FBI probing ex-CIA officer’s spying for World Cup host Qatar

Oct 26, 2022, 5:39 PM | Updated: Oct 27, 2022, 7:44 am
In this Nov. 2, 2018 picture, men fish, backdropped by the city skyline Doha, Qatar. A former CIA o...

In this Nov. 2, 2018 picture, men fish, backdropped by the city skyline Doha, Qatar. A former CIA officer who spied on Qatar’s rivals to help the tiny Arab country land this year’s World Cup is now under FBI scrutiny and newly obtained documents show he offered clandestine services that went beyond soccer to try to influence U.S. policy, (AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda)

(AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda)

              In this Nov. 2, 2018 picture, men fish, backdropped by the city skyline Doha, Qatar. A former CIA officer who spied on Qatar’s rivals to help the tiny Arab country land this year’s World Cup is now under FBI scrutiny and newly obtained documents show he offered clandestine services that went beyond soccer to try to influence U.S. policy, (AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda)
            
              Workers walk to the Lusail Stadium, one of the 2022 World Cup stadiums, in Lusail, Qatar, Dec. 20, 2019. A former CIA officer who spied on Qatar’s rivals to help the tiny Arab country land this year’s World Cup is now under FBI scrutiny and newly obtained documents show he offered clandestine services that went beyond soccer to try to influence U.S. policy, an Associated Press investigation found. (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar)
            
              Site engineers work at the Qatar Education Stadium, one of the 2022 World Cup stadiums, an open cooled stadium with a 45,350-seat capacity in Doha, Qatar, Dec. 15, 2019. A former CIA officer who spied on Qatar’s rivals to help the tiny Arab country land this year’s World Cup is now under FBI scrutiny and newly obtained documents show he offered clandestine services that went beyond soccer to try to influence U.S. policy, (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar)
            
              Emir of Qatar Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, center, smiles during the 2022 soccer World Cup draw at the Doha Exhibition and Convention Center in Doha, Qatar, April 1, 2022. A former CIA officer who spied on Qatar’s rivals to help the tiny Arab country land this year’s World Cup is now under FBI scrutiny and newly obtained documents show he offered clandestine services that went beyond soccer to try to influence U.S. policy, an Associated Press investigation found. (AP Photo/Hussein Sayed)
            
              FILE - Branding is displayed near the Doha Exhibition and Convention Center in Doha, Qatar, Thursday, March 31, 2022. Qatar’s ruling emir has lashed out at criticism of the country over its hosting of the 2022 FIFA World Cup, complaining of an “unprecedented campaign” targeting the first Arab nation to hold the tournament. (AP Photo/Darko Bandic, File)

A former CIA officer who spied on Qatar’s rivals to help the tiny Arab country land this year’s World Cup is now under FBI scrutiny and newly obtained documents show he offered clandestine services that went beyond soccer to try to influence U.S. policy, an Associated Press investigation found.

The monthslong FBI probe focuses on whether Kevin Chalker’s work for Qatar broke laws related to foreign lobbying, surveillance and exporting sensitive technologies and tradecraft, said two people with knowledge of the investigation who requested anonymity because they weren’t authorized to discuss it.

Chalker’s goal, AP found, was to burnish Qatar’s image among American decision makers while undermining critics who have accused the Persian Gulf monarchy of financing terrorists and other wrongdoing. Federal investigators have focused increasing scrutiny in recent years on Qatar’s influence efforts, including those alleged to involve former U.S. national security officials.

AP’s reporting in the past year has detailed how Chalker and his company, Global Risk Advisors, sought to help Qatar host the 2022 World Cup by spying on soccer officials in rival countries. That included deploying a Facebook “honeypot” in which an attractive woman is used to lure a target, having someone pose as a photojournalist to keep tabs on one nation’s bid and, after the decision was announced in 2010, waging a failed two-year campaign to get a top German soccer official to soften his criticism of Qatar.

