World Cup hosts Qatar hired former CIA hackers to carry out criminal activities, lawsuit alleges

Ahram Online , Sunday 5 Jul 2020

Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani
Qatar's Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani (File photo: Reiters)

A legal complaint filed in Federal Court on Friday by former Republican National Committee Finance Chairman Elliott Broidy unveiled explosive evidence of a world-wide web of criminal activity orchestrated by the government of Qatar and a United States-based security firm it hired to tip the bidding to host the 2022 World Cup in Doha’s favor.

Qatar, an absolute monarchy ruled by the Al Thani family, paid Global Risk Advisors (GRA), a  New York-based private security firm, over $100 million to intimidate and silence FIFA officials and prominent American critics of the oil-rich state, alleges the complaint.

Specifically, the complaint alleges “world class hackers” recruited by GRA from the U.S. Special Forces, National Security Agency, and Central Intelligence Agency targeted Mr. Broidy in retaliation for his “high-profile criticism” of the oil-rich nation.

“GRA actively pitched Qatar by offering Qatar access to some of the most highly trained former counterintelligence personnel in the world—to help secure Qatar’s status as host,” the complaint alleges.

“As controversy swirled in subsequent years, the GRA Defendants outlined their ability to employ intelligence community skills and covert action campaigns to neutralize key voices in the growing choir of critics who advocated that World Cup 2022 be reassigned to a different host country.”

The complaint alleges that GRA CEO Kevin Chalker, a former CIA operative and Yale adjunct professor, led the operation. 

Theo Zwanziger
Theo Zwanziger, the former president of the German Football Association

Mr. Chalker had previously acted “to neutralize” Theo Zwanziger, the former president of the German Football Association who was then serving as a member of FIFA’s executive committee and who sought to retract Qatar’s hosting of the 2022 World Cup, “by targeting him and influencing people close to him through covert influence and operations. The assignment included infiltrating FIFA itself.”

It adds, "GRA's tactics included a covert action program, so-called "black ops," and the use of IT platforms.

They targeted individuals and entities across multiple continents, set up and terminated multiple "cover for action" entities in various jurisdictions…By the spring of 2014, Mr. Chalker and GRA had succeeded—Mr. Zwanziger had come full circle, and his public statements now generally supported World Cup 2022 remaining in Qatar as a way to improve social justice reform efforts there.”

According to the complaint, GRA requested from Qatar more than $500 million for this work, but ultimately received about $100 million, primarily for illegal activity.

It alleges that "GRA would train Qatari officers in defensive counter-intelligence and offensive intelligence collection tactics, including advanced, sophisticated skills that trained former U.S. intelligence and military operatives are typically barred from sharing or conferring unto foreign governments."  "Project Deviant" was the plan's codename.

The complaint documents GRA's promotional materials touting its "advanced techniques to penetrate target networks," and methods to "intrude into servers".

A technique called "spear phishing" was employed in December 2017 to "obtain access to Mr. Broidy's confidential documents so that they could be manipulated and strategically disseminated to damage Mr. Broidy economically and as a spokesperson for opponents of Qatar’s support of terrorism," the complaint continues.

"Mr. Chalker celebrated the launch of the spear phishing campaign that very night, on Wednesday, December 27, 2017, by taking associates to the Sapphire Gentlemen's club in New York City," the report alleges.

The GRA attack against Mr. Broidy he alleges was not an isolated incident, but rather part of a larger campaign of “special projects” overseen by Ali al-Thawadi, Chief of Staff to Mohammed bin Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, the brother of Qatar’s Emir, who oversaw the campaign to secure the World Cup. 

Elliott Broidy
former Republican National Committee Finance Chairman Elliott Broidy

Hassan Al Thawadi, who is currently overseeing Qatar’s preparation for the World Cup, personally approved the agreement – and was code named “Archie”, according to the complaint.

"Mr. Chalker maintained particularly close contact with Shep," the lawsuit alleges. "Shep" was the Project Deviant code name for Ali al-Thawadi.

"GRA's U.S.-based teams would regularly compile and synthesize the results of their covert intelligence gathering, including their hacking and physical and electronic surveillance efforts, and produce a glossy, printed deliverable for Shep every two to three months.

"The information GRA brought to Shep included highly personal, non-public information on American citizens."

GRA then used that stolen content for a comprehensive public relations campaign to silence Qatar’s American critics, according to the complaint.

In addition to hiring GRA, Qatar’s government retained Stonington Strategies LLC, a Delaware-based firm, “in an attempt to influence the Republican, American-Jewish community and other conservative supporters of the President, with the end goal of influencing White House policy,” the lawsuit alleges. “Their work included identifying Mr. Broidy and other Americans as critics to be silenced.” 

Qatar engaged the principals at Stonington -- Nicolas Muzin and Joseph Allaham – along with Gregory Howard, who worked as a Qatari agent at the firm Conover & Gould before taking a job with Mercury Public Affairs.

Muzin, chairman at Stonington and a registered foreign agent of Qatar, “admitted that he identified and described Mr. Broidy to the Qatari government as impediments to Qatar’s foreign policy interests in the United States,” according to the complaint.

“In connection with his work for Qatar, Mr. Muzin or his employees or agents participated in weekly meetings at the Qatari Embassy in Washington, DC, where they discussed the ongoing efforts against Mr. Broidy.  Mr. Muzin specifically mentioned Mr. Broidy in these meetings as an obstacle that needed to be dealt with for his lobbying on behalf of Qatar to succeed.”

Mr. Muzin’s firm was placed on retainer by Mr. al-Thawadi in 2017 for a monthly sum of $50,000. As Mr. al-Thawadi, GRA, and Mr. Muzin’s associates began to plan the attack on Mr. Broidy, the complaint alleges that “increased payments flowed to these key public relations strategists.”  On December 15, 2017, days before the attack on Mr. Broidy began, Stonington received a $500,000 balloon payment and saw its retainer increased to $300,000 a month.

Over this same period, Mr. Allaham, who worked directly for Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, “had five separate phone calls with MBH’s chief of staff, Ali al-Thawadi. GRA also worked very closely with Mr. Thawadi,” the report claims. 

The lawsuit comes in the wake of investigations into Qatar’s influence targeting of U.S. institutions of higher learning by the U.S. Department of Education and alleged bribery of FIFA officials to secure the 2022 World Cup by the U.S. Department of Justice.

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