Physical, e-mail vigil marked HP probe, reports say

Hewlett-Packard Co. (HP) board members and journalists were under physical surveillance by investigators trying to find out who was providing information to reporters, and private investigators tried to put tracking software on a journalist’s computer to keep tabs on e-mail, according to a New York Times report.

Patricia Dunn, HP’s chairman, the company’s general counsel and a staff attorney oversaw the internal investigation of news leaks, the Times reported, citing anonymous sources who have been briefed on HP’s findings so far regarding the secret investigation. It isn’t clear how much involvement in the investigation there was by Dunn and others at HP, the Times reported Monday.

HP announced last week that Dunn will step aside as chairman in January, although she will remain as a director. Two others also have resigned from the board in the wake of the scandal.

Over the weekend, HP identified Michael Moeller, director of corporate media relations, as one of two HP employees who was targeted in the internal investigation. “Investigators’ suspicions were misdirected and unfounded,” Robert Sherbin, HP’s vice president for external communications was quoted as telling the Times on Sunday.

The internal investigation reportedly was conducted in two stages, with the first from January 2005 to August of that year, which came up with nothing to go on, and then a second phase beginning in January 2006 after the technology news site of CNET Networks Inc. posted an article about an HP senior management meeting held that month.

The board first clamored for an investigation into leaks of information to journalists in January 2005 following an article in The Wall Street Journal that spoke of board discussions regarding management reorganization and changes in the responsibilities to be handled by Carly Fiorina, who was then chief executive officer and chairman. She was ousted by the board in February 2005.

Within days of that board action, The New York Times published a detailed account of a directors’ meeting that was crucial to her ouster. Reporters from the Times, the Journal, CNET and Business Week have been informed by the California attorney general’s office that HP investigated them.

California and federal authorities are investigating HP’s conduct and the California attorney general has said that charges are likely. HP has admitted that its the private investigative firm it hired used “pretexting,” with investigators pretending to be journalists in order to obtain their personal telephone records.

Even after a summary of the internal investigation was presented to leaders at HP, in Palo Alto, California, those in charge were unaware that possibly illegal methods had been used to obtain information, the Times reported. In May, the investigation’s findings were relayed to the board of directors, including the allegation that its longest-running member, George Keyworth, was the source of the leaks to journalists. He refused to resign, but Vice Chairman Thomas Perkins, an influential and important Silicon Valley venture capitalist, was incensed over the probe and quit the board. He then turned his attention to pressuring Dunn to resign.

His surprising departure was announced in a mildly worded HP statement that offered no clue as to the fractious nature of what had transpired, details of which began to emerge in news accounts earlier this month.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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