Project Veritas Reportedly Turned Its Feckless Smear Machine on Trump’s FBI

Project Veritas founder James O’Keefe at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Orlando, Florida in 2021.

Project Veritas founder James O’Keefe at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Orlando, Florida in 2021.
Photo: Joe Raedle (Getty Images)

Project Veritas, the shadowy yet wildly incompetent far-right group that stages sting operations to film and release hoax exposés on liberals, enlisted a British spy to help run an operation intended to discredit the FBI and suspected enemies within Donald Trump’s administration, the New York Times reported on Thursday.

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The Ouroboros of an operation, which involved efforts to smear Trump’s own advisers, reportedly involved a $10,000 a month base of operations in a Georgetown residence, female operatives recruited to date FBI staffers, and former British spy Richard Seddon—who Project Veritas affiliate and mercenary contractor Erik Prince previously enlisted to help the group infiltrate labor unions and political campaigns. The Times reported that Project Veritas operatives launched surveillance of FBI employees in the hopes of recording something that could be twisted into evidence of an FBI conspiracy to dethrone Trump. Some of its members also planned a sting operation to send a woman with a hidden camera to meet with then-national security adviser H.R. McMaster with an identical objective, though the Times noted it they couldn’t verify Project Veritas actually directed it.

The Times report also doesn’t assert that Trump or the White House was actually aware of the effort, though one of the amateur agents claimed they had access to inside information:

Whether any of Mr. Trump’s White House advisers had direct knowledge of the campaign is unclear, but one of the participants in the operation against Mr. McMaster, Barbara Ledeen, said she was brought on by someone “with access to McMaster’s calendar.”

At the time, Ms. Ledeen was a staff member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, then led by Senator Charles E. Grassley, Republican of Iowa.

Project Veritas can really only point to one major slimy success in its past—it managed to force the dissolution of advocacy group ACORN with selectively edited and manipulated footage of Veritas founder James O’Keefe pressing low-level ACORN employees for advice on how to run a prostitution ring. The Government Accountability Office later cleared ACORN of mishandling any federal funds. Other than that, the group’s efforts have largely amounted to political stunts of the type that might conveniently convince deep-pocketed but not particularly discerning Republican donors that Project Veritas is a serious investigative operation.

Some of the more infamous Project Veritas grifts have included a failed effort to enter the offices of Senator Mary Landrieu while disguised as telecom repairmen that ended with O’Keefe convicted on a misdemeanor charge, mostly fruitless plots to catfish Twitter employees and a failed effort to trick Washington Post reporters into discrediting themselves by publishing obviously false accusations against now-former GOP Senator Roy Moore (so as to distract from very real and well-evidenced accounts of Moore sexually abusing minors).

The group also launched various failed efforts to prove Donald Trump actually won the 2020 elections and Joe Biden’s victory was fraudulent, such as backing a U.S. Postal Service “whistleblower” who later admitted to USPS investigators his claims the USPS was involved in vote by mail fraud were the product of his imagination. Many of Project Veritas’s so-called sources have quickly cashed in by launching lucrative fundraisers on GoFundMe, usually claiming they need tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars to defend themselves against liberal backlash.

The scheme against McMaster, the Times wrote, came after a BuzzFeed article quoted him as calling Trump an “idiot” no smarter than a “kindergartener” at a 2017 dinner also attended by Oracle CEO Safra A. Catz. Catz complained to the White House, which could not substantiate her account of the remarks. Veritas operatives and other Trump loyalists came up with a plan to prove McMaster’s disloyalty by having a woman with a camera loosen the national security adviser, who is married, up with booze. The Times reported:

Soon after the BuzzFeed article, however, the scheme developed to try to entrap Mr. McMaster: Recruit a woman to stake out the same restaurant, Tosca, with a hidden camera. According to the plan, whenever Mr. McMaster returned by himself, the woman would strike up a conversation with him and, over drinks, try to get him to make comments that could be used to either force him to resign or get him fired.