New AP reporting based on internal Global Risk Advisors records and interviews with Chalker’s associates shows much of his work in the years since has focused on seeking to strengthen Qatar’s influence in the U.S. That included attempting to set up high-level meetings between Qatari officials and top CIA leaders and pitching a sprawling covert influence operation to damage the reputations of U.S. officials perceived as Qatar’s enemies. The company even boasted in internal records of using spycraft to try and gather information on a congressman who sponsored legislation Qatar opposed.

Global Risk Advisors “has consistently protected Qatar by attacking the attackers,” the company said in one internal document.

Chalker’s lawyer, Kevin Carroll, said Global Risk Advisors had never engaged in any unlawful activity and was unaware of any federal investigation.

The FBI said it could neither confirm nor deny the existence of an investigation. Qatar did not respond to requests for comment.

Qatar, an energy-rich sheikdom that is home to a massive U.S. military base, has spent billions in recent years to successfully fend off attempts by its neighboring rivals – Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates – to isolate the country and sour its relationship with the U.S.

Chalker began a long and lucrative relationship with Qatar after working as an undercover operations officer for the CIA in the 2000s. His work on the World Cup helped Qatar become Global Risk Advisors’ main client, allowing it to open offices in New York, Washington, London and Doha.

“GRA is on the cusp of rapid expansion,” said a 2014 memo to employees, adding that the company “has been pursuing a number of extraordinary projects.”

The company’s work included a covert information campaign against Qatar’s rivals that involved helping make a 2018 film called “Enemies of Peace” that was highly critical of Saudi Arabia’s crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, according to two former Chalker associates. The film’s director told the AP he was unaware an advisor on the film was working for GRA.

Global Risk Advisors and its affiliates also provided military and intelligence training for several years to Qatari officials, including members of the royal family, interviews and records show. Courses ranged from hostage rescue to how to operate undercover.

“Essentially, he wants us to conduct mini-Farm courses both for ops and for tech ops,” said an internal Global Risk Advisors’ document describing a Qatari official’s request for training. “The Farm” is the nickname given to the CIA’s covert training facility in Virginia.

One member of the Qatari royal family received a perfect score of 100 in a “technical surveillance countermeasures” course despite missing much of the instruction and not showing “a genuine desire to learn the material,” according to a company document.

Federal law prohibits sharing certain tactics the U.S. government teaches its own soldiers and spies, and some former Chalker employees said they were concerned that some of the Qatari trainings crossed the line.

Chalker’s attorney said Global Risk Advisors has received proper authorization from the U.S. government whenever its work has required it.

AP’s reporting was based on hundreds of pages of documents provided by former Chalker associates who requested anonymity because they feared retaliation.

Several of those sources described Chalker as a chaotic and mercurial boss whose priorities constantly shifted, with many projects ultimately going nowhere. They said Chalker prized secrecy, regularly used codenames — his own was “Hercules” — and often kept employees in the dark about the work Global Risk Advisors did for Qatar or the research reports it produced.

“Nobody really knew who these were going to, why they were being produced, what the real driver was — other than they were what Kevin wants us to work on,” said one former employee.

Company records and interviews show Chalker consulted with and received advice on some of his proposals from then-CIA employee Denis Mandich, who worked as an agency liaison to Silicon Valley. Those projects included a multibillion-dollar proposal in 2014 to have Global Risk Advisors invest in tech startups on Qatar’s behalf, pitched as a way to block the sale of potentially sensitive technology to its Persian Gulf rivals.

It’s unclear from company documents if that project moved forward and Mandich later left the agency and joined Global Risk Advisors to become one of Chalker’s top lieutenants. Mandich’s attorneys did not respond to questions about his work for GRA.

Global Risk Advisors also created a detailed security plan in 2014 to install a surveillance system in Qatar that could track mobile phones in the country “with extreme accuracy” and allow analysts to “isolate individual conversations and listen in real-time,” according to internal company records that include a draft contract.

