- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 28, 2006

12:50 p.m.

Lawmakers denounced the intrusive tactics used in Hewlett-Packard Co.’s spying probe as a congressional hearing started this morning with stark comparisons between the tawdry affair and the 67-year-old company’s reputation for integrity.

Ousted HP Chairwoman Patricia Dunn, sitting with her attorney in the front row of the packed hearing room, listened as members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee voiced outrage at the company’s probe into the source of boardroom leaks. HP used a shadowy network of private investigators who burrowed into the personal lives of journalists and HP directors and impersonated them with a tactic known as “pretexting” to obtain their telephone records.

“We have before us witnesses from Hewlett-Packard to discuss a plumbers’ operation that would make Richard Nixon blush were he still alive,” said Rep. John D. Dingell, Michigan Democrat.

Rep. Edward Whitfield, Kentucky Republican and chairman of the committee’s investigative panel, demanded to know why, with many high-ranking HP executives and attorneys involved in the probe, “no one had the good sense to say, ‘Stop.”

“It’s a sad day for this proud company,” said Rep. Diana DeGette of Colorado, the panel’s senior Democrat. “Something has really gone wrong at this institution.”

Mrs. Dunn planned to testify that she discussed the conduct of the company’s leak investigation with Chief Executive Mark Hurd, board members and others in the company — getting a clear impression that the directors were satisfied with it and that its methods were not improper.

Mrs. Dunn and Mr. Hurd were appearing at the hearing with other top executives and hired detectives. Some volunteered to testify; others were attending under the summons of a congressional subpoena.

As lurid details of the affair emerged in recent weeks, HP’s corporate casualties have mounted. The computer and printer maker announced the resignation of general counsel Ann Baskins today, just ahead of the hearing where she was scheduled to testify, and her attorneys said she would invoke her Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination and not answer lawmakers’ questions.

The departure of Ms. Baskins, who has worked for the company since 1982, follows those of Mrs. Dunn, two other directors and two high-level employees.

“Ms. Baskins always believed that the investigative methods that she knew about were lawful, and she took affirmative steps to confirm their legality,” her attorneys told the committee in a letter today. “Ms. Baskins repeatedly sought and obtained assurances from a senior HP counsel that the techniques about which she knew were entirely lawful.”

Hewlett-Packard, the world’s largest technology company and long a respected anchor of Silicon Valley, engaged a private detective firm for its quest to trace and stem boardroom leaks to journalists of confidential information. The firm, in turn, hired a network of investigators who masqueraded as HP directors and employees and as reporters to obtain their telephone records, surveilled them and their relatives, sifted through their garbage, and used an e-mail sting to dupe one of the reporters.

Besides the inquiry by the House committee, federal and California prosecutors are investigating whether company insiders or outside investigators broke the law. California Attorney General Bill Locker has said he has enough evidence to indict HP insiders and contractors. The Securities and Exchange Commission is pursuing a civil inquiry.

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