Ex-Spy Was Central to Challenge Veritas Hiring Effort, Testimony Exhibits

WASHINGTON — A British former spy recruited by Erik Prince, the safety contractor near the Trump administration, performed a central position in a secretive effort to rent dozens of operatives for the conservative group Challenge Veritas, deposition testimony exhibits.

Job candidates traveled to Wyoming in 2017 for interviews with the previous intelligence officer, Richard Seddon, as Challenge Veritas sought to broaden its operations early within the Trump administration, based on a lawsuit deposition reviewed by The New York Occasions. The interviews carried out by Mr. Seddon and his colleagues happened close to the airport within the small city of Cody, not removed from Mr. Prince’s household ranch.

The brand new particulars about Challenge Veritas present the extent of the group’s ambitions to construct an intelligence-gathering equipment to infiltrate Democratic congressional campaigns, labor organizations, information media and different teams. Challenge Veritas is thought for its sting operations geared toward such teams, which have prompted allegations that it has printed deceptively edited movies.

Mr. Seddon didn’t instantly return an e mail in search of remark. James O’Keefe, the founding father of Challenge Veritas, didn’t reply to particular questions on Mr. Seddon or his position with the group. However he wrote in an e mail, “The NYT has engaged in a coordinated malice-fueled disinformation marketing campaign towards Challenge Veritas.”

The Occasions reported in February that Mr. Prince, the founding father of Blackwater Worldwide and the brother of Schooling Secretary Betsy DeVos, has in recent times helped recruit American and British former spies for Challenge Veritas’s intelligence-gathering operations.

Starting in 2016, Mr. Prince contacted a number of former intelligence officers — together with Mr. Seddon — and pitched them on instructing Challenge Veritas staff tips on how to function like spies. In some instances, Mr. Seddon led the recruiting, instantly contacting the previous officers on Mr. Prince’s behalf.

Challenge Veritas claims that its staff are journalists who conduct stings within the lengthy custom of undercover, muckraking journalism. However court docket paperwork present how the group has turned to former troopers and spies for his or her operations.

The deposition of Samuel Chamberlain, a former U.S. Military officer contracted by Mr. Seddon to do work for Challenge Veritas, disclosed Mr. Seddon’s position within the hiring course of. Mr. Chamberlain, who additionally helped display potential staff and handle discipline operations, was deposed in July as a part of a lawsuit filed by a Michigan lecturers’ union towards Challenge Veritas.

The union, AFT Michigan, sued Challenge Veritas in federal court docket final 12 months, alleging trespassing, eavesdropping and different offenses. The group accused Challenge Veritas of utilizing an undercover operative in 2017 to assemble data that may very well be made public to wreck the group. Mr. O’Keefe has said the union’s legal claims are “laughable and actually nothing greater than a heavy-handed assault on Challenge Veritas and our strategies.”

Mr. Seddon and Mr. Chamberlain have been concerned within the undercover scheme focusing on AFT Michigan, inner Challenge Veritas emails have proven.

The lawsuit has not deterred Challenge Veritas. Most lately, the conservative group made public a video that claimed Consultant Ilhan Omar’s marketing campaign had hyperlinks to an unlawful ballot-collection scheme in Minnesota. A spokesman for Ms. Omar described the video as “a coordinated right-wing effort to delegitimize a free and honest election.”

Mr. Chamberlain’s deposition offers a uncommon glimpse into the group’s operations. He mentioned that Mr. Seddon’s firm, Department 6 Consulting Worldwide, employed him in 2017 as a part of a Challenge Veritas growth that nearly tripled the variety of the group’s undercover operatives. It’s not clear who was paying Mr. Seddon. The title of his firm seems to be a reference to the British Secret Intelligence Service often known as MI6.

“It was his venture, his contract, so in the end he was accountable for it, however there was such a big quantity of those who had utilized for positions, I used to be simply serving to filter and sift by means of every thing,” Mr. Chamberlain mentioned of Mr. Seddon.

A former fight engineer who served in Iraq, Mr. Chamberlain mentioned his background within the army was helpful in managing what Challenge Veritas operatives have been gathering, based on his deposition.

Mr. Chamberlain mentioned he operated as a “intermediary between the journalists and the upper echelon of individuals at Challenge Veritas,” together with Mr. O’Keefe and Joe Halderman. A former tv producer, Mr. Halderman was convicted in 2010 of attempting to extort $2 million from the comic David Letterman.

Mr. Chamberlain mentioned he labored with one other discipline supervisor named Gaz Thomas, a former British commando, who was additionally recruited by Mr. Seddon.

When The Occasions contacted Mr. Chamberlain this 12 months, he known as Mr. Seddon to offer him a “heads-up” {that a} reporter had reached out, based on the deposition.

Mr. Chamberlain didn’t reply to an e mail in search of remark.

He was instantly concerned within the operation focusing on AFT Michigan that relied on an undercover operative named Marisa Jorge who used a code title: LibertyU. Ms. Jorge graduated from Liberty College, a Christian school in Virginia. Mr. Chamberlain mentioned he supervised about two dozen Challenge Veritas staff, together with Ms. Jorge.

Throughout his deposition, Mr. Chamberlain was requested, “You knew that she was going to mislead the parents at AFT Michigan, didn’t you?”

“Sure,” Mr. Chamberlain mentioned.

Within the deposition, he mentioned he was proud to have labored for Challenge Veritas.

Mr. Chamberlain mentioned potential candidates have been interviewed on the telephone after which dropped at Wyoming for a second interview at a constructing close to the Cody airport.

The roles have been open to anyone, Mr. Chamberlain mentioned. He had an inventory of about 100 questions he may ask, and he didn’t recall whether or not any have been “designed to reveal political predilections.” It was one of many dozens of instances in the course of the deposition that Mr. Chamberlain mentioned he couldn’t bear in mind particulars.

He mentioned he additionally traveled to Wyoming for coaching in spring 2017 for about 20 Challenge Veritas staff. Mr. O’Keefe, Mr. Halderman and Mr. Seddon additionally attended. The coaching happened at Mr. Prince’s household ranch, based on interviews.

In a separate deposition taken as a part of the AFT Michigan lawsuit, Mr. O’Keefe mentioned he first encountered Mr. Prince — whom he described as a “supporter” — at a 2016 presidential debate between Donald J. Trump and Hillary Clinton. He mentioned he attended coaching in Wyoming round Cody however didn’t know who owned the property.

Mr. O’Keefe additionally mentioned he had not spoken to Mr. Seddon since he left Challenge Veritas.

Mr. Seddon was a longtime British intelligence officer who served in quite a few areas around the globe, together with Washington, within the years after the Sept. 11 assaults. He’s married to an American diplomat, Alice Seddon, who has served in Nigeria and different outposts.

In June 2017, Mr. Chamberlain mentioned he moved to Mamaroneck, N.Y., the place he labored within the workplaces of Challenge Veritas. Later that summer season, presumably in August, Mr. Chamberlain mentioned he stopped working for the group after which attended a regulation enforcement academy in Minnesota.

He’s presently employed by the Nationwide Park Service, based on the company.

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