If Musk owning Twitter is a security risk, what about Tesla?



Could Elon Musk be saved from the madness of his deal for Twitter Inc. by paranoia? Bloomberg News had a bombshell scoop on Thursday night reporting that Biden administration officials, considering Musk a bit too Russophile, are evaluating security reviews for his various businesses. Space Exploration Technologies Corp., or SpaceX, could be an obvious target, as could the social media platform it’s about to buy. But what about the big kahuna, Tesla Inc.?

It seems far-fetched that this could actually derail the Twitter deal and it’s unclear which agency would even have the power to conduct such a review, though the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, or CFIUS , be cited as an oblique vector. In contrast, Twitter stock is down 5% on Friday morning. And these are paranoid times in the United States. So if the Feds cancel the deal on national security grounds, it could raise the stakes for Musk’s auto company.

Because, as Musk never tires of explaining, Tesla isn’t just a car company. According to him, it is a powerhouse of energy, technology and artificial intelligence all in one. This is the logically adjacent rationale for Tesla’s $650 billion market capitalization. Along with batteries, over-the-air software updates and the growing suite of driver assistance technologies dubbed Autopilot and Full Self Driving, Tesla is touting the development of a humanoid robot called Optimus. Indeed, if Tesla ever cracked self-driving, its cars would essentially be a type of specialized robot.

Autonomous vehicles and AI go hand in hand and have long been of interest to strategic planners around the world. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA, began work on unmanned ground vehicles in the 1980s. In addition to wheels with minds of their own, AI is touching on a growing range of applications, both military and civilian. ; everything from vacuum cleaners to drones. As vehicles become more connected and smarter, they not only become a source of national competitive strength, but also a target of potentially dangerous hacking and mass surveillance. Remember how China banned Teslas from military installations last year?

If all of this sounds a little paranoid, welcome to the United States, where paranoia is a resilient political virus: never dead, sometimes dormant, sometimes virulent. An agency like CFIUS, originally empowered to reject deals in the 1980s when Japan was hyperventilating Washington, is the epitome of paranoia. Two recent and historic laws, the CHIPS and Science Act and the Inflation Reduction Act, are based to varying degrees on the fight against China. Plus, of course, there’s this proxy war with the old adversary, Russia.

It still seems like a stretch to think that Musk’s apparent game-play over Ukraine’s access to Starlink satellite internet service and his discussions with Kremlin officials on Twitter – however morally repugnant – would lead to his being blocked. OK. Again, I don’t know who would even do these reviews. But the question, as so often, is why is Musk taking such unnecessary risk in the first place? His previous fights with the Securities and Exchange Commission and various state and federal traffic safety agencies were entirely self-generated.

Of all the arms of government to be tweaked, the national security complex is probably the most risky. While the endless game of eight-dimensional chess being played on Twitter hints at the possibility that Musk is hoping the cavalry will come to his aid on Twitter, the cavalries tend to overlook a lot of other things. Whether or not that happens here, Musk’s notoriety and fortune are tied to the promise that he will develop and own technologies that will define 21st century life — and geopolitical rivalry. He’s a person of interest for security hawks by default. His Twitter habit, whether financial or simply the expression of his incontinent thumbs, gives them free openings.

More from Bloomberg Opinion:

• Musk Gutting Twitter would be a threat to us all: Tim Culpan

• Musk could use some extra Tesla Mojo right now: Liam Denning

• Elon Musk acts a lot like Henry Ford. Uh-Oh: Stephen Mihm

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This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the Editorial Board or of Bloomberg LP and its owners.

Liam Denning is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist covering energy and commodities. A former investment banker, he was editor of the Heard on the Street section of the Wall Street Journal and a reporter for the Lex section of the Financial Times.

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