Elon Musk Levels Accusations of Criminal Behavior Via Twitter

Just when you think you’ve seen everything, someone comes along and uses social media in a way that leaves you opened mouthed in astonishment. This week, that someone was SpaceX CEO Elon Musk. The social medium he used was Twitter. And what he did was accuse a United States Air Force officer of accepting a bribe of a job from a major defense contractor to steer a launch contract to United Launch Alliance.

Now, let that sink in for a moment. Apparently, disputes over contract awards will now be aired not just in court but in social media where allegations of serious criminal wrongdoing will be broadcast in 140-character bursts.

That wouldn’t be so bad if Musk had put forth some convincing evidence. Instead, he linked to a news story that raises questions of propriety about the USAF officer in question, but falls fall short of proving any of the claims made against him and the company that allegedly offered the bribe.

What would be convincing is any evidence showing any collusion between the officer and the company. Musk speculation that there must have been a quid pro quo is not sufficient at this point.

Is there any evidence that the officer was doing anything other than following the USAF’s cautious policy of moving slowly in allowing new entrants to bid on defense launches? Did he set that policy himself? Was the policy based on his interest in monetary gain, or other factors such as not moving away from proven, if expensive, launch vehicles until new ones had flown sufficiently?

If there’s actual evidence of wrong doing, then it should be aired and thoroughly investigated. If people are guilty, they should be punished accordingly. But, making accusations of this magnitude is a very serious matter. Such charges can leave a stain on the character and reputations of those involved even if they are later exonerated from any wrongdoing.

A few years ago, SpaceX sued a safety expert on ground that he had trashed the company while simultaneously seeking a consultant contract with it. The main evidence seemed to be that the expert had tried to confirm a rumor a first-stage anomaly during a Falcon 9 flight.

The matter was eventually settled out of court with no admission of wrong doing on the part of safety expert. But, the man had to defend himself on court, and his name will be forever associated with a claim of malfeasance that SpaceX could not prove. In the process, the company sent a warning to anyone else who might dare question it that a court date could await them.