Questions have been stirred after allies of Donald Trump were accused in a lengthy report by The New York Times of employing female spies, including a former contestant on Survivor, to go on undercover dates with FBI agents and even a senior Trump official in a plot to root out supposed enemies within the government in 2018.
The Times reported that conservative allies recruited several women for a “sting” operation, trained them up, and asked them to deceive targets and encourage them to badmouth Mr Trump while using a hidden camera to capture the interactions.
The newspaper reported that the campaign was spearheaded by former undercover British spy Richard Seddon and planned to target Mr Trump’s then-national security adviser HR McMaster and FBI employees to expunge percieved anti-Trump sentiment in the government.
However, the group allegedly behind the operation, Project Veritas, called The Times’ reporting a “smear piece”, saying the outlet had a “continued pattern of defamation” against them. The reality star named in the report has also publicly denied the allegations.
A “brazen” plan to target Mr McMaster allegedly involved recruiting a woman to stake out a restaurant frequented by the official while wearing a hidden camera, The Times said. The operative would aim to engage Mr McMaster in conversation and film him saying something damaging about the former president.
On Thursday, James O’Keefe, the head of Project Veritas, said that the article came about because the newspaper is “losing to Project Veritas in a court of law”, adding that TheTimes was instead “trying to smear Project Veritas in the court of public opinion.”
The Times confirmed Project Veritas sued the newspaper for defamation last year. The organisation did not respond to specific questions about the operations from The Times. The Independent has contacted the group for further comment.
The Times accused Anna Khait, a professional poker player and former contestant on the reality TV show Survivor, of being a female operative in the effort. Ms Khait was allegedly part of a number of operations including a State Department employee.
Ms Khait did not respond to a request for comment from The Times but disputed the claims in the article upon publication in a series of posts on Twitter.
“Investigating and keeping our government in check is what JOURNALISTS are supposed to do. Instead, the New York Times attacks those who are doing THEIR job! Unbelievable,” she said.
She insisted that she “never investigated the FBI when I worked undercover for Project Veritas” and called the accusations “baseless”.
The Independent has contacted Ms Khait for further comment.
Another woman allegedly recruited for such operations was said to have been offered “$10,000 to go undercover and set up some big-name political figure in Washington.”
The Times claimed that the operatives purportedly involved were evaluated based on their political beliefs during an interview process in which they were asked what platforms they received their news from and what celebrities they would invite to a dinner party.
The paper also alleged they were trained in the art of deception to ensure they could secure information from potential targets. Exercises reportedly included training “students” on how to overcome interrogation by a police officer and how to target a person in an elevator.
“The student must create and maintain a fictional cover,” one document obtained by The Times which revealed the espionage tactics of Mr Seddon reportedly said.
Such operatives were said to have been housed in a $10,000 a month residence in Georgetown, Washington, and had code names such as “Brazil” and “Tiger”. They reportedly created fake profiles on dating apps to seduce their targets.
The newspaper said its account of the plans was based on more than a dozen interviews with former Project Veritas employees and others familiar with the campaign, along with current and former government officials and internal Project Veritas documents.
The Times reports that it is not known whether Mr Trump’s White House advisers had direct knowledge of the campaign. The alleged operation against Mr McMaster was said to have been abandoned after he resigned in 2018.
Mr McMaster declined to comment when contacted by The Times. Mr Seddon did not respond to requests for comment from the newspaper.