“The forces arrayed against us are many and incredibly powerful,” Musk wrote in a different email, sent to Tesla employees in February 2017 after a former production worker wrote in detail on Medium about the company’s working conditions—long hours, “excessive mandatory overtime,” a shortage of manpower, and frequent injuries. “This is David vs. Goliath if David were six inches tall!” Musk said.
Musk considered “outside forces” in 2016, when a SpaceX rocket exploded on the launchpad as it fueled up for an engine test. The company examined seriously the possibility of sabotage in its investigation of the incident. “We literally thought someone had shot the rocket,” Musk said in an interview with Christian Davenport, a Washington Post reporter, published in Davenport’s 2018 book, The Space Barons: Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, and the Quest to Colonize the Cosmos.“We found things that looked like bullet holes, and we calculated that someone with a high-powered rifle, if they had shot the rocket in the right location, the exact same thing would have happened.”
SpaceX even got the U.S. government involved. “[W]e put pressure on the Air Force and the [Federal Aviation Administration] to go collect whatever forensic data was possible,” Gwynne Shotwell, the president and CEO of SpaceX, told Davenport. “The first thing you do is think it’s some outside force, right. Because we couldn’t figure out how in the world this could have happened.”
Eventually, SpaceX engineers determined the cause of the explosion was a problem with a pressure vessel in a liquid oxygen tank on the rocket’s upper stage. The feds ruled out sabotage, too.
In moments of perceived nefariousness, Musk usually asks his employees for their attentiveness for future threats. He did the same this week. “Please be extremely vigilant, particularly over the next few weeks as we ramp up the production rate to 5k/week,” he wrote in the email to his employees. “This is when outside forces have the strongest motivation to stop us.”
Worker safety at Tesla has been the subject of several investigations in last year, including by BuzzFeed, The Guardian, and the Center for Investigative Reporting. Musk has emphasized that employees have several outlets for their vigilance besides the press, encouraging them to bring concerns to their managers, safety representatives at the company, or the human-resources department. If employees want to be anonymous, they can register their notes through something called the Integrity Hotline. Musk referred to it in his email to staff in 2017, saying the resource “applies broadly to any problems you notice at our company.”
The hotline’s name fits nicely with Musk’s philosophy on employee loyalty, or lack thereof. Integrity: “adherence to moral and ethical principles; soundness of moral character; honesty.” The name reads like a warning. It automatically bestows any incoming concerns with the benefit of belief. Complaints made elsewhere—in the press, in lawsuits, in the handling of sensitive information, true or false—won’t get the same treatment.