The tiny Arab 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 the 2022 World Cup tournament, an investigation by The Associated Press has found.
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 and prompting calls from some members of Congress for greater scrutiny of an opaque and lucrative market.
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 found Qatar sought an edge in securing hosting rights by hiring former CIA officer turned private contractor Kevin Chalker to spy on rival bid teams and key soccer officials who picked the winner in 2010. Chalker also worked for Qatar in the years that followed to keep tabs on the country's critics in the soccer world, the AP found.
The AP's investigation is based on interviews with 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 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 sheikhdom also sought cell phone call logs of at least one top FIFA official ahead of the 2010 vote, a review of the records show.
Chalker also promised he could help the country "maintain dominance" over its large population of foreign workers, an internal document from one of Chalker's companies reviewed by the AP shows. Qatar — a country with a population of 2.8 million, of whom only 300,000 are citizens — is heavily reliant on foreign-born labor 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.
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."
Chalker declined requests for an interview or to answer detailed questions about his work for the Qatari government. He also claimed that some of the documents reviewed by the AP were forgeries.
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 authorized 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 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 did not provide to the AP any evidence to support his position that some of the documents in question had been forged.
Many of the documents reviewed by the AP outlining 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 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.
Former associates say Chalker's companies have provided a variety of services to Qatar in addition to intelligence work. His company 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 FBI for a rope-training course and tech consulting work for the Democratic National Committee.
Chalker 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 United States. The CIA declined to comment and does not usually discuss its former officers.
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 like others interviewed by the AP, spoke on the condition of anonymity because they feared retribution for revealing the spying efforts of Qatar.
The private surveillance business has flourished in the last decade in the Persian Gulf as the region saw the rise of an information war using state-sponsored hacking operations that have coincided with the run-up to the World Cup.