Tesla CEO Elon Musk on Thursday moved to discredit a former employee and self-proclaimed whistleblower whose attorneys have accused Musk of authorizing Tesla to allegedly engage in “unauthorized wiretapping and hacking” of another former employee of the electric car manufacturer.
“This guy is super 🥜,” Musk told Gizmodo over Twitter DM. (That last bit is an emoji of peanuts, in case it doesn’t display properly on your device.) “He is simultaneously saying that our security sucks (it’s not great, but I’m pretty sure we aren’t a branch of the Sinaloa cartel like he claims) and that we have amazing spying ability. Those can’t both be true.”
The incendiary letter circulated by law firm Meissner Associates today on behalf of Karl Hansen—a former member of Tesla’s internal security department—specifically cites spying and hacking efforts allegedly directed against Martin Tripp, a former Tesla process technician who has also accused the company of wrongdoing, and others. Hansen claims that Tesla installed “specialized router equipment within its Nevada Gigafactory designed to capture employee cell phone communications and/or [...] cell phone data,” and allegedly accessed Tripp’s cellphone even after his employment had been terminated. The Meissner Associates letter claims these extraordinary measures were personally put in place by Musk.
Amazingly, the intrigue of Hansen’s wiretapping claims go even deeper. He alleges that members of the Tesla security team responsible for allegedly spying on Tripp were former employees of Uber previously accused of wiretapping competitors and pilfering trade secrets related to autonomous vehicles from rival Waymo. That high-profile case was settled in February, with Waymo parent company Alphabet receiving $245 million in Uber equity.
Of the former Uber employees accused of stealing Waymo trade secrets, only Nick Gicinto, former head of Uber’s Strategic Services Group, is named in the Meissner Associates. Tesla hired Gicinto to lead its security unit earlier this year.
In messages to Gizmodo, Musk defended Gicinto as a misunderstood player in the Uber–Waymo drama.
“Nick Jacinto (sic) was thrown under the bus by Uber for the sins of others,” Musk wrote. “You should at least read his countersuit before concluding he’s a bad dude. He has shown high integrity in my dealings with him.” That lawsuit, filed by Gicinto, Mathew Henley, Edward Russo, and Jacob Nocon in April of this year against whistleblower Richard Jacobs, is ongoing. Prior to the settlement, Uber went so far as to accuse Jacobs of extorting the company.
Hansen’s claims also include the alleged theft of $37 million in raw materials and the trafficking of narcotics by Tesla employees. Meissner Associates is also representing Tripp, who has alleged a variety of flaws in Tesla’s vehicles and has been personally called a “horrible person” by Musk, who accused him of being a “saboteur.”
Musk lamented to Gizmodo what he characterized as inaccurate media reports concerning claims against Tesla and its employees and urged your author to “be fair with the reporting.”
“[B]y fair I’m talking about writing something that accurately represents the core truth. It is far easier and gets more attention if you use salacious headlines, sound bites and make it sound like ‘the truth lies somewhere in the middle’, even when it doesn’t,” he wrote, adding, “That’s how the climate deniers work.”
Update 8/16/18 11:35pm ET: A spokesperson for Tesla replied to Gizmodo’s request for comment with the following statement:
Mr. Hansen’s allegations were taken very seriously when he brought them forward. Some of his claims are outright false. Others could not be corroborated, so we suggested additional investigative steps to try and validate the information he had received second-hand from a single anonymous source. Because we wanted to be sure we got this right, we made numerous attempts to engage further with Mr. Hansen to understand more about what he was claiming and the work that he did in reaching his conclusions. He rejected each of those attempts, and to date has refused to speak with the company further. It seems strange that Mr. Hansen would claim that he is concerned about something happening within the company, but then refuse to engage with the company to discuss the information that he believes he has.
Likewise, Stuart Meissner replied to a request for comment to say that Hansen’s allegations add “to the canvas of a growing picture of disturbing issues taking place at Tesla, demonstrating, at a minimum, a clear lack of Judgment warranting investigation by various regulators.”
He also provided a revised statement which alters some details specific to the drug trafficking claims. The original statement is available here.
Some language has been changed to reflect that the allegations of cell phone data capture at the Nevada Gigafactory were not specific to Tripp.