That plan, dubbed Project Berlin, also suggested creating a World Cup 2022 mobile phone app that could record users’ location and movements. Chalker indicated in internal company documents that Qatar gave preliminary approval to Project Berlin but it’s unknown whether it was ever implemented.

Chalker’s efforts at boosting Qatar’s ties with the U.S. included an effort to set up a face-to-face meeting between top officials at the CIA and Qatar’s prime minister. One Qatari official told Chalker that such a meeting help would provide a “golden stamp of approval” for Chalker’s various projects, company records show.

But those records show Chalker’s initial efforts to broker such a meeting failed despite his boasting of having unparalleled access to the highest levels of the Qatari government.

The CIA declined to comment.

Other company records showed Global Risk Advisors pushed to have oversight and control of Qatar’s U.S. lobbying efforts, saying it could manage those efforts more productively.

A March 2017 proposal called “Project ENDGAME” said Qatar’s enemies were seeking to inject the country into proxy fights involving its “allies” such as the Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamist group backed by Qatar.

In response to that threat, the company boasted in internal records that it had “developed an approach to a close contact of the congressman” who sponsored legislation that year to designate the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist organization. “Developed an approach” is intelligence jargon for seeking to recruit a potential asset.

That congressman, Florida Republican Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, said he was unaware of such efforts and that he’s continued to sponsor similar legislation in the years since.

“The allegations that a former CIA officer is actively trying to influence an important national security bill on behalf of a foreign country are deeply disturbing,” Diaz-Balart told AP.

The “Project ENDGAME” proposal also warned that President Donald Trump was “unpredictable” and his inner circle was being co-opted by the UAE’s well-connected ambassador in Washington, Yousef Al-Otaiba.

The proposal suggested Qatar obtain “total information awareness” into Otaiba and his U.S. allies and then spread damaging information through friendly media outlets.

“Now is the time to once again seize the initiative to dominate the information battlefield,” the proposal said.

In April 2017, Chalker and a Qatari government official signed a letter of intent that said Global Risk Advisors would provide Qatar with “enhanced tracking and monitoring, intelligence collection, predictive intelligence, information operations” and other spy services for $60 million over three years. Other records show a Gibraltar-based company owned by Chalker began receiving seven- and eight-figure payments from Qatar shortly afterward.

Anonymous hackers began leaking selectively curated copies of Otaiba’s emails in June 2017. Those emails included potentially embarrassing messages showing Otaiba’s close relationships with top U.S. officials and significant influence at some think tanks.

There’s no direct evidence linking Global Risk Advisors to the release of Otaiba’s emails. Chalker has categorically denied playing any role in a hack-and-leak operation, and no former Chalker associates who spoke with the AP said they saw the company engage in such activities.

The hackers’ targets in the Otaiba leaks included a former Defense secretary, former high-ranking diplomats and intelligence officials, and two think tanks that had been critical of Qatar and were specifically named in the “Project Endgame” pitch document.

After going dormant for several months, the hackers released a new round of Otaiba emails in 2018 focused on Tom Barrack, a close Trump adviser who is currently on trial for allegedly working illegally for the UAE and whose hacked-and-leaked emails form part of the Justice Department’s case.

Former Trump fundraiser Elliott Broidy has accused Chalker and Global Risk Advisors in an ongoing lawsuit of overseeing the Otaiba hack and leak on Qatar’s behalf as well as a similar operation targeting Broidy that began in early 2018. Chalker’s lawyers have called the lawsuit “baseless.”

Chalker associates say he has shifted his focus away from Global Risk Advisors in recent years to a quantum computing cybersecurity company he formed with Mandich called Qrpyt, which has signed a technology licensing agreement with the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

___

Suderman reported from Richmond, Virginia. Investigative reporter James LaPorta in Wilmington, North Carolina, contributed to this report.

