WASHINGTON — During the summer of 2018, as Richard Seddon, a former British spy, was trying to launch a new venture to use undercover agents to infiltrate progressive groups, Democratic campaigns and other opponents of President Donald J. Trump, he turned for help to a longtime friend and former colleague: Erik Prince, the private military contractor.
Mr. Prince took on the role of celebrity pitchman, according to interviews and documents, raising money for Mr. Seddon’s spying operation, which was aimed at gathering dirt that could discredit politicians and activists in several states. After Mr. Prince and Mr. Seddon met in August 2018 with Susan Gore, a Wyoming heiress to the Gore-Tex fortune, Ms. Gore became the project’s main benefactor.
Mr. Prince’s role in the effort, which has not been previously disclosed, sheds further light on how a group of ultraconservative Republicans employed spycraft to try to manipulate the American political landscape. Mr. Prince — a former C.I.A. contractor who is best known as the founder of the private military firm Blackwater and whose sister, Betsy DeVos, was Mr. Trump’s education secretary — has drawn scrutiny over the years for Blackwater’s record of violence around the world and his subsequent ventures training and arming foreign forces.
His willingness to support Mr. Seddon’s operation is fresh evidence of his engagement in political espionage projects at home during a period when he was an informal adviser to Trump administration officials.
Mr. Seddon’s recruitment of Mr. Prince to help him secure funding is just one of the new details about Mr. Seddon’s operation revealed in documents obtained by The Times and interviews with people familiar with his plans. They provide additional insight into the ambition of the operation to use undercover operatives to target Republicans seen as insufficiently conservative, as well as to, as one document describes it, “research, penetrate and infiltrate the radical left networks.”
The Times previously reported that, in 2016 and 2017, Mr. Prince recruited Mr. Seddon to join the conservative group Project Veritas to teach espionage skills to its operatives and manage its undercover operations. Mr. Prince also allowed Project Veritas to use his family’s Wyoming ranch for training. Mr. Seddon launched his privately funded spying effort after leaving Project Veritas in 2018.
It is unclear how many potential donors Mr. Prince might have approached for money for Mr. Seddon’s venture besides Ms. Gore. Separately, Ms. Gore unsuccessfully tried to raise money for the project from Foster Friess, a billionaire Wyoming businessman, during a January 2019 meeting, three people said.