HP press conference: Inventory of gory details, Hurd "clean," Dunn steps down

Summary:I just got done listening to and recording HP's press conference regarding the news that has come to light in recent weeks -- more specifically, the fact that HP engaged in multiple questionable practices in an effort to uncover the source of leaks from its board room meetings.  News.

I just got done listening to and recording HP's press conference regarding the news that has come to light in recent weeks -- more specifically, the fact that HP engaged in multiple questionable practices in an effort to uncover the source of leaks from its board room meetings.  News.com's coverage of the event is here. My colleague Dan Farber has coverage as well. Using the player above, you can listen to the entire press conference by streaming it or downloading it.  If you are already subscribed to ZDNet's IT Matters series of podcasts, it will turn up automatically on your system, your MP3 player, or both The press conference principally involved two speakers -- HP CEO Mark Hurd and Mike Holston, an attorney with Morgan Lewis, the law firm that was retained by Hurd in the earlier days of the investigation and now, the law firm that represents HP in its dealing with state and federal authorities on this particular matter.

As Hurd began the conference, he made it clear that he still did not have all the facts, and also pointed out that they may never have all of them. Later in the conference, he pointed out that part of the problem in getting all the facts had to do with the fact that they were dealing with an outside investigative firm.  That firm was identified as Security Outsourcing Solutions (aka: SOS) and it was also pointed out during the conference that SOS outsourced some of the work it was doing to another outfit known as Active Research Group.

Hurd seemed incredibly contrite during his presentation (far more so than Patricia Dunn, the now former HP chairwoman, ever did) and, on several occasions reminded the attendees and listeners that the practices used to uncover certain information (in the course of the investigation) were very uncharacteristic of the sort of integrity that HP's management wants the company to be known for by both its customers and employees. While he didn't condone the techniques, Hurd did say that the investigation was justified given the fact that the leaks were damaging to the company and that the practice of leaking information to the press violated company policies.  Hurd said that investigating the leaks was an "appropriate course of action" but characterized the techniques as "isolated incidents of impropriety" and as "having no place in HP."

Hurd looked to clear his own name, saying he never approved of the tracing technology that was embedded into the e-mails sent to CNET News.com's Dawn Kawamoto.  HP investigators hoped that Kawamoto would forward the e-mail to her source and that the tracing technology might lead them to whoever was responsible for the leaks. Hurd apparently approved the content of the e-mail, a detail that was offered later in the conference by Holston.

Effectively immediately, Hurd had accepted Patricia Dunn's resignation from what appears to be the board of directors entirely. A different move from the one originally planned where she would step down as chairwoman in January but remain on the board as director.  Apparently replacing her, as an independent director, is Richard Hackborn.

Before handing the microphone to Holston, Hurd said he was taking full accountablity for the matter from this point forward. 

Holston then went into the four primary techniques involved in the investigation. Namely

  • The use of pretexting to obtain phone and fax records
  • The use of social security numbers in the course of pretexting
  • The sending of emails with tracers
  • Physical surveillance
Holston noted that investigators, in the course of physical surveillance, had even engaged in a bit of dumpster diving -- looking through one female reporter's (probably Kawamoto's) trash.  In all, Holston said the investigation targeted two current HP employees, seven current or former members of the board of directors, and nine journalists.

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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