Elon Musk Claims Twitter Forced Whistleblower to Burn Evidence

10 handwritten notebooks and more than 100 electronic documents were all allegedly destroyed, as part of Peiter "Mudge" Zatko's severance deal.

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Peiter Zatko testified in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee in September, after the former Twitter exec released a 200 page letter documenting his past employer’s alleged security failings.
Peiter Zatko testified in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee in September, after the former Twitter exec released a 200 page letter documenting his past employer’s alleged security failings.
Photo: Jacquelyn Martin (AP)

The Twitter v. Musk lawsuit may be on hold for now, but information about the stayed case continues to emerge. In the latest revelation, the billionaire’s legal team accused the social media company of making its former executive (and current whistleblower) Peiter “Mudge” Zatko destroy documentation of his time at Twitter, including evidence of the company’s security faults.

Getting rid of the documents was allegedly a condition of the $7.8 million severance package that Zatko received in June. He spent about a year as the company’s security chief before being fired.

“Twitter negotiated a unique ‘severance package’ with Mr. Zatko in June 2022 that was plainly intended to procure Mr. Zatko’s silence and prevent him from coming forward with his whistleblower disclosures,” wrote Edward B. Micheletti, one of Musk’s lawyers, in an October 3 court filing, which was unsealed on Monday.

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“In addition to making a severance payment far greater than typical for other former executives, Twitter required Mr. Zatko to agree, as a condition to payment, to return or destroy all documents in his possession containing Twitter information—an instruction that once again differed from Twitter’s ordinary course severance agreements requiring an employee simply to ‘return’ such documents,” the attorney continued.

Specifically, Zatko said that he burned 10 handwritten notebooks containing information from meetings with Twitter execs and deleted more than 100 electronic documents, according to the legal filing.

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Zatko’s whistleblower complaint has now become central to Musk’s claims that Twitter violated the original terms of their embattled acquisition agreement, because of the number of bots on the platform. The ex-exec testified in front of Congress and was deposed in the ongoing Twitter/Musk case, after being subpoenaed. The document destruction was supposedly disclosed during that testimony.

Beyond outlining the alleged book burning, Micheletti’s letter also claims that such a severance clause is illegal, based on the 2011 Federal Trade Commission Consent Order against Twitter (as well as another 2022 decree). The FTC previously ordered the social media company to maintain any documents contradictory to the company’s data management and privacy claims for five years. As a result, Musk’s legal team requested that the court sanction the company, and produce “all documents and communications relating to Mr. Zatko’s termination, severance agreement, and instruction to destroy documents.”

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Twitter did not immediately respond to Gizmodo’s questions or request for comment about the Oct. 3 letter. The company sued Musk back in July for attempting to back out of his $44 billion deal to purchase the platform.

Most recently, the Tesla CEO offered to go through with the deal, at the original price, if Twitter would be willing to cease all legal proceedings against him. The company didn’t accept that offer, and for now, the case is stayed and the trial has been delayed until October 28—pending a deal. Yet the twists and turns keep coming.