Contact AP’s global investigative team at Investigative@ap.org.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

AP

FILE - A flyer seeking information about the killings of four University of Idaho students who were...
Associated Press

Idaho police seek car seen near site where 4 students killed

Police are asking for help finding the occupant of a car that was seen near where four University of Idaho students were stabbed to death last month, saying that person could have "critical information" about the case.
1 day ago
Associated Press

Portugal: Woman dead after overnight rains flood Lisbon

MADRID (AP) — Heavy overnight rains flooded Portugal’s capital, Lisbon, and killed a 55-year-old woman who got trapped by the water in the basement where she lived, the national Civil Protection Agency said Thursday. The intense rainfall and winds washed away cars and flooded streets, buildings, and public transport stations, blocking some metro lines. Authorities […]
1 day ago
There is a huge media crush ahead of the start of the trial against the former Wirecard CEO and two...
Associated Press

Ex-Wirecard boss on trial in fraud case that shamed Germany

BERLIN (AP) — The former chief executive of financial services company Wirecard and two other ex-managers went on trial Thursday over the firm’s collapse in what has been described as the biggest case of fraud in post-war Germany. Wirecard was long the darling of Germany’s fintech scene until it filed insolvency proceedings in 2020, saying […]
1 day ago
Bharatiya Janata party (BJP) supporters celebrate early leads for the party as vote counting of Guj...
Associated Press

Indian PM Modi’s party heading for big win in his home state

NEW DELHI (AP) — Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist party on Thursday looked set to retain control in his home state of Gujarat following a record state legislature win, but it was trailing behind its rival Congress party in northern Himachal Pradesh state. The landslide win in Modi’s home state is expected to […]
1 day ago
A man wearing a mask sits on his luggage near a mural depicting health checks before entry to a res...
Associated Press

China begins implementing relaxed anti-COVID-19 measures

BEIJING (AP) — China began implementing a more relaxed version of its strict “zero COVID” policy on Thursday amid steps to restore normal life, but also trepidation over a possible broader outbreak once controls are eased. The country reported 21,165 new coronavirus cases on Thursday, though it was unclear whether the lower number reflected fewer […]
1 day ago
Associated Press

Norway acquits Putin ally’s son who flew drone

COPENHAGEN, Denmark (AP) — The son of a Russian businessman close to President Vladimir Putin has been acquitted in Norway of violating a law that bars Russians from flying drones. Andrey Yakunin, who holds both a Russian and a British passport and who lives in Italy, was arrested in Hammerfest, in Arctic Norway, on Oct. […]
1 day ago

Sponsored Articles

Comcast Ready for Business Fund...
Ilona Lohrey | President and CEO, GSBA

GSBA is closing the disparity gap with Ready for Business Fund

GSBA, Comcast, and other partners are working to address disparities in access to financial resources with the Ready for Business fund.
SHIBA WA...

Medicare open enrollment is here and SHIBA can help!

The SHIBA program – part of the Office of the Insurance Commissioner – is ready to help with your Medicare open enrollment decisions.
Lake Washington Windows...

Choosing Best Windows for Your Home

Lake Washington Windows and Doors is a local window dealer offering the exclusive Leak Armor installation.
Anacortes Christmas Tree...

Come one, come all! Food, Drink, and Coastal Christmas – Anacortes has it all!

Come celebrate Anacortes’ 11th annual Bier on the Pier! Bier on the Pier takes place on October 7th and 8th and features local ciders, food trucks and live music - not to mention the beautiful views of the Guemes Channel and backdrop of downtown Anacortes.
Swedish Cyberknife Treatment...

The revolutionary treatment of Swedish CyberKnife provides better quality of life for majority of patients

There are a wide variety of treatments options available for men with prostate cancer. One of the most technologically advanced treatment options in the Pacific Northwest is Stereotactic Body Radiation Therapy using the CyberKnife platform at Swedish Medical Center.
Work at Zum Services...

Seattle Public Schools announces three-year contract with Zum

Seattle Public Schools just announced a three-year contract with a brand-new company to the Pacific Northwest to assist with their student transportation: Zum.
FBI probing ex-CIA officer’s spying for World Cup host Qatar