The HP Saga: Investigation “Notable for a Lack of Close Supervision”

18 Sep ’06

Much more from the NYT’s team on the HP saga. Overview:

A secret investigation of news leaks at Hewlett-Packard was more elaborate than previously reported, and almost from the start involved the illicit gathering of private phone records and direct surveillance of board members and journalists, according to people briefed on the company’s review of the operation.

The effort received some degree of supervision from three officials — Patricia C. Dunn, the company’s chairwoman, along with its general counsel and another staff attorney — but was quickly farmed out to a network of private investigative firms early last year, according to descriptions of the findings. It is still unclear how much they knew of the details.

Some particularly notable new details (all of these are literally or almost literally extracted from the NYT story, and of course all appear to demonstrate that HP is still leaky as a sieve):

  • Detectives tried to plant software on at least one journalist’s computer that would enable messages to be traced. Representing themselves as an anonymous tipster, the detectives e-mailed a document to a CNET reporter, according to those briefed on the review. The e-mail was embedded with software that was supposed to trace who the document was forwarded to. The software did not work, however, and the reporter never wrote any story based on the bogus document.
  • People briefed on Hewlett-Packard’s review of its internal investigation say that it was authorized by Ms. Dunn, the chairwoman, and put under the supervision of Kevin Hunsaker, a senior counsel who is the company’s director of ethics. But it is not clear what level of supervision he gave to the project.
  • The company’s review reveals that the investigation by its detectives was notable for a lack of close supervision by company officials.
  • The company asked Security Outsourcing Solutions, a detective firm hired in its investigation, for a legal opinion. The opinion was supplied by John Kiernan of Bonner Kiernan Trebach & Crociata, a Boston firm that shares an address and phone number with Security Outsourcing Solutions (more on this connection in my last post on this story).
  • The company has identified one of two employees who it said had been a target of scrutiny in the internal operation. It said the private phone records of the employee, Michael Moeller, director of corporate media relations, were taken. Robert Sherbin, Hewlett-Packard’s vice president for external communications and Mr. Moeller’s boss, said yesterday, “Investigators’ suspicions were misdirected and were unfounded.”
  • Executives and lawyers in the company’s Palo Alto, Calif., headquarters remained in the dark even after a summary report was produced for them about each of the two phases of the operation, according to those briefed on the company’s review. Neither of the reports, they said, outlined the methods used. There were discussions of phone numbers and calls in the report. But it is not clear why that fact apparently did not raise alarm among any Hewlett-Packard lawyers about the means used to gain the information.

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