RealTime IT News

More Called to Testify in HP Scandal

UPDATED: The list of figures expected to appear before Congress (and television cameras) as part of the swirling boardroom scandal hitting HP is expanding by the day.

A congressional committee has now asked HP's global security manager, Anthony Gentilucci, and private investigator Joe Depante, owner of Action Research Group in Melbourne, Fla., to testify at a hearing slated for Sept. 28 in Congress.

The security manager and private investigator are the latest names in an expanding list of figures planning to appear before Congress in order to answer questions about the use of "pretexting."

The practice is at the heart of a widening scandal enveloping a probe of media leaks by HP's board of directors.

The House Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee is in the midst of a seven-month inquiry into data brokers and pretexting.

Congress has yet to pass a law banning the practice, which generally refers to using subterfuge or even false representation in order to get access to another person's phone records.

Today was the deadline for others to respond to the committee's similar letters, including one to HP's soon-to-be former chairman Dunn, who launched the investigation into media leaks of boardroom discussions that led to the use of pretexting against journalists, HP employees and board members.

Also asked to testify at the Sept. 28 hearing was outside attorney Larry Sonsini, who was also pretexted in HP's media probe, and Ron DeLia, who operates Security Outsourcing Solutions in Boston, one of the investigators in the media leak probe.

A committee spokesman said Patricia Dunn and Larry Sonsini have indicated they will appear.

However, DeLia is expected to appear "but may choose to take the fifth" amendment, Terry Lane, a committee spokesman, told internetnews.com.

Sonsini's law firm confirmed that Sonsini planned to testify at the hearing on Sept. 28.

Ryan Donovan, a spokesman for HP, said the company had also submitted all information to the committee, which it had requested by today. He refused to comment any further on the details of what HP supplied the committee.

Mark Corallo, a spokesman for Tom Perkins, the venture capitalist who helped spill the beans on the matter when he resigned from the board in May, said Perkins had not yet received anything from the same committee holding the hearing, nor from any interested parties on Capital Hill as of Tuesday.

Perkins is traveling and not available for comment. When asked if Perkins was concerned about how the scandal could impact the company, Corallo noted that his client is "obviously intensely concerned about HP. He considers Dave [Packard, one of the company's founders] his mentor. His entire professional life from its beginning is wrapped up with HP."

For now, Perkins is "not making any comments about any information that has come out since the original letter [from Perkins] to the board of HP was published," which originally raised the pretexting issue, Corallo told internetnews.com.

In addition to the nine journalists already identified, and two HP board members who were pretexted as part of HP's attempt to track down who was leaking board information to the media, HP has confirmed that HP employees Brigida Bergkamp and Mike Moeller, who is part of HP's press relations group, were also pretexted.

Donovan declined to comment on any aspect of a story in today's Wall Street Journal, which said an official in HP's global security office warned his superiors earlier this year that HP's tactics in tracking down the source of media leaks could be illegal.

The article cited anonymous sources who said Fred Adler of HP's security division wrote the letter.

The timing of when board members knew of the pretexting tactics, and whether CEO Mark Hurd was aware of potentially illegal activity, is becoming a major angle in this multi-faceted scandal that has kept the spotlight on HP, which is also complying with investigations on the state and federal levels.

The next shoe to drop could be an indictment by California Attorney General Bill Lockyer.

The AG said his office has enough evidence to indict HP officials, though it hasn't done so yet.

Although pretexting isn't illegal, HP officials could be found guilty of breaking laws related to identify theft.

The saga

Dunn had HP's legal department try and find the source of the leaks; the department in turn hired outside investigators, which used pretexting to obtain the phone records of several reporters, as well as other members of HP's board, including two, as yet unidentified HP employees.

The FCC also plans to put the HP case in an unwanted spotlight.

While not directly focused on HP, the FCC said it's launching a formal investigation into AT&T's role in disclosing the telephone records to the HP private investigators.

Earlier this month, HP confirmed in an SEC filing that the U.S. Attorney's office for Northern California is requesting information about the processes the company used in its investigation of leaks.

The Massachusetts Attorney General has also joined the fray, acting on a request for help by California's AG.

The request came because a security firm linked to HP's investigation is based in Boston.

The blame game

Dunn took a measure of responsibility for the mess, but some industry observers think that the announcement of her January resignation as board chairman didn't go far enough.

"Hewlett and Packard must be spinning in their graves," said Paul Saffo, a longtime Silicon Valley insider and technology forecaster "She should have resigned immediately; January is nonsense.

"HP as a company will do fine," Saffo told internetnews.com. "But there used to be something called The HP Way, which was based on integrity, service to the community and respect for employees.

What Pat Dunn set in motion is such a violation of the HP Way, she should have resigned on that basis alone."

As the architect behind HP's remarkable turnaround over the past year, HP CEO Mark Hurd, who joined HP in 2005 from NCR and has assumed Dunn's position as chairman of the board, has to be disappointed in the mess.

But Saffo isn't so sure Hurd doesn't see a shiny silver lining to the boardroom shakeup.

Longtime board member and legendary venture capitalist Tom Perkins resigned from HP's board earlier this year in protest once he found out his phone records had been accessed by investigators.

"I have a feeling Hurd is smiling about all this in the background, because now he gets to pick his own board of directors," said Saffo.

This month, George Keyworth, another board member, resigned.

Keyworth admitted being one of the people leaking to the press, saying that anything he said was done with HP's best interests in mind.

And just how is all this wearing on HP employees?

According to one 20-year veteran of the firm, who asked not to be identified, it's mostly just an interesting sideshow.

"There is no doubt this is a matter of ethical interest and everyone is, to some extent, concerned about things that are counter to the HP Way," he said. "But the concern doesn't have much bearing on day-to-day activities.

"Customers don't buy based on what goes on in the boardroom. And I'm too busy and so are 150,000 other HP employees to give it much focus."