WASHINGTON — BLJ Worldwide, which over the years has represented controversial clients such as Syrian First Lady Asma al-Assad, is again under fire, this time for working with the Qatar government on a smear campaign to eradicate competitors wanting to host the 2022 World Cup, according to the Sunday Times.

According to the report, BLJ (formerly known as Brown Lloyd James), along with ex-CIA agents broke FIFA’s rules by waging a “black operations” campaign in order to win the right to host the tournament —  putting Qatar’s already tenuous win at even more risk.

“Emails from a whistleblower show how the bid paid a public relations firm and former CIA agents to pump out fake propaganda about its main rivals, the United States and Australia, during its successful campaign to host the next World Cup,” the Times wrote.

“The campaign involved recruiting influential people to attack the bids in their own countries, seeking to create the impression that there was ‘zero support’ for the World Cup domestically,” it said.

One of FIFA’s criteria is that a host country has strong backing at home.

One of the emails leaked to The Times, sent to Qatar’s deputy bid leader Ali al-Thawadi, shows that the Qatari government was aware of a plot to spread “poison” against other rival countries. 

Creating a resolution for the US Congress on the “harmful” effects of an American World Cup in the week of the vote was among the tactics. So was paying a professor $9,000 to write a report about the enormous expense of a US World Cup, which was then distributed to international news outlets, the report said.

The report highlights the latest in a number of controversial campaigns BLJ has been part of over the years. In 2012, the firm came under high-profile fire for accepting $5,000 a month to act as a liaison between Asma Assad and Vogue, as part of her and her husband’s campaign to position themselves as a progressive glamour couple, Assad’s brutal campaigns against opponents at the time.

Qatar is under international scrutiny for other reasons too.  More than a year ago, , three of Qatar’s neighbors — Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates — plus Egypt severed ties with the Gulf state, cutting off exports, expelling their citizens and banning Qatari flights from using their airports and airspace. The four states launched the blockade on June 5 last year, ostensibly to pressure Qatar to change its policies of supporting opposition Islamist groups and promoting relations with Iran.