The United States government is currently poised to outlaw TikTok. Little of the evidence that convinced Congress the app may be a national security threat has been shared publicly, in some cases because it remains classified. But one former TikTok employee turned whistleblower, who claims to have driven key news reporting and congressional concerns about the app, has now come forward.

Zen Goziker worked at TikTok as a risk manager, a role that involved protecting the company from external security and reputational threats. In a wrongful termination lawsuit filed against TikTok’s parent company ByteDance in January, he alleges he was fired in February 2022 for refusing “to sign off” on Project Texas, a $1.5 billion program that TikTok designed to assuage US government security concerns by storing American data on servers managed by Oracle.

Goziker worked at TikTok for only six months. He didn’t hold a senior position inside the company. His lawsuit, and a second one he filed in March against several US government agencies, makes a number of improbable claims. He asserts that he was put under 24-hour surveillance by TikTok and the FBI while working remotely in Mexico. He claims that US attorney general Merrick Garland, director of national intelligence Avril Haines, and other top officials “wickedly instigated” his firing. And he states that the FBI helped the CIA share his private information with foreign governments. The suits do not appear to include evidence for any of these claims.

“This lawsuit is full of outrageous claims that lack merit and comes from an individual who significantly exaggerates his role with a company he worked at for merely six months,” TikTok spokesperson Michael Hughes said in a statement.

Yet court records and emails viewed by WIRED suggest that when Goziker raised the alarm about his ex-employer’s links to China, he found a ready audience. After he was fired, Goziker says he began meeting with elected officials, law enforcement agencies, and journalists to allege that, court documents say, he had discovered proof that TikTok’s software could send US data to Toutiao, a ByteDance app in China. That claim directly conflicted with TikTok executives’ assertions that the two companies operated separately.

Goziker says in court filings that what he saw made it necessary to reassess Project Texas. He also alleges that his account of the internal connection to China formed the basis of an influential Washington Post story published in March last year, which said the concerns came from “a former risk manager at TikTok.”

TikTok officials were quoted in that article as saying the allegations were “unfounded,” and that the employee had discovered “nothing more than a naming convention and technical relic.” The Washington Post said it does not comment on sourcing.

“I am free, I am honest, and I am doing this only because I am an American and because USA desperately need help and I cannot keep this truth away from PUBLIC,” Goziker said in an email to WIRED.

His March lawsuit alleging US officials conspired with TikTok to have him fired was filed against Garland, Haines, Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas, and the agencies they work for.

“Goziker’s main point is that the executives in the American company TikTok Inc. and certain executives from the American federal government have colluded to organize a fraud scheme,” Sean Jiang, Goziker’s lawyer in the case against the US government, told WIRED in an email. The lawsuits do not appear to contain evidence of such a scheme. The Department of Homeland Security and Office of the Director of National Intelligence did not respond to requests for comment. The Department of Justice declined to comment.

Jiang calls the House’s recent passage of a bill that could force ByteDance to sell off TikTok “problematic,” because it “blames ByteDance instead of TikTok Inc for the wrongdoings of the American executives.” He says Goziker would prefer to see TikTok subjected to audits and a new corporate structure.

Goziker shared records with WIRED showing that as he sought to share his concerns about TikTok, he scheduled meetings with officials from the DHS, FBI, and the Tennessee Attorney General’s office. He also purported to have met with staff in the offices of several US senators, including Missouri Republican Josh Hawley, Iowa Republican Chuck Grassley, and Virginia Democrat Mark Warner, who chairs the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.

Hawley and Warner each introduced separate legislation last year that would have allowed the US government to ban TikTok, and all three senators have voiced support for the more recent TikTok bill that already passed the House. (Hawley has expressed skepticism that it would get through the Senate.) Representatives for the senators did not respond to requests for comment about whether their staff have met with Goziker. The FBI declined to comment and a representative for the Tennessee Attorney General did not respond to a request for comment.