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McMaster was already unpopular in the Trump world, and the president was regularly railing against phantom “deep state” operatives in the CIA, FBI, and State Department seeking to undermine him. According to the Times, Ledeen, the Senate Judiciary employee, said she was asked to help with the plan by “someone she trusted” (but conveniently could not remember the name of) and passed on information to a man who may have been a Veritas operative using a false name. The paper wrote that interviews and documents show Seddon, the former British spy, offered Veritas operative Tarah Price $10,000 to carry out the sting. Project Veritas never got a chance to pull it off, as McMaster resigned anyways in March 2018.

Seddon was also involved in Project Veritas training efforts at a Wyoming ranch owned by Prince, the mercenary contractor who founded Academi (formerly Blackwater USA). The Times wrote:

After Mr. Seddon joined Project Veritas, he set out to professionalize what was once a small operation with a limited budget. He hired former soldiers, a former F.B.I. agent and a British former commando… One role-playing exercise involved a trainee being interrogated by a law enforcement officer and having to “defend their cover” and “avoid exciting” the officer.

Another exercise instructs trainees in how to target a person in an elevator. The students were encouraged to think of their “targets as a possible future access agent, potential donor, support/facilities agent.”

“The student must create and maintain a fictional cover,” one document read.

The effort to entrap FBI employees began around the time McMaster resigned, according to the Times, and was led by Seddon at a Georgetown house close to the stairway from The Exorcist. Women living at the house created fake dating profiles and referred to each other with code names like “Brazil” and “Tiger”; one was reportedly a former contestant on Survivor. This operation managed to dig up a handful of government employees who expressed their opposition to Trump on hidden cameras, but by that point, Project Veritas had no pull outside of diehard Republican circles and conspiracy theorists, meaning its efforts came to virtually nothing of importance. None of those government employees worked for the FBI, but various other agencies.

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Seddon apparently had reached the limits of his patience with Project Veritas and quit by the time the first video was released, with three former Veritas telling the Times (in the paper’s words) the former spy was “chafing at what he viewed as Mr. O’Keefe’s desire to produce quick media content rather than to run long-term infiltration operations.”

O’Keefe told the Times their article was a “smear piece” that was related to a lawsuit over the paper’s “continued pattern of defamation of Project Veritas.” Neither McMaster, Prince, or Seddon gave statements to the Times. Ledeen told the paper she was merely a messenger and “am not part of a plot.”

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[New York Times]

FBI Informants Committed Over 9,000 Crimes in Early Trump Years

FBI Director Christopher Wray (R) testifies during a Senate Select Committee on Intelligence hearing about worldwide threats, on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, April 14, 2021.

FBI Director Christopher Wray (R) testifies during a Senate Select Committee on Intelligence hearing about worldwide threats, on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, April 14, 2021.
Photo: Saul Loeb (Getty Images)

Informants working for the FBI committed more than 9,600 crimes under the bureau’s supervision during President Trump’s first two years in office, according to unclassified government reports.

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The so-called “Otherwise Illegal Activity” reports, obtained first by Gizmodo, detail the number of crimes committed by what the bureau calls “confidential human sources.” The name of the report alludes to activities that would have been “illegal” had they not “otherwise” been committed with the bureau’s full knowledge and in furtherance of a federal investigation.

The most recent reports indicate that in 2017, the FBI authorized informants to commit at least 4,734 crimes, while in 2018 that number rose to 4,922. This represents a negligible decrease from recent, previous years.

It’s worth noting that any single authorized criminal activity may have otherwise resulted in multiple criminal charges, constituting multiple crimes.

The FBI relies heavily on the systematic recruitment and operation of human sources in nearly every facet of its wide-ranging investigatory purview, including counterintelligence activities conducted jointly with the Central Intelligence Agency and military intelligence. The identities of informants, many of whom have criminal histories or face criminal charges, are tightly held secrets. Thus, negotiations around their cooperation, and any benefits they may receive—which can include financial compensation—take place largely off the record.

