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

HP: When lawyers play spies

Posted by Richard Koman - September 29, 2006

HP's leak investigations look outright ridiculous in an internal report released by the House Committee on Energy and Commerce yesterday. Investigators focused on the language in a CNet story to help finger George Keyworth as the source of the leak, the Times reports today.

The scrutiny included intricately parsing the language of a Jan. 23 CNet article in which Dawn Kawamoto, a reporter for the service, described a board meeting that month. The article quoted an anonymous source as saying, “By the time the lectures were done at 10 p.m., we were pooped and went to bed.”

Like Kremlinologists (or maybe Encyclopedia Brown), the investigators for Hewlett-Packard drilled in on the use of the word “pooped.”

“This is also an unusual term,” the report reads. “A number of key witnesses interviewed indicated that contrary to a number of members of the board, Keyworth often uses casual, colloquial terms in conversation, so this is a term he may use.”

The investigators also focused — in that same CNet quote — on the use of the word “lectures.”

“This is an academic term, rarely used in the business environment. Keyworth is the only board member with an academic background.”

This is the report that Hunsaker delivered to Mark Hurd, Ann Baskins and the board. <

Interestingly, it was Carly Fiorina who initially encouraged Keyworth to strike up a relationship with CNet's Dawn Kawamoto to promote HP's aggressive moves.

Further clues were available in the story. Kawamoto cited only a single "source," in the singular.

One of the first things the investigation team noted is that Kawamoto always cites just one ‘source’ rather than citing ‘sources’ or ‘people familiar with the situation,’ like other reporters who more frequently cover H.P. do,” the report theorized.

And pretexting revealed that Kawamoto called Keyworth at home at 5:25 pm on the day before the story ran. Investigators with Kawamoto's records knew she hadn't called 411 and thus knew Keyworth's number.

The investigators also received reports about Perkins' and Keyworth's arguments during a break in the heated March board meeting.

“The arguments were mainly one-sided, with Keyworth intently speaking and even pointing his finger at Perkins’ chest several times. At the very end of the second argument/heated discussion, Keyworth was overhead saying: ‘They don’t have enough to go there.’ ”

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