“Project without mercy”: Qatar's plan to spy on senior FIFA leaders and guarantee the organization of the 2022 World Cup

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An investigation reveals that he spent more than 380 million dollars to hack personalities. The spies compromised email accounts, computers, telephones and investigated friends and relatives of world soccer leaders and advisers

“Project without mercy”: Qatar's plan to spy on senior FIFA leaders and guarantee the organization of the 2022 World Cup /></p><p>FIFA President Gianni Infantino and the Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, during the final draw for the Qatar 2022 World Cup, on April 1, 2022 (REUTERS/Pawel Kopczynski)</p><p class=Qatar orchestrated a large-scale, long-running intelligence operation against FIFA officials, spending hundreds of millions of dollars in hacking operations to ensure the organization of the World Cup 2022.

According to an investigation by the Swiss media SRF and Swiss Info, and the agency AP news outlet, the State of Qatar ordered the “Project No Mercy”to achieve the candidacy for the World Cup after the massive criticism that FIFA's concession of the tournament to the controversial country aroused in 2010.

The plan was enormous: the budget rose to 387 million dollars. And the activities spanned five continents. In fact, the highest echelons of the Qatari government were implicated in the espionage activities, including the current head of state, the Emir of Qatar.

The documents show that the project wanted to ensure that nothing could jeopardize the holding of the 2022 World Cup in Qatar. And to achieve this, he hired Kevin Chalker's private US firm Global Risk Advisors (GRA).

Chalker's goal, according to AP< /i>, was to improve Qatar's image, while undermining critics who have accused the Gulf monarchy of financing terrorists and committing other wrongdoing.

The AP agency and ESPN also revealed that the FBI is investigating the activities of Global Risk Advisors.

The spies compromised email accounts, computers, telephones , investigated friends and even relatives of FIFA leaders and advisers.

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“Project without mercy”

The first blow came on January 5, 2012, when a former adviser to the FIFA president, Joseph “Sepp” Blatter started receiving strange emails. The goal was for him to open the attachments to secretly install software on his computer.

The victim was Peter Hargitay , an influential adviser within FIFA. He was close to then-President Sepp Blatter. Later, he was an adviser to the Australian Football Federation and its president Frank Lowy , a billionaire. Hargitay worked to help Australia organize the 2022 World Cup, a goal he ultimately failed to achieve.

Hargitay's computer was the main treasure of the spies.

“Project without mercy”: Qatar's plan to spy on senior FIFA leaders and guarantee the organization of the 2022 World Cup

Frank Lowy (AFP/Getty Images)

The tests quickly pointed to the infrastructure of an India-based IT company, Appin Security.

The company at the time was controlled by Rajat Khare, an Indian businessman who presented himself to the world as “a globally successful businessman”. However, attacks bearing Appin's imprint began to draw worldwide attention. Apparently, SRF reveals, they did not follow any pattern, as if the Indian company attacked randomly.

According to the investigation, a relatively new business model is behind of the method: a company attacks targets in exchange for a fee and provides the information to a client. This is what is called “hire hacking”… The attack on FIFA member Peter Hargitay was a contract job.

Qatar's footprint

The Documents show that Hargitay was the target of a secret espionage network working for the Qatari government. A highly confidential planning document from Global Risk Advisors reveals what presumably occurred in the case of the hack. And it shows that Swiss citizens were targeted on behalf of the Qatari government.

The documents reveal a plan for a global smear campaign, a cynical manipulation of FIFA's power base. The idea presented in the document was to collect incriminating information about FIFA members Hargitay and Lowy and leak it.

The real target was Lowy, not Hargitay, as the documents show. . Lowy had been working closely with Hargitay on Australia's World Cup bid. The reason for the spy efforts against Lowy seems obvious: the Australian was a staunch opponent of holding the World Cup in Qatar.

Global's plan Risk Advisors, in English:

The planning document stipulates 9 months to “neutralize the role and influence of Frank Lowy.” He also mentions that Lowy was a difficult target. His wealth and his network gave him access to considerable means in the field of counterintelligence. This risk to Global Risk Advisors officials, should something go wrong, was considered high.

According to the documents, Qatar approved the project and a month later Hargitay's computer was hacked. The fact that the attack was carried out by another company is not unusual, Global Risk Advisors frequently uses the services of subcontractors to carry out the operations.

Many more than one objective

The plan to compromise Lowy and Hargitay, however, represents the tip of a huge iceberg, the investigation reveals.

According to documents obtained by SRF, Qatar spent $10 million on espionage and influencing German soccer official Theo Zwanziger.

Zwanziger was president of the German Football Association until 2012. And as a member of the FIFA Executive Committee until 2015, he was a critical voice against Qatar. it was he who called Qatar a “cancer of world football.”

“Project without mercy

Theo Zwanziger (AFP)

He quickly became a target of the plan. According to the documents, a network was created around Zwanziger, made up of people who were supposed to influence him for the benefit of Qatar.

Zwanziger's family was also in his sights. Apparently, the Global Risk Advisors attackers established relationships with people close to Zwanziger. They created a network of “assets, sources and contacts” who were active on five continents, working to influence the German leader.

The International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) was another stumbling block. For years, the federation, which has 200 million members, denounced the abuses against the workers of the Qatar World Cup.

The union was the victim of a cyber attack at the end of 2015 and the attack had the traces of Global Risk Advisors. SRF obtained a document in which Global Risk Advisors identifies the union as as serious a problem for Qatar as FIFA.

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According to documents reviewed by SRF, the then heir to the throne and current emir Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani personally ordered the obtaining of telephone and text message records of several members of the FIFA Executive Committee prior to the award of the World Cup. /p>

And according to the Associated Press news agency, the FBI has been investigating Chalker for several months. In addition to possible violations of the law in the area of ​​lobbying and the export of sensitive technology, investigators are focusing on Chalker's surveillance activities on behalf of Qatar.

Switzerland, the scene of operations

The SRF investigation shows that Switzerland was key in the Qatari intelligence operation. According to the investigation, Chalker traveled to Zurich in order to bug the hotel rooms of members of the Executive Committee and journalists.

One of the documents includes photos that were taken as part of a surveillance operation at the luxurious Baur au Lac hotel in Zurich. And they show people associated with FIFA meeting with officials and journalists.

“Project without mercy”: Qatar's plan to spy on senior FIFA officials and guarantee the organization of the 2022 World Cup

The Swiss outlet SRF published some of the photos taken at the Baur-au-Lac hotel in Zurich.

SRF's investigation also found that a key person for the next World Cup, Hassan Al Thawadi , supervised the espionage operation on behalf of Qatar. Al Thawadi was the CEO of the World Cup-winning bid and is the current Secretary General of the Supreme Committee, the body that organizes the World Cup in Qatar.

SRF claims that the Zurich prosecutor's office was aware of the alleged spy ring activity from the beginning and that they had been aware of the Peter Hargitay hack since 2012.

“Project without mercy”: Qatar's plan to spy on senior FIFA officials and guarantee the organization of the 2022 World Cup

Archive image of the Secretary General of the Supreme Committee for the Organization and Legacy of the Qatar 2022 World Cup, Hassan Al-Thawadi, during the FIFA Teams Seminar at the Kimpinsky Hotel, Doha, Qatar. April 1, 2022. REUTERS/Hamad I Mohammed/File

However, the case was closed eight years later due to “lack of adequate avenues of investigation”.

There are less than three weeks to go before the start of the World Cup, a soccer festival that has now been targeted for espionage and manipulation.

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