House Panel Digs Deep in HP Spy Case
Friday, September 29, 2006
Lawmakers fiercely challenged former Hewlett-Packard Co. chairman Patricia C. Dunn yesterday on her assertion that she did not know about potentially illegal tactics used in the company's spy scandal, while 10 other key figures in the case shunned interrogation by refusing to testify during a congressional hearing.
A total of 14 witnesses, flanked by their lawyers, came before a phalanx of House subcommittee members. Most of the seven hours of questioning was directed at Dunn, who coolly endured accusations that she aided or condoned a widespread surveillance campaign against HP board of directors, journalists and their families.
Despite being confronted with a copy of a memo saying it was "probable" that Dunn had been informed that pretexting -- impersonating people to obtain information -- was necessary to acquire phone records, Dunn repeatedly said she was not aware of the methods investigators used to obtain personal calling records while investigating leaks to the media.
Chief executive Mark V. Hurd, furrowing his brow and peering over his reading glasses, assumed more responsibility while denying knowledge of possible illegal tactics. He admitted that his lack of involvement contributed to an investigation that overreached and damaged the company's reputation.
"This is not my finest hour," he said, adding later, "I should have caught it, I didn't."
The day began with the resignation of HP general counsel Ann O. Baskins, a 24-year veteran of HP who, hours before testimony started, became the sixth major HP executive or board member to resign since HP disclosed early this month that its investigators might have illegally obtained private phone records.
Lawmakers confronted Baskins with handwritten notes, apparently written by her during a phone call or meeting, suggesting that she had encouraged investigators to "[c]all carriers Nextel, Sprint and use pretexts to extract info."
"Now this document and others show that you were aware that HP was engaging in pretexting," said Edward Whitfield (R-Ky.), chairman of the House Energy and Commerce oversight investigations subcommittee.
Baskins declined to answer, citing her Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.
One by one, nine other HP employees and outside contractors also pleaded the Fifth Amendment, remaining silent after being confronted with the most vivid evidence suggesting they knew or should have known about the questionable surveillance activities. Those declining to testify included the main architects of the leak probe, HP's chief ethics director Kevin Hunsaker and global security head Anthony Gentilucci, and six private detectives.
The California attorney general and the FBI are conducting criminal investigations.
Later Dunn, Hurd, HP information technology security head Fred Adler and outside counsel Larry Sonsini sat somberly as subcommittee members chastised and interrupted them for presiding over a probe that led the venerable Silicon Valley company into such unethical behavior as sending bogus information to a reporter, sitting outside of journalists' and board members' homes and, most critically, impersonating people to obtain private phone records.