David has been keeping up with PatriciaGate, which is really more than pointing the finger at outgoing HP board chairwoman Patrica Dunn. It's a full-fledged HPGate. The latest revelation in a New York Times story is that HP developed feasibility studies on planting spies acting as clerical employees or cleaning crews at CNET News.com and The Wall Street Journal. This plotting of black bag operations, industrial spying is like a scene from "All the President's Men" or "Keystone Cops," with bumbling, clueless, unethical, misguided, pernicious participants. It's not that trying to find leakers is wrong, it's the methods.
So far, CEO and soon to be chairman, Mark Hurd has not been at the center of controversy, but this mishandled quest to eliminate board leaks has happened on his watch, following former CEO Carly Fiorina's departure in early 2005. I've have talked to a few PR pros who said that HP will do whatever it can to distance Hurd from the emerging debacle, but he may not survive unscathed. It will come down to what did he know, and when, and what actions did he take. For example, if he had knowledge of plans to plant a temporary worker in the middle of the news room in our office in San Francisco or about the physical surveillance of our reporter Dawn Kawamoto, but did nothing to squash those activities, then he has some serious questions to answer. Given his strong performance in turning HP around so far, the beleagured board, shareholders and Wall Street better hope that Hurd comes out clean from this sordid affair.