Former Twitter security chief Peiter Zatko has alleged that at least one Twitter employee was an agent for the Chinese government.
In front of a Senate committee on September 13, Zatko said he was told about the spy a week before his abrupt dismissal on January 19, 2022. According to Senator Chuck Grassley, the FBI alerted the social media platform about the agent.
Zatko said he contacted an executive about the threat. But the person was indifferent to the matter, saying, “Well, since we already have one, what does it matter if we have more [foreign agents]?”
The spy allegedly works for China’s Ministry of State Security, one of China’s intelligence services on the payroll.
Unlike the executive’s calm response, Zatko said some Twitter staff members were worried that the Chinese government could seek to extract user data from the company.
Last month, Zatko disclosed that Twitter granted an agent from the Indian government access to sensitive information. It was around the time Indian farmers were protesting against agricultural laws.
Zatko cited a Reuters report that Chinese local governments and state media were actively spending on Twitter’s ads. The revenues from such clients were strongly inciting. It stirred an internal conflict between those who did not want to turn away from Chinese money and others who were worried about the political risks of dealing with China.
He said, ‘This was a big internal conundrum… In a nutshell, if we were already in bed, it would be problematic if we lost that revenue stream.”[Narrator, please do not read in bracket | Senator Chuck Grassley statement (YouTube)]
Grassley noted that this had happened before. Three years ago, the Department of Justice indicted two Twitter employees for selling private user data to Saudi Arabia. It was found that the foreign actors had access to and could give the Saudi government personal information on more than 6,000 targets.