West and Zampella targeted in employee surveillance operation - firm considered 'mock fire drill and fake fumigation'
Activision CEO Bobby Kotick permitted agents at his company to hack into the emails, voicemail and personal computers of Infinity Ward directors Jason West and Vince Zampella, court documents allege.
In the summer of 2009, as Infinity Ward was at the final stage of production on Modern Warfare 2, Activision’s director of information technology – Thomas Fenady – was instructed to observe and capture files and documents stored on West and Zampella’s computers.
In pre-trial documents filed to a Los Angeles court, it was alleged that Fenady initially expressed reservations about hacking into personal data belonging to fellow employees.
Yet George Rose, Activision’s Chief Legal Officer, is alleged to have told Fenady that the order to hack “comes from Bobby [Kotick] directly”.
Activision’s legal team wanted the details of the hacking operation – called “project Icebreaker” – to be sealed away from public view, arguing that the discussions between Rose and Fenady were protected under an attorney-client privilege.
The documents have been unsealed following objections from West and Zampella’s legal team.
Activision had previously sworn under oath that no hacking operation occurred before 2010, yet Fanady’s own disposition to the court suggests otherwise.
It is believed that the plan to obtain data from West and Zampella via electronic hacking fell through because there were too many safeguards in place.
After the initial plan had scuppered, Fenady asked Activision’s Facilities Department for help gaining physical access to West and Zampella’s computers. Executives discussed staging a fake fumigation and mock fire drill in a bid to get West and Zampella away from their active computers. Cracking passwords was also considered.
Hacking into Infinity Ward’s internet router was also attempted, though Fenady discovered he could not get past the password protection system.
Rose, who Activision Blizzard pays an annual salary of about $540,000, was asked in a previous disposition whether he ordered Fenady to hack into Infinity Ward employees to “dig up dirt”. He responded “absolutely not”.
It was discovered that, during a private Facebook chat with a friend, Fenady said “Activision asked me to dig up dirt on [Jason and Vince] about 6 months prior to COD release, looking for excuses to dump them”.
The revelations were disclosed as West and Zampella prepare to conclude a bitter and public lawsuit with Activision.
The duo were dismissed by Activision in March 2010 for allegedly breaching contract. Zampella and West allege they were wrongfully dismissed, and in a damage claim package are seeking unpaid royalties, IP rights and bonuses thought to be valued at $1 billion.
Activision countersued, branding the two “self-serving schemers”.
Last year Activision disclosed documents that showed EA had been in contact with West and Zampella while they were at Infinity Ward, with a view to hiring the pair.
Electronic Arts, which in 2010 signed a publishing deal with Zampella and West’s new studio, was roped into the lawsuit. Activision sought $400 million from EA over the allegation that it had a hand in dismantling Infinity Ward.
Yesterday the two publishers settled out of court. The settlement fees and details were not disclosed.
This week, Activision paid a number of other Infinity Ward employees $42 million, following a long-delayed dispute over Modern Warfare 2 royalty payments.
As many as 38 development staff – known collectively as the Infinity Ward Employee Group – went on to sue Activision for unpaid royalty payments.
Zampella and West’s lawsuit is still set to go to trial. The court will open May 29th.