The FBI is required to report the crime figures annually to the Justice Department. When rendered publicly, however—to a reporter citing the Freedom of Information Act, for example—certain details are always omitted.

Redacted information always includes the number of times the FBI authorized informants to engage in serious criminal acts, known as “Tier I” activities. Tier I crimes include those that result in violence, significant financial loss, or corrupt acts by high-ranking public officials. The manufacture, possession, or international trade of narcotics in excessive quantities are also Tier I crimes.

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The FBI is able to hide the number of Tier I crimes committed by its informants by redacting from public documents all numbers except those that combine both lesser (“Tier II”) and serious criminal offenses (“Tier I”).

FBI informant crimes by year:

2011: 5,658 crimes
2012: 5,939 crimes
2013: 5,649 crimes
2014: 5,577 crimes
2015: 5,261 crimes
2016: 381 (likely “Tier I” crimes only — see below.)
2017: 4,734 crimes
2018: 4,922 crimes

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To wit, it is unclear how many of the 4,922 crimes committed by FBI informants in 2018 were considered Tier I. (Tier II crimes, while lesser, may also include felonies, up to and including the trafficking of anything less than 450 kilos of cocaine or 90 kilos of heroin.)

This is not to say there’s no indication of how often the FBI allows informants to commit major crimes.

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In 2017, Gizmodo discovered an FBI reporting error that resulted in only a single tier of crime being reported. Despite anywhere from 5,000 to 6,000 annual crimes being routinely reported, in 2016 the FBI reported only 381 such activities. The FBI acknowledged the mistake in a statement to Gizmodo, saying “one tier of data accidentally was not submitted” to the Justice Department.

It is likely, though not confirmed, that it was the lesser Tier II crimes that went unreported that year. This would mean that in 2016, the FBI authorized informants on at least 381 occasions to commit major offenses that resulted in possible violence, acts of public corruption, or trade involving enormous quantities of illicit drugs.

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Man Who Swears He’s ‘Not a Dumbass’ Arrested for Attempting to Murder the Internet

Illustration for article titled Man Who Swears He's 'Not a Dumbass' Arrested for Attempting to Murder the Internet

Photo: Robyn Beck / AFP (Getty Images)

A Texas man who, according to court documents, recently stated that he is definitely “not a dumbass,” is now potentially facing decades in prison for plotting an alleged terrorist attack to “blow up” the internet.

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Seth Aaron Pendley, 28, was taken into custody by the FBI on Thursday, after attempting to procure what he thought were explosives from an undercover agent in Fort Worth, Texas, a federal affidavit shows (the bombs were, in fact, fake). According to authorities, Pendley wanted to use C-4, a powerful plastic explosive, to target an Amazon Web Services (AWS) data center in Ashburn, Virginia.

Pendley’s target, Ashburn, is home to over 100 data centers and is the site where a majority of the so-called “Cloud” exists. The arrestee allegedly stated in online chats that he wanted to “kill off about 70% of the internet” and, thereby, annoy “the oligarchy” and, naturally, the deep state.

An apparent Trump supporter who claims he was in Washington D.C. on Jan. 6 during the Capitol insurrection, Pendley recently implied in online chats that the ugly riot that killed five people hadn’t gone quite far enough. On MyMilitia.com, a rightwing website that ostensibly helps connect people to regional and local militias, Pendley used the screen name “Dionysus” to write a number of increasingly disturbing posts, the feds allege. In one, he wrote:

I feel like we all went into this with the intentions of getting very little done. How much did you expect to do when we all willingly go in unarmed. Let me tell you what I think (knowing going to touch some nerves.) For weeks I had prepared to show up at the capital [sic] as strapped as possible. The whole time I had high hopes that SOMEONE would understand.

In another post, he let it be known that he was not your run-of-the-mill terrorist:

I’m not a dumbass suicide bomber but even if I only have a handful of fellow patriots standing beside me I will happily die a young man knowing that I didn’t allow the evils in this world to continue unjustly treating my fellow Americans so disrespectfully.

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The posts aroused the suspicions of a “concerned citizen,” who later gave screenshots of his comments to the FBI.

