Between the Lines Of HP's Spy Scandal

By Ellen Nakashima
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, September 28, 2006

Hewlett-Packard Co.'s media-leak investigation went forward despite warnings from HP security personnel that the tactics used were "probably illegal" and should be stopped, according to documents collected for today's congressional hearing on the scandal.

In February, HP global security investigator Vince Nye told a Boston colleague working with him on the leak probe that he had "serious reservations" about how they were obtaining phone-record information in an internal probe to ferret out the source of media leaks.

He said he thought the method, impersonating someone else to trick the phone company into providing call data, "is very unethical at the least and probably illegal."

"I am requesting that we cease this phone number gathering method immediately and discount any of its information," Nye wrote in a Feb. 7 e-mail to Anthony Gentilucci, one of four members of the internal investigative team reporting to HP's legal department. Nye sent a copy of the e-mail to Kevin Hunsaker, then HP's chief ethics director, who supervised the probe.

How and why top management failed to heed the warning are among the questions members of the House Energy and Commerce oversight and investigations subcommittee want answered at today's hearing. More than a dozen key figures, including chief executive Mark V. Hurd and former chairman Patricia C. Dunn are scheduled to appear to explain how their media-leak probe morphed into an elaborate spying operation that targeted board members and journalists.

The hearing was fueled by concerns about how private citizens' phone records were illegally accessed. On a deeper level, analysts and lawmakers said, the issue is one of corporate ethics and how HP's leaders could let an internal probe go so awry.

Dunn, in a statement submitted to the committee for today's testimony, strongly defended her handling of the leak investigation, which started in 2005. She distanced herself from its operational aspects, saying: "I did not at any point consider myself its 'supervisor.' ''

Dunn professed not to know that illegal tactics were used. At some point in spring 2005, Dunn said she became aware from Ronald DeLia, a Boston contractor who had done investigative work for HP for eight or nine years, that phone records were being obtained as a "standard component" of internal investigations.

"The clear impression I had from Mr. DeLia was that such records could be obtained from publicly available sources in a legal and appropriate manner," she said.

Dunn, who left the company Friday, said both she and Hurd were aware of a planned e-mail sting operation on a reporter conducted in February in an attempt to flush out the reporter's source of company information. She said she was assured that this was "a legal and common investigative technique" and so referred it to Hurd for the final decision.

Dunn's remarks contrasted with a more contrite statement from Hurd to the committee for today's testimony. In it, he apologized to the nine journalists, two current HP employees, and seven former or current HP board members and their families whose phone records were to varying degrees obtained under false pretenses, a practice known as pretexting.

"How did such an abuse of privacy occur?" he wrote. "It's an age-old story. The ends came to justify the means."

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