HP CEO Allowed 'Sting' of Reporter

By Ellen Nakashima and Yuki Noguchi
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, September 21, 2006

Hewlett-Packard Co. chief executive Mark V. Hurd approved an elaborate "sting" operation on a reporter in February in an attempt to plug leaks to the media, according to an e-mail message sent by HP Chairman Patricia C. Dunn.

The document, one of more than two dozen e-mails obtained by The Washington Post, for the first time links Hurd to an internal investigation of media leaks that has led to criminal probes and will be the subject of a congressional hearing next week.

Internal e-mails show senior HP employees who were given the task of identifying anonymous news sources concocted a fictitious, high-level HP tipster who sent bogus information to a San Francisco reporter in an attempt to trick her into revealing her sources.

The e-mail sting operation, which was part of a wide-ranging two-part HP investigation that began in March 2005 and ended in May 2006, is the latest in a series of deceptive and possibly illegal tactics that reveal the lengths to which HP went to spy on people inside and outside the company to protect its image and secrets.

HP's leak investigation involved planting false documents, following HP board members and journalists, watching their homes, and obtaining calling records for hundreds of phone numbers belonging to HP directors, journalists and their spouses, according to a consultant's report and the e-mails.

The e-mail operation demonstrated an intense degree of attention by Dunn, who often sent messages via a BlackBerry device, and by senior HP executives attempting to cultivate and trick a news reporter to find the identity of her source. A Hewlett-Packard spokesman declined to comment on the revelations or make Hurd or Dunn available for an interview.

None of the e-mails reviewed by The Post were to or from Hurd, nor do they detail what information Hurd had when he approved the sting operation.

A corporate spying effort this broad and orchestrated has never before been exposed, experts said.

"If you'd laid this out as a science fiction story, it'd be hard to believe it's true," said Ari Schwartz, deputy director of the Center for Democracy & Technology, a District-based privacy watchdog group.

It was unclear whether the e-mail sting operation involved illegal tactics, experts said, but federal and state authorities have launched probes into the legality of HP's methods.

On Sept. 28, Dunn and several other HP executives are scheduled to testify before the House Energy and Commerce investigative subcommittee about their roles in the spy probe. The hearing is part of an inquiry led by committee Chairman Joe Barton (R-Tex.) into the techniques Hewlett-Packard used.

California Attorney General Bill Lockyer said last week that he had enough evidence to issue indictments against people inside and outside HP. The spying scandal erupted into public view this month after it was revealed that board member Thomas J. Perkins had resigned in protest months ago after learning that his personal phone records had been obtained under false pretenses.

CONTINUED     1           >

© 2006 The Washington Post Company