Twitter hunts for documents showing possible connection between Elon Musk and former executive turned whistleblower Peiter 'Mudge' Zatko
- Zatko accused Twitter of lax security and other missteps during his time as a top executive.
- He also sided with Elon Musk in claiming "bots" are improperly quantified on the platform.
A former Twitter executive recently became a whistleblower, calling out the company's allegedly lax security and professing that it indeed has a problem with the way it quantifies fake or spam accounts, just like Elon Musk has said. Now, Twitter wants to know if the executive has any link to the billionaire.
As part of the ongoing lawsuit Twitter filed against Musk, to force him to acquire the platform for a previously agreed upon $44 billion, it recently asked Musk and his lawyers to produce any communications between them, as well as the various parties that have agreed to finance his takeover, and Pieter "Mudge" Zatko. Zatko worked for about a year as Twitter's chief information security officer and in July submitted to Congress a whistleblower disclosure against the company.
Judge Kathleen McCormick, who is overseeing the lawsuit in Delaware, on Thursday ordered Musk's side to provide at least some of the documents being requested by Twitter regarding Zatko as a condition of his lawyers being able to amend their own complaint against Twitter for the second time.
"Plaintiff's request that the court allow the amendment subject to conditions relating to discovery concerning the amendment is reasonable," Judge McCormick said.
The additional discovery Twitter is requesting related to Zatko includes "all communications" and "any documents reflecting, referring to, or summarizing such communications" from December 2021 through August 2022 between Musk, his representatives, advisors, lenders, or co-investors, and Zatko. It is also asking for the same scope of communications by the same parties and during the same time frame that "relate" to Zatko and his whistleblower disclosure, as well as a response to a form asking the parties if Musk or anyone working for him did work for Zatko or "obtained information" from him between November 2020 through August 2022.
Judge McCormick said she will decide exactly how much of this discovery should be handed over after a hearing on the issue set for next week. The case is set to go to trial the week of October 17.
Representatives for Twitter and Musk could not be immediately reached for comment.
In his whistleblower disclosure and then a public appearance before Congress, Zatko claimed that Twitter's engineering and security protocols were lacking to such a degree that agents of foreign countries were employed there and that he was stopped from presenting his findings in full to the company's board. He also openly sided with Musk and his claims that Twitter hosts more "bots" or fake accounts that it publicly discloses. A section of Zatko's disclosure is titled "Lying about Bots to Elon Musk" and accuses Twitter of misrepresenting how it counts and combats spam accounts, saying "Elon Musk is correct."
Lawyers for Zatko previously told CNN he had not been in contact with Musk.
Twitter has denied Zatko's claims and said he was fired over performance issues. The company now appears to be curious whether Zatko had any sort of prior relationship with Musk, his lawyers, or the nearly 20 parties that agreed to finance his acquisition. Outside financiers of the acquisition include Oracle founder Larry Ellison, Andreessen Horowitz, Sequoia Capital, and Saudi Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, among others.
Lawyers for Musk have opposed providing such communications, Judge McCormick said. First, they argued the request was coming too late, then objected to the inclusion of Morgan Stanley, Musk's personal lender for the deal, then said they had "no reason to think" such documents existed, then said the request was "unduly burdensome." The judge asked that Musk's lawyers clarify what, if anything, they are willing to produce regarding Zatko before next week's hearing.
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