Erik Prince, founder of the military contracting firm Academi LLC (formerly Blackwater), recruited US and British ex-spies to collaborate with conservative investigative journalist group Project Veritas to infiltrate various Democratic organizations "considered hostile" to President Donald Trump's agenda, according to a New York Times report on Saturday.
Citing obtained interviews and documents, including internal Project Veritas emails, the publication alleges that one such individual, an ex-MI6 officer named Richard Seddon, was instrumental in overseeing a 2017 operation to clandestinely copy files and record conversations in the Michigan office of the American Federation of Teachers.
Seddon is claimed to have instructed an undercover operative to tape the union’s local leaders in a bid to garner potentially incriminating evidence against the organization.
According to the outlet, the Project Veritas operative was Liberty University graduate Marisa Jorge, with emails purportedly showing O'Keefe and Seddon using the code name "LibertyU" for Jorge when discussing the operation.
The following year the same undercover operative is alleged to have infiltrated the congressional campaign of a former CIA officer Abigail Spanberger, who subsequently won a House seat in Virginia as a Democrat.
The operative, claims the report, was discovered and fired.
The outlet writes that both operations were run by Project Veritas, with the part allegedly played by Seddon revealed by the investigative journalist group’s emails that surfaced as part of its legal battle with the Teachers’ Union.
The federal lawsuit brought by AFT Michigan against Project Veritas is set to go to trial later this year.
Prince, according to the report, had devised a strategy to enlist former spies to train Project Veritas operatives in espionage tactics, such as recruiting sources, making clandestine recordings, and other surveillance techniques, during the 2016 presidential campaign.
The outlet claims Erik Prince would reach out to veterans of the intelligence trade, on occasion relying on Seddon to pitch the collaboration offer.
"Both Project Veritas and Mr. Prince have ties to President Trump's aides and family," the Times noted.
The publication adds:
"Whether any Trump administration officials or advisers to the president were involved in the operations, even tacitly, is unclear. But the effort is a glimpse of a vigorous private campaign to try to undermine political groups or individuals perceived to be in opposition to Mr. Trump's agenda."
James O'Keefe, Founder and President of Project Veritas, dismissed the report in the Times, emphasizing that his group is a "proud independent news organization".
“No one tells Project Veritas who or what to investigate,” he is quoted as saying.
There has been no official comment on the report from Marisa Jorge or Erik Prince.
This comes as the Federal Bureau of Investigation has opened a probe into the Blackwater founder over an alleged plot to weaponize crop-dusting planes into attack aircraft, for subsequent use by mercenaries in Azerbaijan and Africa, according to a report by The Intercept on 20 February.
The FBI investigation is one of several official US probes into Prince’s purported activities, The Intercept wrote, adding he is also being investigated over claims he lied to Congress during the House Intelligence Committee probe into allegations of Russian interference in the 2016 election.
The Russian government has persistently rejected all such allegations as baseless.