Silicon Valley Watcher - Former FT journalist Tom Foremski reporting from the intersection of technology and media

HP pretexted Sonsini, was warned of possible illegallity

Posted by Richard Koman - September 20, 2006

By Richard Koman for SiliconValleyWatcher

The HP spying program is looking more and more like an out of control operation, especially after the revelation in the Wall Street Journal that HP pretexted Larry Sonsini himself.

There is precious little information about this. Buried on the jump page of a larger story, the Journal simply reports that a "person familiar with the matter" said Sonsini was pretexted.

Law blogger Alex Simpson writes:

Think about it -- Larry Sonsini advises many other companies and their boards -- he may have been conducting secret merger negotiations, and HP's investigators now know who he was talking to and when. That's a massive violation of Sonsini's clients' trust (through no fault of his own, of course).

It's a slippery slope from trying to identify the source of the leak to doing a little corporate espionage on your competitors. Surely Pattie Dunn is not the only person at HP with an interest in who besides Cnet reporters Larry Sonsini and Tom Perkins are talking to. Increasingly, the whole thing smells like a Palo Alto version of Watergate, where top leaders decide to investigate more and more people and engage in more and more outrageous behavior.

This should all make for some nice airplane chatter as Dunn, general counsel Ann O. Baskins and Sonsini make the trip to Washington to testify before a House subcommittee on the matter. Surprisingly, all three said they would testify at a hearing on Sept. 28. And today, HP delivered reams of documents the House committee requested.

All of this amid revelations in the Journal's larger story that Fred Adler, an HP global security officer in Roseville, CA, alerted higher ups that the pretexting operation might be illegal. We don't know who received the memo but Adler works for Jim Fairbaugh, who worked on the probe.

In another story, the Journal reports that Dunn and Baskins were intimately involved in running the program and Dunn was kept up to date on potential suspects, investigatory techniques and other details. Dunn has maintained that she wasn't involved because she considered herself a potential leaker. (Huh?) More to come.

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