Jeremy Daum, a scholar at the Paul Tsai China Center at Yale Law School, says he wasn’t surprised that US authorities may have been willing to engage with Goziker. Lawmakers have grown increasingly worried about threats from China despite a lack of clear evidence that TikTok poses a unique security threat compared to other internet platforms. “It’s just incredibly easy to get people to focus on China these days,” he says. “I’ve never seen a smoking gun about TikTok.”

Goziker, who has sometimes used the first name Gene instead of Zen, started working as a risk manager at TikTok in August of 2021, reporting to the senior director of operations. Goziker says in court filings that he joined TikTok from the National Bank of Pakistan, where he worked as a senior vice president in charge of enterprise risk management for its Americas’ operations. In court filings, he says that he was born in Ukraine in 1978 and started his career at Citibank after receiving a graduate degree from the London School of Economics and Political Science in 2006.

Despite not holding a senior position, Goziker claims that his main job at TikTok was “overseeing” Project Texas to ensure the social media app’s plan to secure US user data would be effective. The goal was to implement a set of safeguards that would satisfy the ​​Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, an interagency body charged with evaluating national security risks associated with foreign firms acquiring or taking major stakes in US companies. CFIUS has the power to force companies to unwind deals it considers risky, and since 2019 has been investigating ByteDance’s 2017 purchase of a lip-syncing app called Musical.ly, which was later merged into TikTok.

Goziker claims that he interviewed more than three dozen people at TikTok and ByteDance about Project Texas, according to court filings. He says that he identified flaws in the initiative that led him to refuse to “sign off” on it, despite alleged pressure from his manager and other executives at the company. Goziker tried to flag his concerns to TikTok’s top leadership, including the CEO and board of directors, according to court records.

Goziker alleges in court filings that he found evidence TikTok’s software could send data to China in January of 2022—weeks before he was fired. He claims in the filings that through “collaborative and willful joint effort with ByteDance engineers from mainland China,” he obtained “a verified artifact” in TikTok’s software that connected the platform to Toutiao, a popular Chinese news aggregation app also owned by ByteDance. Goziker said that his findings demonstrated US data from TikTok could still flow to the People’s Republic, despite TikTok’s assertions to the contrary. The filings do not contain detailed documentary evidence of his allegations.

In March last year, two weeks after Goziker’s claims appeared in The Washington Post, TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew appeared before Congress and got a grilling about his app’s links to China. Afterward, US representatives Jan Schakowsky, a Democrat, and Cathy McMorris Rodgers, a Republican, each sent questions to TikTok about the claims aired in the Post story.

TikTok responded by saying that many of the allegations in the article were unfounded. It stated that the reference to Toutiao in TikTok’s code “does not in any way indicate a correlation between, integration of, or network connectivity between Toutiao and TikTok,” adding that the “Toutiao news application cannot interfere with TikTok data flows once Project Texas is complete.”

In the lawsuits and an email record reviewed by WIRED, Goziker revealed that he had also been in touch with a Forbes journalist who has written a number of influential stories about TikTok’s data security practices and links to ByteDance. In June of 2022, when the journalist worked at BuzzFeed News, they published an article based on 80 internal meetings at TikTok in which nine different employees reportedly made statements “indicating that engineers in China had access to US data between September 2021 and January 2022.”

Goziker asserted to WIRED that he was the source of the recordings. Forbes told WIRED it does not comment on sourcing.

Senator Warner and Senator Marco Rubio, a Republican and the vice chair of the Senate Select Intelligence Committee, later cited that BuzzFeed story in a letter urging the Federal Trade Commission to start an investigation into TikTok. Politico reported this month that the agency heeded that call and opened a probe into whether the app “deceived its users by denying that individuals in China had access to their data.”

As Goziker was filing his lawsuits, US lawmakers were getting closer to banning the app than ever before. The House of Representatives approved a bill last month that would force ByteDance to sell off TikTok within six months before the app would become illegal to download from US app stores. The legislation is now being considered by the Senate, and President Joe Biden has already said he would sign it into law.

Updated 4/4/2024, 6:15 pm EDT: The House passed the bill that would force ByteDance to sell TikTok with a clear majority, but not unanimously.