Afterward, the feds ascertained Pendley’s email address and issued a search warrant for his Facebook while also subpoenaing the subscriber records connected to his Gmail account. From there, the government appears to have conducted surveillance of Pendley’s home in Wichita Falls, Texas, and also infiltrated his communications with an informant and, later, an undercover agent.

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During a conversation with both the informant and agent, Pendley laid out his masterful plans and nuanced political philosophy like so:

The main objective is to f*** up the Amazon servers. There’s 24 buildings that all this data runs through in America. Three of them are right next to each other, and those 24 run 70 percent of the Internet. And the government, especially the higher ups, CIA, FBI, special sh**, they have like an 8 billion dollar a year contract with Amazon to run through their servers. So we f*** those servers, and it’s gonna piss all the oligarchy off.

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In his apparent crusade to end the world wide web and thereby piss off the powers that be, Pendley has accrued a federal charge of maliciously attempting to destroy a building with an explosive. If convicted, he faces 20 years in prison.

Parler Says It Warned the FBI of Violent Posts Threatening the Capitol Before Jan. 6 Insurrection

Illustration for article titled Parler Says It Warned the FBI of Violent Posts Threatening the Capitol Before Jan. 6 Insurrection

Photo: Olivier Douliery (Getty Images)

Parler, the online safe haven for bigots and far-right extremists, claims it repeatedly alerted the Federal Bureau of Investigation about “specific threats of violence being planned at the Capitol” ahead of the deadly Jan. 6 insurrection, the company’s lawyers said in a letter to lawmakers dated Thursday.

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After seeing record growth in the latter half of 2020, Parler says it developed “formal lines of communication” with the FBI to facilitate cooperation and forward instances of “unlawful incitement and violent threats.” Parler claims that it referred violent content that had been posted on its platform to the FBI more than 50 times in the weeks leading up to the attack. Some of these flagged posts included specific threats to the Capitol, where five people later died during an attack by pro-Trump insurgents trying to prevent Congress from verifying President Joe Biden’s electoral college win.

“Far from being the far-right instigator and rogue company that Big Tech has portrayed Parler to be, the facts conclusively demonstrate that Parler has been a responsible and law-abiding company focused on ensuring that only free and lawful speech exists on its platform,” Parler’s lawyers wrote in a letter to New York Representative Carolyn Maloney, chair of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform.

The posts Parler cites are crystal clear about their violent intentions, no two ways about it. One post Parler said it forwarded to the FBI called for an armed mob of 150,000 to head to D.C. to “react to the congressional events of January 6th.” Another post sought recruits for “lighting up Antifa in Wa[shington, D.C.] on the 6th” because the user wanted to “start eliminating people.” Another post claimed then-President Donald Trump “needs us to cause chaos to enact the #insurrectionact.” One user said the D.C. event planned for Jan. 6 “is not a rally and it’s no longer a protest.”

“This is the final stand where we are drawing the red line at Capitol Hill,” that user wrote, according to the letter. “I trust the American people will take back the USA with force and many are ready to die to take back #USA so remember this is not a party until they announce #Trump2020 a winner… And don’t be surprised if we take the #capital [sic] building.”

The letter also includes redacted screenshots of emails Parler claims it sent to the FBI detailing these threats. While this news would be met with a positive response from any sane userbase, Parler was reportedly flooded with furious posts on Friday from users pissed off that Parler had ratted them out to federal authorities. Several vowed to jump ship and delete their accounts as soon as Trump rolls out his new social media platform.

Parler bills itself as a less censored alternative to mainstream social media sites and the last bastion of “free speech” on the internet. Shortly following the insurrection, Parler briefly went offline after Apple and Google kicked it off their respective app stores and Amazon Web Services severed ties with the platform. All three companies cited Parler’s lax content moderation in their decisions.

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In an effort led by Maloney, the House Oversight Committee has requested the FBI investigate the company’s role in the attack as well as look into claims that Parler tried to bribe Trump into creating an account on the platform.