Pretexting Tactics Raised Red Flags Inside HP

As hired PI's pretexted for call logs, HP in-house investigators questioned tactics. And held their noses.


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Posted October 5, 2006

Roy Mark

At least three members of the Hewlett-Packard team investigating boardroom media leaks expressed serious concerns over the pretexting tactics used by HP to obtain the personal call logs of board members and journalists.

Other members of the team, including Kevin Hunsaker, HP's point man on the probe, though, eventually ignored the objections.

According to media reports, former HP Chairman Patricia Dunn, Hunsaker and three outside investigators hired by HP will be indicted by California's attorney general for their roles in the pretexting scandal.

In January, as HP's outside private investigator, Ron DeLia, and his team of private eyes, began obtaining the telephone records, Vince Nye and Fred Adler, two members of HP's global security investigations division, questioned DeLia's tactics.

"I have serious reservations about what we are doing," Nye wrote to Anthony Gentilucci, manager of HP global security investigations, on February 7.

"As I understand Ron's methodology in obtaining this phone record information, it leaves me with the opinion that is very unethical at the least and probably illegal."

Nye wrote it was time for HP to refocus.

"If it is not totally illegal, then it is leaving HP in a position that could damage our reputation or worse," he wrote. "I am requesting that we cease this phone-number gathering method immediately and discount any of its information."

Later that day, Adler wrote Nye, "I am VERY concerned about the legality of this information."

The e-mails are part of more than 700 pages of documents released this week by a congressional panel investigating HP's pretexting practices.

Hunsaker and Gentilucci sought further advice on the legality of pretexting, specifically from DeLia and outside lawyer John Kieran of Bonner, Kiernan, Trebach and Croaciata.

Hunsaker, a lawyer, also did his own research on the subject.

Kiernan told Gentilucci his firm had done extensive legal research into pretexting and that the practice is not illegal.

DeLia, in turn, contacted his operatives in Florida, Action Research Group, who actually did the pretexting for the phone records.

"I sent an e-mail to my source in FL and asked them if there were any state laws prohibiting pretexting telephone companies for call records," DeLia wrote to Hunsaker on February 7. "As of right now there are no laws against pretexting."

DeLia added, "We are on top of everything going on regarding this issue."

Nye, however, was not satisfied.

In a March 17 memo to Hunsaker, Gentilucci and Adler, he wrote that despite the HP legal staff's opinion that pretexting is legal, he still thought it was an inappropriate investigative tactic and unethical.

"If one has to hold his nose and then conduct a task, then it is logical to step back and consider if the task or activity is the right thing to do," Nye wrote. "In this matter, collecting of cell data in my opinion was a nose closer."

Nye and Adler's boss, Timothy O'Neil, took up their case.

"Vince and Fred were so concerned about this that they came to me and asked me to intervene on their behalf because they felt their voices were not being heard," O'Neill recalled in a September 6 memo.

O'Neill said he met with Hunsaker and Gentilucci and later with them and DeLia.

"Each of them assured me that what was being done was legal," he wrote. "Kevin and Tony further assured me the tactic was knowingly approved by the executive sponsors of the investigation."

Both Dunn and current HP Chairman and CEO Mark Hurd admit they knew of the investigation, but deny they knew pretexting was used to obtain the telephone records.

Hurd testified last week before Congress that Dunn was in charge of the probe. Dunn said former general counsel Ann Baskins, Hunsaker and others assured her the investigation was legally conducted.

Dunn, Baskins, Hunsaker and Gentilucci have all resigned from HP.

Baskins, Hunsaker, Gentilucci and DeLia invoked their Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination at the House hearings.

This article was first published on InternetNews.com. To read the full article, click here.

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