Report: Hurd knew of planned deception campaign

The disinformation effort was aimed at uncovering the source of boardroom leaks

Hewlett-Packard Co. CEO Mark Hurd knew of plans for a disinformation campaign designed to find the source of leaks from boardroom discussions, The Washington Post reported today.

The report implicates Hurd more deeply in the scandal than was previously believed. The HP CEO and president is set to replace Patricia Dunn as chairman of the company's board of directors in January. Dunn said earlier this month that she would step down as chairman, part of the fallout of a continuing investigation into practices used to find the source of news leaks about matters discussed by the board. She will remain on the board, however.

The disinformation campaign was designed to uncover the source of the leaks by creating a phony HP insider who would gain the trust of a reporter, feed her false information and, in the process, place a software tracer on her e-mail using an attachment, according to e-mails obtained by the Post. The nonexistent insider's persona was created by HP senior counsel Kevin Hunsaker and an unnamed HP colleague of Hunsaker's in Boston, it said.

None of the e-mails is from or to Hurd, but they refer to his knowledge or approval of various actions, the report said. The Post did not say how it obtained the "more than two dozen" e-mails. HP declined to comment or to make Hurd available for an interview, but officials scheduled a news conference for 4:05 p.m. EST to discuss the leak scandal.

Some of the e-mails were sent by Dunn. In a Feb. 9 e-mail to Hunsaker and HP's 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 [device]," the report said. The company had planned to feed the journalist information about an upcoming handheld product to help tease out the source of the leaks, the Post said.

In a Feb. 22 e-mail to Hunsaker, Dunn wrote, "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," the report said. Dunn is referring to a slide of phony products Hunsaker had created to pass off to the reporter as inside information.

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

The Wall Street Journal also reported today that it had seen internal HP e-mails suggesting that Hurd was closer to the leaks investigation than had previously been thought.

HP's investigation into the leaks, and potential illegal conduct that may have occurred as part of it, will be the subject of a House subcommittee meeting Sept. 28. Dunn and others are scheduled to testify voluntarily regarding their role in and knowledge of the investigation and its methods.

An outside private investigation firm hired by HP to look into the boardroom leaks may have illegally obtained the phone records of HP employees, nine journalists who had written about the company, and some of its own board members. The use of a technique called pretexting, in which people disguise their identity in order to obtain private information about others, is at issue.

So far the scandal has prompted the resignation of two HP board members -- one by a member upset about the investigation and another by a member who acknowledged leaking sensitive corporate information.

Copyright © 2006 IDG Communications, Inc.

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