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The Twitter Whistleblower Says He Didn't Do It for Elon Musk

Peiter Zatko's lawyers said he will comply with Musk's subpoena in the billionaire's suit against Twitter.

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A phone with Elon Musk's Twitter profile is shown against a black background along with a blurred Twitter logo.
It’s unclear whether Peiter Zatko’s information about bots on Twitter will help Musk get out of the deal.
Photo: Chris Delmas / AFP (Getty Images)

Tesla CEO and remorseful Twitter buyer Elon Musk is seizing on the explosive whistleblower complaint lodged against Twitter by its former head of security in an attempt to strengthen the case he’s making to walk away from his $44 billion deal to purchase the social media network.

Lawyers for Peiter Zatko stated late Monday that the former employee had received a subpoena from Musk’s legal team on Saturday and that he intended to comply. According to the Washington Post, which first reported Zatko’s whistleblower complaint along with CNN, the subpoena asks for any documents the former Twitter employee may have related to the alleged jaw-dropping security lapses at the social network, as well as any information about spam, Musk’s favorite topic.

Zatko’s attorneys stressed that he didn’t come forward with his allegations against Twitter in a bid to help Musk.

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“Mr. Zatko will comply with his legal obligations of that subpoena and his appearance at the deposition is involuntary. He did not make his whistleblower disclosures to the appropriate governmental bodies to benefit Musk or to harm Twitter, but rather to protect the American public and Twitter shareholders,” Zatko’s lawyers said in a statement.

In his whistleblower complaint, Zatko claimed that Twitter has no interest in finding out how many spam bots are on its platform. The company has publicly stated that it’s less than 5%, a figure that Musk says is false. The whistleblower also accuses the company of misleading the public about its spam detection systems and portraying them as more sophisticated than they actually are.

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In addition, Musk’s team is seeking details about how Twitter hides its security holes, something Zatko said was common, and insight into allegations that the social network has foreign spies on payroll, which Zatko said happened in India.

Twitter declined to comment on Zatko’s remarks or Musk’s subpoena. The company, for its part, has denied that Zatko’s allegations hold any truth and framed his complaint as a false narrative from a fired employee “riddled with inconsistencies” that “lacks important context.” While Twitter says that Zatko was fired for “ineffective leadership and poor performance” in January of this year, the former security chief maintains that he was fired for raising concerns internally about security at the social media platform.

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It’s unclear whether Zatko’s deposition will help bolster Musk’s case to get out of the deal to buy Twitter. As noted by the Post, although the former Twitter employee talks a big game about bots and Twitter’s supposed lies about them, he has not provided hard evidence to support his claims.

On Monday, Musk’s attorneys sent Twitter another notice to terminate the merger agreement between both parties, according to filings published by the Securities and Exchange Commission on Tuesday. The notice—which essentially stated that they were delivering the notice with additional reasons to scrap the agreement just in case their previous notice wasn’t convincing enough—cited the allegations in Zatko’s complaint.

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In a letter to Musk’s lawyers, Twitter’s lawyers stated that the second notice was “invalid and wrongful.”

“It is based solely on statements made by a third party [Zatko] that, as Twitter has previously stated, are riddled with inconsistencies and inaccuracies and lack important context,” Twitter’s lawyers wrote.Contrary to the assertions in your letter, Twitter has breached none of its representations or obligations under the Agreement, and Twitter has not suffered and is not likely to suffer a Company Material Adverse Effect.”

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Twitter and Musk will face off in court in a five-day trial that begins on Oct. 17 in Delaware court.

Correction: An earlier version of this article spelled the name of Twitter whistleblower Peiter Zatko incorrectly.