Former Tesla technician Martin Tripp told Jalopnik on Thursday that he’s lawyering up and plans to file a countersuit against the automaker, which accused him on Tuesday of stealing reams of confidential data and making false claims to news outlets. That’s all to say nothing of his heated, headline-grabbing email exchange with CEO Elon Musk.
Tripp said he has been dealing with a sudden onslaught of attention over the past 48 hours, after Tesla filed an explosive lawsuit on Tuesday that accused him of secretly leaking documents to news organizations and then exaggerating the claims that he made.
In that time, he sparked a wild exchange by email with Musk, who called him a “horrible person,” and, after someone alluded to where he lives in an article online, he said he has since fled to a hotel, where he’s been camped out with his family since.
“They’re out to get me,” Tripp told Jalopnik in a near half-hour interview by phone.
Tripp’s also fearful following a separate accusation from Tesla, which said Thursday that it was beefing up security at the Gigafactory in Nevada, after receiving an alleged report that Tripp had threatened to “shoot up” the plant. Tripp said the claim is bogus, and the local county sheriff’s office investigated the matter and found no credible threat.
The lawsuit filed Tuesday accuses Tripp, a former technician at Tesla’s Gigafactory in Nevada, of unlawfully hacking into “the company’s confidential and trade secret information and transferred that information to third parties.”
“Tesla has only begun to understand the full scope of Tripp’s illegal activity, but he has thus far admitted to writing software that hacked Tesla’s manufacturing operating system (‘MOS’) and to transferring several gigabytes of Tesla data to outside entities,” the lawsuit says.
But Tripp told Jalopnik he leaked the information to news outlet Business Insider because he was genuinely fearful of cars with allegedly faulty batteries being shipped. Earlier this month, BI reported that a mis-programmed robot that handles battery modules had punctured through the plastic housing and into some battery cells. The story relies on documents provided by Tripp. (Tesla disputes his claims in the suit, and said Thursday that no punctured cells were used in Model 3 vehicles. Tesla said that investigators in February 2018 examined battery cells, after a robot damaged some modules being produced at the factory, and added that any punctured cells were tossed.)
But in the interview, Tripp was adamant about the punctured cells, and offered up a specific number of cars he claims are driving around with them.
“I was able to determine that 732 of those modules are in Model 3 cars driving around right now, with the possibility... that [they have punctured cells,” he told Jalopnik.
On Wednesday, CNN reported that Tripp had spoken with several news outlets about his claims, but none had yet to report on his information, while the Washington Post confirmed his role as the source for Business Insider’s stories. Asked about the discrepancy, Tripp said that CNN misconstrued his remarks, (which clears up an earlier point we had raised).
Tesla’s suit also claims that Tripp admitted to taking confidential photos and videos of Tesla’s manufacturing systems with internal investigators, and also allegedly confessed to “writing software that hacked Tesla’s MOS and to transferring several gigabytes of confidential and proprietary Tesla data to entities outside the company.”
Tripp told Jalopnik that he admitted to obtaining information from Tesla’s MOS and sending it to Business Insider, but said it required no hacking.
Tripp acknowledged that he provided information from Tesla’s MOS to Business Insider, but said that there was no “hacking” involved; he claimed that he simply queried the database to provide verification of his claims to the reporter.
“I was pulling database queries,” he said, adding: “I do not know how to write code. I do not now how to hack.” But any suggestion that he tried to lure in additional sources at Gigafactory is outright false, he said.
“There’s some half truth to [the allegations about what was said in the meetings,” he said. “I did disseminate information. To me it’s all very true information. So to me, I had to get it out. It was too important not to.”
Tripp said he’s still looking for a lawyer and had spent all day Thursday trying to secure one. His plan is to file a counter-lawsuit against Tesla that asks for significantly higher damages than what Tesla lays out in its complaint, he said.
“It’s going to be for a lot more than what they’re asking from me,” he asid. “A lot more.”
And when the case proceeds to trial, Tripp said, he’ll be ready for it.
“I’m looking forward to the lawsuit,” he said.