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HP's been tracing for years, employee testifies

HP testifies today on probing privacy


Both subpoenaed and volunteer HP witness at today's US House hearings — from HP board members to foot-soldier private eyes accused of violating privacy rights — invoked the Fifth Amendment at today's investigation into HP. HP's testimony about its pretexting probe that nabbed personal data using a ruse consisted largely of pre-submitted statements from CEO Mark Hurd and former board chair Patricia Dunn.

In addition to HP's general counsel Ann Baskins, Security Outsourcing president Ronald DeLia invoked his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination and refused to testify at the hearing. Others who exercised that right included Anthony Gentilucci, former head of global security for HP, and HP ethics officer Kevin Hunsaker. HP fired both Gentilucci and Hunsaker last week.

HP denied reporters to the right to ask questions at a press briefing last week, in deference to its testimony and questions it said it would hear today before Congress. Members of the House committee blasted the company's leadership and decisions after hearing a string of Fifths.

"To go to this level to try to find out who might be leaking something, there's just no excuse for it, there just isn't," said Oregon Republican Rep. Greg Walden, .

"We have before us witnesses from Hewlett-Packard to discuss a plumbers' operation that would make Richard Nixon blush were he still alive," Democratic Rep. John Dingell of Michigan said.

Panel chairman Rep. Ed Whitfield, R-Ky., asked why, "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."

Baskins_annWhile Congressional questions went answered about who knew what, how much, and when, HP released advanced testimony yesterday which Hurd read before the House committee.

This morning, HP's general counsel Ann Baskins (left) resigned after 24 years of service to the company. The company's resigned chairman, Patricia Dunn, launched the investigation in 2005, and today said that she had cleared the probe with HP CFO and interim CEO Bob Wayman in that year. HP denied Dunn's statement. Dunn said that Security Outsourcing Solutions, which ran the pretexting hoax, was virtually a part of HP, according to a story from the Associated Press, through Forbes:

So closely tied was DeLia's firm, Security Outsourcing Solutions Inc. of Needham, Mass., to Hewlett-Packard - for which it worked almost exclusively for eight years - that Dunn refers to the firm as a "captive subsidiary" of Hewlett-Packard.

Testimony_2SOS, as HP's statements have called the Needham, Mass. firm, investigated Hurd before he was chosen to replace CEO and chairman Carly Fiorina in 2005. Hurd has said in the advance release testimony that HP feels embarrassed about the investigation misconduct which it has funded. A full 12-page document of HP's statements for today appears on a US government Web site. You can download the PDF file to read along with the congressmen, still waiting for more testimony on how the hoax kept gaining momentum.

As for those who must appear by subpoena, rather than volunteering to testify, the list includes Ronald Delia, head of the SOS security firm, and HP's Kevin T. Hunsaker, until recently the company's chief ethics officer, and Anthony R. Gentilucci, who managed HP's global investigations unit in Boston. Both took the Fifth. Five operative hired by SOS and its subcontractors also got Congressional subpoenas and also pled the Fifth.

HP 3000 customers have been reluctant to get involved in the scandal. The company's stock price remains near a three-year high through today's hearings. But HP seems to be of two minds, similar to the customers' views, some of which we'll share tomorrow. On one hand Hurd says the investigation violations have nothing to do with HP's operations or strategy. Yet he and his company's employees are appalled, embarrassed and have apologized for the pretexting scam. It's a matter of debate whether Hewlett or Packard would have thought this misconduct has nothing to do with HP's strategy.

It will be up the US Congress to bolster the laws against such activity, so that HP's outside counsel Larry Sonsini and Baskins cannot claim this embarrasing action against the press and HP's own employees "is not generally unlawful." California's criminal case against HP and its "captive" outsourcing operatives is still in progress.

Sonsini, testifying today, urged Congress to clarify laws around pretexting. He had assured HP executives the spying probe tactics were "not generally unlawful."