Twitter Whistleblower's Senate Hearing Starts with a Bombshell: Company Has Chinese Agent on Payroll


Twitter whistleblower Peiter “Mudge” Zatko is appearing today before the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee to testify about claims that the social media platform has been dangerously loose in its privacy and data security practices.

As the hearing kicked off, the possibility of Twitter having at least one Chinese agent on its payroll was one of the first bombshells discussed.

Zatko is a formerly famous hacker who served as Twitter’s head of security. But he was fired last year.

Twitter said that Zatko was fired for “ineffective leadership and poor performance,”  Reuters reported.

Soon after his firing though, Zatko disclosed massive amounts of information about Twitter practices that may be putting security and private information and data at risk, or even into the hands of foreign intelligence.

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“His disclosures also note that the FBI notified Twitter of at least one Chinese agent in the company,” Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa said in his opening statement during the hearing.

Zatko’s whistleblower disclosure was first submitted to authorities in July. The allegations were reported by CNN and the Washington Post in August.

The information regarding the possibility of a foreign agent being employed at Twitter was one of the most shocking aspects of Zatko’s disclosure.

But at the time of the initial news of Zatko’s claims, it was merely indicated that the U.S. government may have provided Twitter with specific information that at least one of its employees (or several) may have been working for a foreign agency, CNN reported.

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Zatko’s disclosure of this information did not specify what foreign country might be suspected.

But in today’s hearings, more of that information has been laid bare by Grassley’s comments.

“Because of [Zatko’s] disclosures, we’ve learned that personal data from Twitter users was potentially exposed to foreign intelligence agencies,” Grassley said, CNN reported. “For example, his disclosures indicate that India was able to place at least two suspected foreign assets within Twitter. His disclosures also note that the FBI notified Twitter of at least one Chinese agent in the company.”

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Though congressional committees are now wading through this information from Zatko, Twitter has not publicly responded to any of the allegations concerning the possibility of a Chinese agent being employed at Twitter.

However, Twitter has accused Zatko of spreading “false narrative” about the company, CNN reported.

Along with these claims about the possible entanglements of Twitter and foreign intelligence, Zatko also said in the hearing that when he joined Twitter, it was far behind in security standards.

Zatko said that he found “this enormously influential company was over a decade behind” industry security standards and that it was “causing real harm to real people,” CNN reported.

“It’s not far fetched to say a Twitter employee could take over the accounts of all of the senators in this room,” he added.

Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois, who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, has also commented on the gravity of the situation regarding Twitter’s security.

“Twitter is [an] immensely powerful platform that cannot afford gaping security vulnerabilities,” Durbin said, CNN reported.

Bearing this in mind, Grassley also added in the hearing that if Zatko’s allegations are proven true, then Twitter CEO Parag Agrawal must step down.

“I don’t see how Mr. Agrawal can maintain his position at Twitter” (if Zatko’s claims are indeed accurate), Grassley said.

Zatko has continued to claim before the senate committee that he has not made these claims to hurt Twitter.

“I did not make my whistleblower disclosures out of spite or to harm Twitter; far from that. I continue to believe in the mission of the company and root for its success,” Zatko told senators during the hearing, CNN reported. “But that success can only happen if the privacy and security of Twitter’s users and the public are protected.”

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