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To read comments to this article, go here
Dunn email claims Hurd approved reporter sting operation
Thursday, September 21 2006 @ 03:35 AM EDT

Now there is news from the Washington Post that they have in hand some two dozen HP executive and board member emails, including some of Patricia Dunn's, which is no doubt making her break out in serious hives at the very notion of strangers reading her private email. I know I'd hate it. That's why people should not do such things to other people, eh? Violating other people's privacy is hurtful. Ethics 101.

I've been on a Dylan kick recently, so the song that inevitably now comes to mind is his old nasal refrain, "How does it feeeel?"

According to the report, there is an email that says that CEO Mark Hurd approved of an elaborate sting operation:

Hewlett-Packard Co. chief executive Mark V. Hurd approved an elaborate "sting" operation on a reporter in February in an attempt to plug leaks to the media, according to an e-mail message sent by HP Chairman Patricia C. Dunn.

This is the sting that ended up the Dawn Kawamoto keylogging caper.

The plan was this, according to the article: HP senior counsel Kevin Hunsaker and another HP employee made up a fictitious tipster, Jacob, who would "be" a disgruntled HP executive and would cultivate her by telling her that he was an avid reader. Then "Jacob" would send her a valid tip about a new handheld device, so she'd trust him, and after that a bogus tip about HP buying a computer data farm. Their hope was that she'd forward the first tip to board member George Keyworth, with the web bug reporting it back to them. This is so all about Keyworth. And guess what the vehicle was for the keylogging software? A Microsoft PowerPoint presentation. What? You thought Emacs does stuff like this?

ZDNET refines the information:

However, the report by the Post does not cleanly match the e-mails that were received by the CNET News.com reporter. The Post reported that the e-mail described a "new handheld product," but the e-mails received by CNET News.com involved a purported rebranding of HP's so-called utility computing initiative for high-end corporate customers. An attachment on one e-mail included an attachment with what appeared to be marketing material that attached the name "Infinity" to HP's utility computing business. CNET News.com never reported on the apparent tip; HP later used the Infinity symbol for one of its server lines.

Here is what the email said that seems to implicate Hurd, from the Post article:

On Feb. 9, in an e-mail to Hunsaker and general counsel Ann O. Baskins, Dunn wrote: "I spoke with Mark and he is on board with the plan to use the info on new handheld" devices and that "he also agrees that we should consider doing something with" the data-farm tip.

So when Ms. Dunn told us that he had an overview of the investigation, but not the details, was that true? On Feb. 5, Dunn sent an e-mail to Hunsaker: "This sounds promising. I will be in contact with Mark and come back to you with an indication of joint approval as soon as we connect."

This Jacob story is one of the creepiest details yet, to me... HP role playing. Well, the watching-their-homes part creeps me out too. And following relatives around. But two lawyers were in on this sting. Two of them. One thing is for sure. Corporations are more intriguing than I realized.

They certainly were fixated on Dawn Kawamoto at HP. "Ve haf vays of making you talk, Dawn! Resistance is futile." Joke. Joke. But here's a question. What if Kawamoto had written about that bogus data farm? Might that have affected the stock? What if someone read such an article and decided to buy HP stock because the new computer data farm sounded great? The article doesn't say if any such article ever appeared, but ZDNET's coverage informs us that no such story was ever published. But what if it had been, and is it legal to put out false stories to the press? Even if it is, I thought the whole point of the HP probe was to plug leaks because they could affect the stock price. Why wouldn't a bogus story about a new computer farm affect the stock price too?

You know how when you were a kid, your parents and other adults sometimes seemed so lame and alien and incomprehensible? Remember puzzling over why they did things the way they did? I am feeling kind of like that reading about the HP hijinks. Whatever were they thinking?

There's more. How's this for ick? DeLia made a suggestion:

A Feb. 8 e-mail from Ronald DeLia, a Boston security contractor hired to work on the HP leak investigation as part of Hunsaker's team, suggested "a more elaborate sting" involving "electronic bugs" that would allow the tracking of calls between Keyworth and Kawamoto.

Whoa, Nellie. There are laws about that. The article doesn't say if it happened or if the idea got rejected, but does it not give one a feel for how wild things were becoming? I guess you can see the wisdom now of journalists requiring at least two sources for something. I'm guessing the HP guys didn't think of that rule, or they'd have invented two fictional tipsters, so Kawamoto would get a tip from Jacob and then confirmation from "Helen", a high level PR staffer. There you go. Two "sources". Yuck.

[ Update: Groklaw member capt.Hij points out something I completely missed, namely that they probably did know the two-source rule and hoped she'd try to get confirmation from Keyworth. Duh. See what I mean when I say I totally don't understand their thinking?]

If I were involved in the shareholder lawsuit, my nose would be twitching, and I'd definitely want to know if the false information ever made it into an article. Were there phone taps? We know Sonsini said no, but what does Mr. DeLia say? At this point, after learning about the extreme lengths HP went to, or some inside HP went to, to plug leaks to the press, the question has to be, What is it they didn't want us to know?

Does all this mean that the keylogging software was approved by Dunn and Hurd? After Hunsaker sent a copy of the Powerpoint presentation to Dunn, the emails go like this:

Dunn replied: "Kevin, I think this is very clever. As a matter of course anything that is going to potentially be seen outside HP should have Mark's approval as well."

On Feb. 23, Hunsaker sent an e-mail to Dunn. "FYI, I spoke to Mark a few minutes ago and he is fine with both the concept and the content."

The concept and the content. Might we now have some insight into the decision to keep Dunn on the board? The article carefully includes a caveat, though:

None of the e-mails reviewed by The Post were to or from Hurd, nor do they detail what information Hurd had when he approved the sting operation.

The Senate hearings should be a fascination. And ZDNET says Friday there will be a press conference:

HP plans to hold a press conference in the San Francisco Bay Area on Friday after the stock market's 1 p.m. PDT closing. An HP spokesman confirmed the event and said that Hurd would be there, but would not say who else would attend or comment further.

And the Wall Street Journal is reporting that HP pretexted to get outside counsel Larry Sonsini's phone records too. How fine and perfectly legal does pretexting seem to him now, I wonder?

We also learn from the article that an HP employee who had worked at one time for the FBI warned someone in the company that what was happening might not be legal:

A computer-crimes specialist with Hewlett-Packard Co. emailed his superiors this year warning that the company's investigation of board leaks -- then still in progress -- was being conducted in a manner that could be illegal, according to people familiar with the situation.

That's damaging. It just keeps getting more and more appalling, to quote Ms. Dunn. Here's the saddest part of this extraordinary tale. A company insanely paranoid about leaks is now leaking from coast to coast things you wouldn't want your best friend to find out about you. Odd about life, how things work out sometimes.

Meanwhile, Ms. Dunn was inducted into "the Hall of Fame of the Bay Area Council, a politically influential business group," as AP describes it. She is quoted as saying that she looks forward "eagerly, in the near future, to setting the record straight and going back to leading my life as discretely as possible."

And you thought the SCO saga was strange.

There's a study that was just done, reported by Reuters, and the researcher found that graduate business school students in the US and Canada were more likely to cheat than any other group. Why?

The study of 5,300 graduate students in the United States and Canada found that 56 percent of graduate business students admitted to cheating in the past year, with many saying they cheated because they believed it was an accepted practice in business.

Wherever would they get that idea?


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