H.P. Said to Have Studied Infiltrating Newsrooms
Hewlett-Packard conducted feasibility studies on planting spies in news bureaus of two major publications as part of an investigation of leaks from its board, an individual briefed on the company’s review of the operation said yesterday.
The studies, referred to in a Feb. 2 draft report for a briefing of senior management, are said to have included the possibility of placing investigators acting as clerical employees or cleaning crews in the San Francisco offices of CNET and The Wall Street Journal.
It is not clear whether the plan described in the documents, which were read to a reporter, was ever acted upon.
The report was sent on Feb. 1 by Anthony R. Gentilucci, Hewlett-Packard’s Boston-based manager of global investigations, to four others, including Kevin T. Hunsaker, a senior counsel in Hewlett-Packard’s legal department and the company’s chief ethics officer.
“Feasibility studies are in progress for undercover operations (clerical) in CNET and WSJ offices in SF bureaus,” the memo said, referring to two publications in which reports of the company’s board discussions had appeared.
Under a section labeled “Investigation Activity Update,” with the subtitle “Covert Operations,” it also called for examining the use of cleaning employees at those locations.
Another document, undated but said to be a briefing for the company’s chairwoman, Patricia C. Dunn, is less explicit but refers to plans involving “placement of agent in close proximity to person of interest.”
A Hewlett-Packard spokesman had no comment last night when asked about the documents.
The consideration of undercover agents inside news organizations adds a new element to what is known of the Hewlett-Packard investigation, which prominently included the use of subterfuge to gain the phone records of company directors, employees, journalists and others.
An e-mail message obtained by The New York Times from someone with access to the company’s investigative material shows that leading members of the team supervising the investigation knew of the use of the phone ruses at least as early as January 2006 and raised questions about their legality.
The disclosure came as investigators examined the role of a man from the Omaha area who may have obtained private phone records on Hewlett-Packard’s behalf, according to people briefed on the company’s review of the operation.
California and federal prosecutors are exploring whether laws were broken in the investigation, particularly in the use of pretexting — a technique in which an investigator masquerades as someone else to obtain that person’s calling records from a phone company.
Concern over legality was reflected in an e-mail message sent on Jan. 30 by Mr. Hunsaker, the chief ethics officer, to Mr. Gentilucci, the manager of global investigations. Referring to a private detective in the Boston area, Ronald R. DeLia, whom the company had hired, he asked: “How does Ron get cell and home phone records? Is it all above board?”
Mr. Gentilucci responded that Mr. DeLia, the owner of Security Outsourcing Solutions, had investigators “call operators under some ruse.”
He also wrote: “I think it is on the edge, but above board. We use pretext interviews on a number of investigations to extract information and/or make covert purchases of stolen property, in a sense, all undercover operations.”
Mr. Hunsaker’s e-mail response, in its entirety, said: “I shouldn’t have asked....”
It is unclear who, if anyone, in the company was then briefed on what he had been told. People who have seen other material from Hewlett-Packard’s investigation said that Mr. Hunsaker, in supervising the operation, communicated frequently with Ms. Dunn, the chairwoman, about its progress. But they said it was not clear when Ms. Dunn, who ordered the investigation, learned of the methods used.
Mr. Hunsaker did not respond to a request for comment. Mr. Gentilucci referred all inquiries to Hewlett-Packard’s corporate offices, where a spokesman had no comment.
The Hewlett-Packard investigations were initiated in early 2005, around the time of Carleton S. Fiorina’s ouster as chairwoman and chief executive, and then resumed in January 2006. The two phases — each begun after accounts of board members’ discussions appeared in news articles — were code-named Kona I and Kona II, according to several people who saw the company’s investigative records. The names are intriguing; Ms. Dunn’s vacation home is in Kona, Hawaii.
Not all board members were targets in the investigation, according to people who had seen some of the company’s investigatory materials. The detectives seemed to focus on allies of Thomas J. Perkins, Ms. Dunn’s board antagonist.
In the first phase, the targets were Mr. Perkins, George A. Keyworth II and Robert E. Knowling Jr., a director who stepped down last September. Ms. Fiorina was also a target, the documents show.
In the second phase, Mr. Keyworth, his wife, Mr. Perkins and two other directors — Lucille S. Salhany, a former television executive, and Richard A. Hackborn, a former H.P. executive — were targets. Both phases used pretexting, according to documents the company has given various investigators.
Another target was Shane Robison, an executive vice president and chief strategy and technology officer. Mr. Robison is not on the board but was a liaison to its technology committee, on which Mr. Keyworth and Mr. Perkins served. A company memo, described to a reporter, instructs detectives to obtain the records of Ms. Dunn and Mr. Robison for the sake of completeness.
Mr. Perkins resigned in June in protest over the investigation. Mr. Keyworth, identified as having given information to reporters, agreed last week to resign from the board after Ms. Dunn said she would step down as chairwoman in January.
In addition to Hewlett-Packard directors, nine journalists and two employees, those whose phone records were obtained included Larry W. Sonsini, the outside counsel, a spokeswoman for his law firm, Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati, said yesterday, confirming a report in The Wall Street Journal.
The identification of a man from the Omaha area as a possible participant in the operation provides a potentially critical link in the investigative chain. The man, Brian Wagoner, has spent several years working for the Action Research Group, a Florida detective agency, according to a relative of Mr. Wagoner.
The Florida agency has been identified by people briefed on Hewlett-Packard’s review of its operation as a contractor for Security Outsourcing Solutions, Mr. DeLia’s firm.
An e-mail message to Mr. Hunsaker, the Hewlett-Packard ethics officer, indicates that he was aware of the involvement of the Action Research Group in the operation. On Feb. 7, Mr. DeLia informed Mr. Hunsaker that he had sent an e-mail message to “my source in FL and asked him if there were any state laws prohibiting pretexting telephone companies for call records.”
Mr. DeLia gave the response from that firm, presumably Action Research: “We are comfortable there are no Federal laws prohibiting the practice.” He added that he had been using the firm for 8 to 10 years.
Mr. DeLia did not respond yesterday to requests for comment.
Action Research and Mr. Wagoner, the Omaha man, had been linked before. His name appeared in connection with Action Research in April, when Congressional investigators studying pretexting interviewed James Rapp, a Denver man convicted in 2000 of illegally obtaining phone records. Rob Douglas, an information security expert who was a consultant to the Congressional investigation, said Mr. Rapp had disclosed his employment for years with the Action Research Group.
Mr. Rapp told investigators that after his own conviction, which led to the shutdown of his business, some of his employees went to work for Action. Among them was Mr. Wagoner, whom Mr. Rapp identified as his nephew during the interview with Congressional investigators, Mr. Douglas said.
Mr. Rapp said yesterday that Brian Wagoner split his time between the Omaha and Denver areas. “I know for a fact there’s been correspondence between he and Action for many, many years,” Mr. Rapp said.
Mr. Rapp said he had spoken with Mr. Wagoner twice yesterday. “He keeps trying to tell me that Action doesn’t do that kind of work anymore,” Mr. Rapp said. But he said Mr. Wagoner had told him that he did believe he had worked on H.P. case. “He did do the work,” Mr. Rapp said. “He does remember that.”
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