September 19, 2006 8:45 PM PDT

HP targeted reporters before they published

Hewlett-Packard's surveillance of CNET News.com reporters began before a key story was published and, following that story, expanded to include bogus e-mail tips and physical surveillance, government investigators have told the reporters involved.

HP began tracking the phone records of CNET News.com reporter Dawn Kawamoto on Jan. 17, Kawamoto said she was told on Tuesday. That was about a week after a January strategy meeting for directors and executives, but six days before News.com published its Jan. 23 story about the meeting.

News.com reporter Tom Krazit also was told by investigators that his personal phone records were accessed on Jan. 20, the same day he called HP spokesman Robert Sherbin for comment about the board meeting. In records provided by HP to government investigators regarding its leak hunt, there is a notation that says Krazit made a "call to BS (presumably Sherbin) for comment." The story was published three days later.

It has been widely thought that HP reignited and intensified a nearly yearlong leak probe after that story published, but the account given to Krazit and Kawamoto suggests HP had in place the means to quickly track down private phone records before publication of that or other articles.

Sherbin, HP's vice president of external communications, said Tuesday evening that he does not recall whom he notified about his conversation with Krazit, but had been asked some time earlier to flag other HP officials of potential news leaks. It's not clear how news of Sherbin's conversation with Krazit reached HP's investigators, nor is it clear what prompted HP to target Kawamoto before the story was published.

HP has come under fire for for employing the legally questionable practice of "pretexting," or obtaining personal information under false pretenses. HP has said the personal phone records of board members, two HP employees, nine journalists, including three CNET News.com reporters, and an unknown number of other people were accessed by investigators hired by the company to look into news leaks.

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California's Attorney General Bill Lockyer said in a television interview last week that his office believes it has enough information to bring charges against people both inside and outside the company. Charges could come within a week, according to a spokesman for Lockyer, although there is no set timetable.

The Wall Street Journal cited internal HP e-mail on its Web site late Tuesday night that indicated HP Chairman Patricia Dunn and General Counsel Ann Baskins helped direct the company's board-leak investigation as early as summer 2005, including planning and execution of many steps of the probe. The Journal reported that the investigation reached a new phase in January, referred to in e-mails as KONA II.

The firestorm of controversy led to HP's announcement last week that Dunn would step down as chairman in January and turn over that job to CEO Mark Hurd. Dunn will remain a director. Director George Keyworth resigned from the board. Venture capitalist Tom Perkins also quit the board earlier this year to protest the investigation.

CONTINUED: Bogus e-mail tip…
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Dawn Kawamoto, Patricia Dunn, reporter, Bill Lockyer, HP

9 comments

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Wonderful timing on Business Hall of Fame
"On Wednesday night, Dunn is expected to be inducted into the Bay
Area Business Hall of Fame by the Bay Area Council, a local
business and civic organization."

I expect the Bay Area Council is working hard to maintain a stiff
upper lip on this one. How long ago was the selection made?
Posted by pencoyd (82 comments )
Reply Link Flag
No, that's a typo -- surely it means....
Hall of Shame. It just couldn't be anything else. I'm sure CNET will correct that shortly.
Posted by giggles (46 comments )
Link Flag
What's Next, A Slush Fund? Poison Cigars?
So HP assembles a bunch of "plumbers" to plug a news "leak". It feels like Watergate all over again. All that is missing is a slush fund of unmarked small bills, and some poison cigars. Oh sorry, that was another well meaning but misguided effort.
Posted by CancerMan2 (74 comments )
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Dunn still a director
Given the coverage this story is getting, I find it hard to believe Dunn is still employed by HP. You'd think that at the very least, she'd be on "indefinite administrative leave."
Posted by Paul Schantz (11 comments )
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C|Net journalists: a request...
When this all blows over, I'd love to see an in-depth article about the personal experiences and opinions of the affected C|Net journalists. What do you think?
Posted by Paul Schantz (11 comments )
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HP's leak investigation
Yes - it would be nice to read the reporters experience with this. It would also be nice to read of the reporters winning a few civil suits against HP
Posted by Barbara-five (2 comments )
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HP's leak investigation
Yes - it would be nice to read the reporters experience with this. It would also be nice to read of the reporters winning a few civil suits against HP
Posted by Barbara-five (2 comments )
Link Flag
Where are the ethics
Its dismaying to read an article where "pretexting" is described as a "legally questionalbe behavior". At best its fraud, plain and simple, pretending to be someone you're not for the purpose of getting their personal data. At worst its well beyond that, and the fact that we are willing to consider such behavior as "questionable" and not just plain illegal speaks volumes as to how far down hill our values have gone.
Posted by khammerberg (4 comments )
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Removing the Veil of the Corporation
It is amazing how the HP sewage widens every so more as time goes on, but the HP board members who were involved in this unethical, illegal, and immoral acts are still loose in public, even being awarded for the Business Hall of Fame. What a joke!

Now, I understand there is a seldom used legal tactic called "removing the veil of the corporation". If the judge rules that this veil is to be removed, the board of directors and any HP employees involved in these despicable acts could be held personally liable, both civilly and criminally. Basically, the protection of the corporation is removed because the individuals involved purposefully engaged in acts despite being advised not to, in essence demonstrating that they willfully blocked the ability to practice "due care". Now, will a judge really do that? Probably not, since HP has a lot of political clout in the state and federal governments. So the taxpayers and consumers are the big losers here...
Posted by treet007 (123 comments )
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