Twitter whistleblower reveals concerns over China agent

STORY: Zatko: “I'm here today because Twitter leadership is misleading the public, lawmakers, regulators and even its own board of directors.”

In a wide-ranging Senate hearing on Tuesday, Twitter whistleblower Peiter "Mudge" Zatko, raised new concerns about foreign meddling at the influential social media platform.

The famed hacker - who served as Twitter's head of security until his firing earlier year - revealed that the FBI informed Twitter of at least one Chinese agent working at the company.

Zatko: “This was made aware to me maybe a week before I was surprised and summarily dismissed. I had been told, because the corporate security physical security team had been contacted and told that there was at least one agent of the MSS, which is one of China's intelligence services on the payroll inside Twitter…”

China's Ministry of State Security, or MSS, is the country's main espionage agency.

It was not immediately clear if the alleged Chinese agent was still working at the company, and Twitter did not respond to a request for comment.

But the company has previously said that Zatko was fired for "ineffective leadership and poor performance," and that his allegations appeared designed to harm Twitter.

Twitter has come under fire previously for lax security, most notably in 2020 when teenage hackers seized control of dozens of high-profile accounts, including the verified profile for former U.S. President Barack Obama.

On Tuesday, Zatko's testimony revealed Twitter's security issues could be far more serious, alleging for the first time that the company was informed of agents of the Chinese government working at the social media firm.

During his testimony, Zatko also referenced a Reuters story that detailed internal clashes between some teams inside Twitter that wanted to maximize the advertising revenue opportunity from Chinese advertisers and others who were concerned about doing business inside China amid rising geopolitical tensions.

Grassley: “While at Twitter, you raised concerns with their policy, allowing Chinese advertising. What was Twitter's response?”

Zatko: “In a nutshell, it was we're already in bed. It would be problematic if we lost that revenue stream. So figure out a way to make people comfortable with it.”

Zatko’s testimony came on the same day Twitter shareholders voted to approve a $44 billion buyout by Elon Musk, handing over the deal's outcome to a court battle in which the billionaire is trying to scrap the purchase, accusing Twitter of misrepresenting the number of false and spam accounts on its service.

A Delaware judge ruled last week that Musk may include Zatko's whistleblower claims in his case against Twitter, but denied his request to delay the trial which is scheduled for October.