Peiter "Mudge" Zatko, who served as Twitter head of security until his termination in 2021, testified before lawmakers during a Sept. 13 hearing that some employees feared that Beijing would be able to have its hands on user data.
He revealed that in the week before his firing, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) told the company that an agent of the Chinese Ministry of State Security (MSS) was on its payroll. It was not immediately clear if the aforementioned agent, working for the communist country's main espionage agency, was still working at the tech giant.
Zatko also recalled a conversation with another Twitter executive regarding the Big Tech company being infiltrated by foreign agents. The executive simply dismissed concerns, saying: "Well, since we already have one – what does it matter if we have more?" (Related: Former top Twitter security exec blows whistle to help Elon Musk: Platform is major national security risk full of bots pushing social engineering agenda.)
The former Twitter employee's testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee revealed the seriousness of the social media company's security issues. The platform had been previously criticized for lax security, most especially in 2020 when hackers managed to seize high-profile accounts. Zatko, himself a hacker in his younger days, was recruited by Twitter following this breach.
Zatko also referenced a story by Reuters detailing internal clashes between two main factions within the company. One faction wanted to maximize the advertising revenue opportunity from Chinese advertisers. The other faction expressed concern about doing business with China amid rising geopolitical tensions.
According to Zatko, Twitter was reluctant to turn away from China as the fastest-growing market for ad revenue.
"This was a big internal conundrum," he testified. "In a nutshell – if we were already in bed, it would be problematic if we lost that revenue stream."
Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA), ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, confirmed the FBI's warning to Twitter about the MSS agent during the Sept. 13 hearing.
The Republican lawmaker noted that Twitter CEO Parag Agrawal refused to appear before his colleagues, as the tech bigwig feared his appearance could jeopardize his company's case against Tesla CEO Elon Musk. The social media network and Musk are set to meet in court in October over whether the latter's $44 billion takeover deal should be completed.
According to Grassley, many of Zatko's allegations directly implicated Agrawal. He added that he does not see "how Agrawal can maintain his position at Twitter going forward" if the claims were indeed true.
Aside from testimonies, Zatko also submitted more than two pages of links to supporting documents. These included exchanges between him and the Twitter CEO and an assessment of mis- and disinformation on the platform.
Meanwhile, the company has insisted that Zatko was fired for "ineffective leadership and poor performance." His allegations, it added, were purportedly designed to malign the social media site.
A Twitter spokesperson later remarked that the Sept. 13 hearing "only confirms that Zatko's allegations are riddled with inconsistencies and inaccuracies." They reiterated that Twitter's hiring process is independent of foreign influence. Moreover, the spokesperson stated that access to data is managed through background checks, and monitoring and detection systems.
Despite the smears from his former employer, Zatko does not regret his decision to testify. "I'm basically risking my career and reputation. If something good comes from this five or 10 years down the road, it will have been worth it," he said.
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Watch Peiter Zatko reveal to Sen. John Kennedy (R-LA) that an "absurd number" of Twitter employees can access the accounts of Republicans on the platform below.
This video is from the GalacticStorm channel on Brighteon.com.