Elon Musk has accused a Tesla employee of "extensive and damaging sabotage" including making "direct code changes" to the company's manufacturing system under false usernames and passing highly sensitive data to unknown third parties.
In a company-wide email sent a few minutes before midnight on Sunday, and obtained by CNBC, Musk wrote that the so-far-unnamed employee has admitted to his acts, and that he said he had carried out this sabotage as a form of payback after being passed over for a position.
However, the Tesla and SpaceX boss added the saboteur may not have been working alone: "As you know, there are a long list of organisations that want Tesla to die" before urging his employees to be "extremely vigilant".
"The full extent of his actions are not yet clear, but what he has admitted to so far is pretty bad. His stated motivation is that he wanted a promotion that he did not receive. In light of these actions, not promoting him was definitely the right move," wrote Musk in the email.
"However, there may be considerably more to this situation than meets the eye, so the investigation will continue in depth this week. We need to figure out if he was acting alone or with others at Tesla and if he was working with any outside organisations."
The employee is now being investigated for corporate espionage.
Musk also took the opportunity to drive home production goals that he stated two days earlier in his correspondence with staff when he had called for an increase in production numbers.
"All parts of the Model 3 production system are now above 500 and some are almost at 700 cars already. Congratulations to all on making so much progress!" he wrote.
He went on to say however that "radical improvements" were needed to "achieve sustained, 700+ per week on the body line".
"Looking forward to having a great week with you as we charge up the super exciting ramp to 5000 Model 3 cars per week!" wrote Musk.
"Will follow this up with emails every few days describing the progress and challenges of the Model 3 ramp."
Musk previously looked into the possibility of sabotage in 2016, when a Space X rocket exploded just before an engine test.
In that case, Musk believed that the saboteur was possibly from United Launch Alliance (ULA), the Washington Post later reported, as Space X employees said a concerning shadow and unidentifiable white object were seen on the company's roof during the test.
Musk also tweeted at the time: "Particularly trying to understand the quieter bang sound a few seconds before the fireball goes off. May come from rocket or something else."
ULA refused SpaceX access to its roof to investigate, but an independent team from the Air Force found no evidence of any tampering or questionable actions.
On Monday night, Musk confirmed on Twitter that a tent had been pitched at Tesla's facility in Freemont to house a new production line for the company's Model 3 vehicles.
The company started taking orders for the Model 3 in late February, and despite reports of problems Tesla has said it expects to reach volume by September.
Musk sent a separate email as well to employees informing them of a "small fire" on Sunday at a company facility.
That was attributed to a "smouldering in an air filter in the welding area of the body line".
There were no injuries and "the smouldering was extinguished in a matter of seconds", said the company, not revealing where the fire broke out.
"Please be on the alert for anything that's not in the best interests of our company," noted Musk in that email.
It is not known if the alleged saboteur is part of the 9 per cent of the company's workforce that was being laid off, a cut that did not impact Model # production workers.
Tesla's profitability depends on its Model 3 output, which is intended for mass production.
In the wake of Musk's email being leaked, Tesla's stock price slipped 53 cents to US$370.30 in after-hours trading on Monday.
Elon Musk accuses 'rogue employee' of sabotage
Subject: Some concerning news
June 17, 2018
I was dismayed to learn this weekend about a Tesla employee who had conducted quite extensive and damaging sabotage to our operations. This included making direct code changes to the Tesla Manufacturing Operating System under false usernames and exporting large amounts of highly sensitive Tesla data to unknown third parties.
The full extent of his actions are not yet clear, but what he has admitted to so far is pretty bad. His stated motivation is that he wanted a promotion that he did not receive. In light of these actions, not promoting him was definitely the right move.
However, there may be considerably more to this situation than meets the eye, so the investigation will continue in depth this week. We need to figure out if he was acting alone or with others at Tesla and if he was working with any outside organizations.
As you know, there are a long list of organizations that want Tesla to die. These include Wall Street short-sellers, who have already lost billions of dollars and stand to lose a lot more. Then there are the oil & gas companies, the wealthiest industry in the world — they don't love the idea of Tesla advancing the progress of solar power & electric cars. Don't want to blow your mind, but rumour has it that those companies are sometimes not super nice. Then there are the multitude of big gas/diesel car company competitors. If they're willing to cheat so much about emissions, maybe they're willing to cheat in other ways?
Most of the time, when there is theft of goods, leaking of confidential information, dereliction of duty or outright sabotage, the reason really is something simple like wanting to get back at someone within the company or at the company as a whole. Occasionally, it is much more serious.
Please be extremely vigilant, particularly over the next few weeks as we ramp up the production rate to 5k/week. This is when outside forces have the strongest motivation to stop us.
If you know of, see or suspect anything suspicious, please send a note to [email address removed for privacy] with as much info as possible. This can be done in your name, which will be kept confidential, or completely anonymously.
Looking forward to having a great week with you as we charge up the super exciting ramp to 5000 Model 3 cars per week!
Will follow this up with emails every few days describing the progress and challenges of the Model 3 ramp.
Thanks for working so hard to make Tesla successful,