Ex-British spy, Erik Prince, and Project Veritas reportedly tried to entrap Trump's national security adviser

Erik Prince, founder of private security contractor Blackwater and brother of former Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, recruited a former British spy in 2016 to professionalize the undercover operatives at Project Veritas, the conservative sting video shop run by James O'Keefe, The New York Times reports, citing documents and people involved in the subsequent operations to discredit perceived "deep state" enemies of former President Donald Trump inside the U.S. government. The ex-undercover British spy, Richard Seddon, trained conservative operatives first at the Prince family ranch in Wyoming, then at a large, $10,000-a-month house near Georgetown University. Female undercover operatives tried to entrap FBI agents, sometimes using fake dating app profiles, and State Department employees, the Times reports. But "one of the most brazen operations of the campaign" was an attempt to take down H.R. McMaster, Trump's second national security adviser. The plan was reportedly to send a female operative to Tosca, a restaurant McMaster frequented, to engage him in drinks and conversation and record him disparaging Trump or making other inappropriate remarks on camera. One of the people involved in the McMaster plot was Barbara Ledeen, a longtime Republican staffer on the Senate Judiciary Committee before retiring, she says, earlier this year. Presented with the details of the operation, Ledeen told the Times she was just a messenger, "not part of a plot." Ledeen said "someone she trusted" contacted her to help with the McMaster operation. "Somebody who had his calendar conveyed to me that he goes to Tosca all the time," she said, and she passed the information on to a man she believed to be a Project Veritas operative with a fake name. The McMaster operation was aborted after he, unrelated to Project Veritas, resigned under pressure from Trump. O'Keefe did not respond to the substance of the Times' report but did accuse the newspaper of running a "smear piece" on Project Veritas. Seddon left the project in 2018, before O'Keefe started releasing low-impact "unmasking the deep state" videos. He was dismayed, three former Project Veritas employees told the Times, with "O'Keefe's desire to produce quick media content rather than to run long-term infiltration operations." Read more about the operation and its cast of characters at The New York Times. More stories from theweek.comThe Republican theory of unemployment is classic MarxThere's growing speculation that Meghan Markle and Prince Harry will name their daughter 'Philippa'A short history of White House cats

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Lies on Social Media Inflame Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

In a 28-second video, which was posted to Twitter this week by a spokesman for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel, Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip appeared to launch rocket attacks at Israelis from densely populated civilian areas. At least that is what Netanyahu’s spokesman, Ofir Gendelman, said the video portrayed. But his tweet with the footage, which was shared hundreds of times as the conflict between Palestinians and Israelis escalated, was not from Gaza. It was not even from this week. Instead, the video that he shared, which can be found on many YouTube channels and other video-hosting sites, was from 2018. And according to captions on older versions of the video, it showed militants firing rockets not from Gaza but from Syria or Libya. Sign up for The Morning newsletter from the New York Times The video was just one piece of misinformation that has circulated on Twitter, TikTok, Facebook, WhatsApp and other social media this week about the rising violence between Israelis and Palestinians, as Israeli military ground forces attacked Gaza early Friday. The false information has included videos, photos and clips of text purported to be from government officials in the region, with posts baselessly claiming early this week that Israeli soldiers had invaded Gaza, or that Palestinian mobs were about to rampage through sleepy Israeli suburbs. The lies have been amplified as they have been shared thousands of times on Twitter and Facebook, spreading to WhatsApp and Telegram groups that have thousands of members, according to an analysis by The New York Times. The effect of the misinformation is potentially deadly, disinformation experts said, inflaming tensions between Israelis and Palestinians when suspicions and distrust have already run high. “A lot of it is rumor and broken telephone, but it is being shared right now because people are desperate to share information about the unfolding situation,” said Arieh Kovler, a political analyst and independent researcher in Jerusalem who studies misinformation. “What makes it more confusing is that it is a mix of false claims and genuine stuff, which is being attributed to the wrong place or the wrong time.” Twitter, TikTok and Facebook, which owns Instagram and WhatsApp, did not respond to requests for comment. Christina LoNigro, a spokeswoman for WhatsApp, said the company had put limits on how many times people could forward a message as a way of clamping down on misinformation. The Times found several pieces of misinformation that spread across Israeli and Palestinian neighborhood and activist WhatsApp groups this week. One, which appeared as a block of Hebrew text or an audio file, contained a warning that Palestinian mobs were preparing to descend on Israeli citizens. “Palestinians are coming, parents protect your children,” read the message, which pointed specifically to several suburban areas north of Tel Aviv. Thousands of people were in one of the Telegram groups where the post was shared; the post then appeared in several WhatsApp groups, which had dozens to hundreds of members. Israeli police did not respond to a request for comment. There were no reports of violence in the areas mentioned in the message. In another post early this week, which was written in Arabic and sent to a WhatsApp group with over 200 members, warnings flashed that Israeli soldiers were set to invade the Gaza Strip. “The invasion is coming,” read the text, which urged people to pray for their families. Arabic and Hebrew-language news sources also appeared to amplify some misinformation. Several Israeli news outlets recently discussed a video that showed a family walking to a funeral with a wrapped body, only to drop the body when a police siren sounded. The video was cited by the news organizations as evidence that Palestinian families were holding fake funerals and exaggerating the number of people killed in the conflict. In fact, the video appeared on YouTube over a year ago and may have shown a Jordanian family holding a fake funeral, according to a caption left on the original video. Clips of another video showing religious Jews tearing their clothing as a sign of devotion also circulated on Arabic-language news sites this week. The clips were cited as evidence that Jews were faking their own injuries in clashes in Jerusalem. That was false. The video had been uploaded to WhatsApp and Facebook several times earlier this year, according to The Times analysis. There is a long history of misinformation being shared among Israeli and Palestinian groups, with false claims and conspiracies spiking during moments of heightened violence in the region. In recent years, Facebook has removed several disinformation campaigns by Iran aimed at stoking tensions among Israelis and Palestinians. Twitter also took down a network of fake accounts in 2019 that was used to smear opponents of Netanyahu. The grainy video that Gendelman shared on Twitter on Wednesday, which purportedly showed Palestinian militants launching rocket attacks at Israelis, was removed Thursday after Twitter labeled it “misleading content.” Gendelman’s office did not respond to a request for comment. Gendelman appears to have mischaracterized the contents of other videos as well. On Tuesday, he posted a video on Twitter showing three adult men being instructed to lie on the floor, with their bodies being arranged by a crowd nearby. Gendelman said the video showed Palestinians staging bodies for a photo opportunity. Kovler, who traced the video back to its source, said the video had been posted in March to TikTok. Its accompanying text said the footage showed people practicing for a bomb drill. This article originally appeared in The New York Times. © 2021 The New York Times Company

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