistant director for counterintelligence.
Congress is advancing legislation that would put new reporting requirements on former US intelligence officers working overseas.
Democratic congressman Tom Malinowski said: “There’s so much Gulf money flowing through Washington DC. The amount of temptation there is immense, and it invariably entangles Americans in stuff we should not be entangled in.”