Elon Musk warns Tesla staff about a possible saboteur in their ranks

19 Jun 2018

Elon Musk in Hollywood. Image: Kathy Hutchins/Shutterstock

Sometimes, the truth is stranger than fiction.

Tesla’s billionaire CEO Elon Musk has warned staff that there might be a saboteur in their ranks responsible for a factory fire, changing code and sending secrets outside the organisation.

It sounds like the stuff of a Hollywood movie, but it seems Musk is deadly serious. He is pinpointing the blame at a male member of staff who was apparently disgruntled about not receiving a promotion.

‘His stated motivation is that he wanted a promotion that he did not receive’

Beware of malcontents

According to Reuters, Musk emailed a number of staff on Sunday night (17 June) warning of an individual that has conducted “quite extensive and damaging sabotage” to Tesla’s operations, including changing code in the company’s manufacturing systems and exporting data to third parties outside the company.

“The full extent of his actions are not yet clear, but what he has admitted to so far is pretty bad,” Musk wrote.

“His stated motivation is that he wanted a promotion that he did not receive.”

It is understood the third parties that Musk believes the employee was siphoning data to are traditional “big gas/diesel car company competitors”. He added: “If they’re willing to cheat so much about emissions, maybe they’re willing to cheat in other ways?”

In another email sent on Monday (18 June), Musk warned of more possible sabotage in the form of a factory fire.

It is understood that Musk’s hackles have been up ever since a SpaceX rocket exploded while being fuelled for an engine test in 2016.

The latest developments might sound like something out of a fiction novel but corporate espionage is nothing new and companies have been known to stoop to everything from bin diving and hacking to compromising employees in order to glean secrets.

It comes at a time when the stakes have never been greater for Tesla. The company is in the midst of making sweeping layoffs and it is under pressure to produce 5,000 Model 3 electric vehicles per week to break even and ensure profitability.

Elon Musk in Hollywood. Image: Kathy Hutchins/Shutterstock

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years