HP execs: Hear no evil. See no evil. Have the fun?

Summary:After having to interrupt my coverage of the Congressional hearing to tape this week's episode of the Dan & David Show, I'm tuned back into the hearing (which is still going on) and, based on what I've heard before regarding an e-mail that HP Mark Hurd claims not to have read, and what I'm now hearing from Patricia Dunn, it seems sort of odd to me how, even if the evil comes your way, as long as you don't see or hear it, you still get to have the fun (escape accountablity).

After having to interrupt my coverage of the Congressional hearing to tape this week's episode of the Dan & David Show, I'm tuned back into the hearing (which is still going on) and, based on what I've heard before regarding an e-mail that HP Mark Hurd claims not to have read, and what I'm now hearing from Patricia Dunn, it seems sort of odd to me how, even if the evil comes your way, as long as you don't see or hear it, you still get to have the fun (escape accountablity).

In the course of being presented a PowerPoint slide deck regarding the investigation (a slide deck whose cover page is directly addressed to her), Dunn doesn't recall seeing certain details on certain slides. Namely, on the heals of her testimony that she would have never approved the collection of information on the basis of fraudulent misrepresentation of identity, Representative Jay Inslee (D-Washington) asked about a bullet point on slide 10 of the PowerPoint deck that clearly stated one aspect of the investigation would include the placement of staff in the offices of the Wall Street Journal and CNET News.com under false pretenses.

In response to Inslee's questions, Dunn basically asked for the empathy of those listening in describing the circumstances under which such presentations are normally given. Although I'm parapharasing, Dunn talked about how the attendees to such meetings are often pressed for time and how some points in the slide decks get belaboured at the expense of others. Under those circumstances, Dunn clearly wants us to believe that it's plausible that she would have overlooked that particular bulletpoint. 

Earlier in the hearing, there was a discussion regarding the approvals that were required in order to send traceable e-mail with falsified product information (what I'm now calling PattyMail but what one Congressman errantly referred to as spyware) to CNET News.com reporter Dawn Kawamoto (in hopes of smoking out the person who was leaking HP-confidential information). One of the committee members noted that senior counsel Kevin Hunsaker had sent a note to "the team" that "Patty" (thus "PattyMail"), amongst others (I think it was general counsel Ann Baskins) had given it the thumbs up. When question about that e-mail, Dunn claimed that "thumbs up" was mischaracterization of her position on the e-mail. 

To the extent that Hurd and Dunn both claim to have been in receipt of certain documents (by way of e-mail and/or presentation) without having opened them or seen specific details, there's no question this happens all the time. We're all guilty of it. I frequently get documents that I skim. I'm frequently confronted with PowerPoint presentations where we skip certain slides and go directly to specific bullet points. 

But, then comes the question of accountability. If certain documents are addressed to you, but you don't bother to read them, does that relieve you of accountability? Does that mean that no one is accountable in a situation like this? The underlings send their memos to the overlings and the overlings don't look at the details so everyone is covered? I think not. If that were the case, then the "see no evil, hear no evil" alibi would be standard legal practice that would routinely absolve those thought to be accountable from any accountability.  

Inslee was rather brilliant in how he has checkmated Dunn. With Dunn having said at other times during the day:

  • that she has no recollection of being briefed by Ron DeLia, operator of Security Outsourcing Solutions Inc., on how the fraudulent practice of pretexting would be used in the course of his investigation (despite his statements to the contrary),
  • that she never gave the traceable email (another fraudulent practice) the "thumbs up" (contrary to e-mail evidence from Kevin Hunsaker),
and then with Inslee getting Dunn to testify:
  • that she overlooked a bulletpoint in a presentation addressed specifically to her that was clear in its description of a fraudulent practice to place staffers in the offices of the Journal and News.com,

Inslee has, perhaps contrary to Dunn's testimony that she would never approve of fraudulent practices, shown a consistent pattern that may suggest otherwise. It's obviously her word against everybody else's.  But the question that comes to my mind is, why is it that Dunn has a convenient explanation for each of the three aforementioned opportunities during which she is alleged to have come in contact with plans to engage in fraudulent practices? DeLia is apparently a liar (she basically said as much during the hearing when she pointed out how she is testifying under oath while he is not). Hunsaker is a liar. And, hey, even though she was specifically tasked with leading the investigation (in other words, the buck stops with her), she's not responsible for the details in a PowerPoint presentation that was created specifically for her consumption. Liar (DeLia). Liar (Hunsaker). Pants on fire (Gotta go, I don't have the time to go over all the details even though you prepared them for me).  Therefore, not accountable?

Finally, Dunn is, as I write this, being asked about what can be best characterized as either her naivité or gullibility regarding the availability of someone's phone records. She is currently trying to convince the committee that (a) contrary to what DeLia has said (that he told her of the pretexting before the technique was used), that he told her that personal phone records are publicly available, and (b) that she believed that to be true (at the time the conversation took place in June of 2005). So, here's what Dunn wants us to believe. Here is this unbelievably successful businesswoman who has climbed to the top of the mountain in corporate America. She's the chairwoman of HP's board of directors.... a position that you can't possibly get to without some legal sensitivities, and when she hears that phone records are publicly available, she believes it?

Had I heard this in a meeting of any kind, I would have been horrified and outraged and demanded to know more. I would have done a "vanity" search on my own phone records just to see if it's true. Can you imagine the sort of transgression in privacy that would be if phone records were publicly available? Marketers would be having a field day. Jilted significant others would probably be the second biggest customer of such a database. It's laughable. It's ridiculous. It's simply not plausible in my mind that such a highly placed executive at such a prominent corporation could be so gullible so as to believe that.

Topics: Hewlett-Packard

About

David Berlind was fomerly the executive editor of ZDNet. David holds a BBA in Computer Information Systems. Prior to becoming a tech journalist in 1991, David was an IT manager.

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