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House Panelists Rail at HP

September 29, 2006|Jim Puzzanghera | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — The main players in Hewlett-Packard Co.'s corporate spying drama faced outraged lawmakers Thursday, agreeing on only one thing: Someone else caused the mess.

Chief Executive Mark V. Hurd said responsibility ultimately rested with him. But then he asserted he had been unaware of just how far HP had gone in snooping on board members and journalists.

Former board Chairwoman Patricia C. Dunn, who initiated the probe into boardroom leaks, said she had assumed that HP executives were running a legal investigation.

And three executives -- all of whom have resigned over the scandal -- along with seven private detectives and contractors who may have improperly obtained phone records in the probe, didn't say much at all. That's because they exercised their 5th Amendment right not to testify on the advice of their lawyers in the face of criminal investigations.

"It's a sad day for this proud company," Rep. Diana DeGette (D-Colo.) said.

Thursday began with HP announcing the resignation of General Counsel Ann O. Baskins, who executives and documents indicated helped direct the investigation. She later declined to testify.

It ended with Hurd vowing to restore the image of the Silicon Valley icon that started humbly in a garage and grew into one of the world's technology leaders.

"I pledge that HP will take whatever steps necessary to make sure nothing like this ever happens again," he told members of the House Energy and Commerce investigative subcommittee. "And I pledge that this company will regain not just its reputation as a model citizen with the highest ethical standards, but we will regain our pride."

That pride has taken a beating over the last several weeks as revelations have continued to emerge about the steps the Palo Alto-based company took to identify who was leaking information. Investigators working for the company followed board members, journalists and their relatives, impersonated them to obtain personal phone records, sent an e-mail with tracking software to a reporter and even combed through trash.

The House subcommittee summoned all of the main figures in the controversy to Capitol Hill -- eight required subpoenas to show up -- and administered a tongue-lashing.

Rep. John D. Dingell (D-Mich.) called HP's internal probe "a plumber's operation that would make Richard Nixon blush." Rep. Cliff Stearns (R-Fla.) said it was a mix of "Keystone Kops," "Mission: Impossible" and "All the President's Men."

And Rep. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) said the HP executives reminded him of the bumbling "Hogan's Heroes" character Sgt. Schultz: "I heard nothing, I saw nothing, I knew nothing."

Baskins, Senior Counsel Kevin Hunsaker and global investigations manager Anthony Gentilucci -- all of whom have resigned from HP -- invoked their constitutional right against self-incrimination in refusing to testify. They were joined by seven outside investigators and data brokers who worked on the probe.

The committee released one e-mail indicating that strong warnings were raised inside the company.

Vince Nye, a senior investigator in HP's security department, warned in a Feb. 7 e-mail that phone records were being obtained in a manner that was "very unethical at the least and probably illegal." But the e-mail was sent to Gentilucci and Hunsaker, who refused to testify, and Dunn said she never saw it.

Dunn was defiant in defending the goals of the internal investigation, while saying she was repeatedly assured by HP lawyers that no laws were being broken.

"If I knew then what I know now, I would have done things very differently," she said. "I do not accept personal responsibility for what happened. I am very sorry for what happened."

Dunn took most of the heat at the hearing. She said that although she knew investigators were obtaining phone records of people outside the company, she thought there were legal ways to get them. Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.) said that in one document he reviewed, Dunn suggested the records might have been available because of "administrative sloppiness" of phone companies.

The subcommittee released documents that indicated Dunn might have known that the legally questionable ruse known as pretexting -- impersonating an account holder to obtain that person's records -- was used in the investigation.

According to another document, private investigator Ronald DeLia, managing director of Security Outsourcing Solutions Inc. of Needham, Mass., said he told Dunn in 2005 how pretexting was conducted.

Dunn testified Thursday that she did not remember the conversation and that she did not learn of the practice until this June.

"Would you give me ... your phone records?" Rep. Joe L. Barton (R-Texas) asked Dunn at one point, cutting to the heart of the controversy.

"In your position? I would give you my phone records," she responded.

"Well, praise the Lord! I wouldn't give you mine!" Barton said, as the packed hearing room exploded into laughter.

Then Dunn shot back: "I hope that doesn't mean you have something to hide."

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