Twitter India was forced to hire one or more individuals who were suspected of being agents for the Government of India, according to an allegation in a whistleblower complaint by Peiter Zatko, the social media giant’s former global head of security. A redacted version of the complaint was released by the Washington Post, which broke word of Zatko’s allegations on Tuesday morning.
We have reached out to the Ministry of Electronics & Information Technology, which is the main arm of the government that liaises with social media companies. When contacted by Entrackr, a Twitter spokesperson did not respond to the specific allegation of an Indian government agent working within the company, and instead, shared a statement questioning Zatko’s credibility.
“Mr. Zatko was fired from his senior executive role at Twitter in January 2022 for ineffective leadership and poor performance,” the spokesperson said. “Mr. Zatko’s allegations and opportunistic timing appear designed to capture attention and inflict harm on Twitter, its customers and its shareholders,” the company added, claiming that Zatko’s complaint lacked context, had inaccuracies, and advanced a “false narrative”.
The wide-ranging complaint, submitted to the United States Securities and Exchange Commission, alleged that Twitter had misled the public and lawmakers about the security on its platform, and on the number of automated ‘bot’ accounts it hosted. Zatko said Twitter largely ignored his inputs.
The allegation of the Indian government placing an agent constituted a single paragraph in his complaint. Zatko didn’t share much detail, but told the Washington Post that evidence to support this claim had been shared with US intelligence.
The prospect of India hiring an agent to be on Twitter’s payroll, and potentially report on the company’s internal goings-on, could be a massive instance of state-sponsored corporate espionage. Only one country has been proven to have done this sort of thing at Twitter: two former employees at Twitter were charged with spying for Saudi Arabia by passing on information on dissidents to people close to the kingdom’s rulers.
It is unclear when the employee or employees are believed to have joined Twitter India. The Washington Post reported that the employees were forced into the company during a time of “intense protests,” which may place the hiring sometime during the 2020–21 farmers’ protests. The government had at that time ordered a controversial order to censor several accounts and tweets that included the hashtag #ModiPlanningFarmerGenocide.