Twitter whistleblower says company had Chinese agent on payroll

During a hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Peiter Zatko, Twitter’s former security chief-turned-whistleblower, shed new light on his claims that the company’s lax security practices have harmed the United States. Among the new allegations was that the company had a Chinese agent on its payroll who worked for the country’s Ministry of State Security (MSS).

In his opening remarks, Senator Chuck Grassley stated, “The FBI has notified Twitter of at least one Chinese agent at the company.” In the public version of his whistleblower complaint, Zatko said he had been warned that the company was “one or more” people who “worked on behalf of another specified foreign intelligence agency”. But the published version of the complaint, parts of which have been redacted, did not specify which country the FBI was referring to.

In his statement, Zatko confirmed that the company had been warned about the presence of Chinese agents. “This was communicated to me maybe a week before my summary release,” Zatko said. “I was told because the corporate security/physical security team was contacted and told that at least one agent from MSS, one of China’s intelligence agencies, is on Twitter’s payroll.”

Zatko also expressed concern about the presence of foreign agents from other countries, including India, who have “forced” Twitter to hire government agents.

Notably, Zatko’s disclosures aren’t the first time Twitter has struggled with the presence of unregistered foreign agents on its payroll. A former Twitter employee was recently convicted of acting as an agent for Saudi Arabia. Prosecutors claimed the man was paid to release confidential information about dissidents.

Zatko claimed that the threat posed by foreign agents is even greater due to a number of factors: the vast amount of data the platform collects and their lack of visibility into that data, and the broad and largely unrestricted access that engineers from have twitter on it. “It’s not far-fetched to say that one employee within the company could take over the accounts of every senator in this room,” Zatko said.


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