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The role played by Mark Hurd and his lieutenants in the Hewlett-Packard boardroom spying scandal moved further into the spotlight on Thursday as Patricia Dunn, HP’s ousted chairman, laid blame for the fiasco at the feet of the computer maker’s management team.
Ms Dunn’s denial of responsibility for the scandal came as Ann Baskins, HP’s general counsel, became the closest HP official to Mr Hurd, chief executive, to resign as a result of the controversy.
Asked by the House committee on energy and commerce on Thursday whether she had been at fault for a haywire investigation in which HP’s investigators used ethically questionable tactics to uncover the source of press leaks, Ms Dunn said: “I do not take personal responsibility for what happened.”
Speaking after Ms Dunn, Mr Hurd said she had been the “business owner” of the leak investigation. “Pattie took it very seriously,” he said. “She came to me and asked to use HP…resources.”
However, Mr Hurd acknowledged that he shouldered responsibility for what happened. “We had a breakdown at multiple levels in the company,” he said. “[But] I am responsible for HP.”
Ms Baskins and several others involved in the leak probe declined to testify, citing their fifth amendment rights against self-incrimination.
In her sworn testimony Ms Dunn argued that she had relied on members of the HP management team, including Mr Hurd and Ms Baskins, to guide the tactics used by investigators hunting for the source of press leaks inside the company’s board.
Ms Dunn said Ms Baskins was the “final decision maker” with authority over HP’s leak investigation, and that Ms Baskins “reported administratively” to Mr Hurd and to Bob Wayman, HP’s chief financial officer and former acting chief, while the investigation was taking place.
But she added, [Ms Baskins] bled HP blue ink. Her career is ruined. She made some mistakes in her judgement.”
Mr Hurd said he had been “apprised of the existence of the investigation” by Ms Dunn, but that he “was not involved in the investigation itself”. He told lawmakers that although he was responsible for everything that happened at the company, the leak investigation had not been his top priority as chief.
Mr Hurd acknowledged he had approved a “sting” operation against a journalist suspected of receiving leaked information. He repeated earlier statements that he had not been aware that the operation may have involved the use of “tracer” technology designed to identify the recipients of that reporters’ emails. He also said he had received a report on the probe and its tactics in March, but had not read it.
Lawmakers heaped scorn on the tactics HP used to uncover its boardroom mole, which included operatives using false pretences to obtain private telephone records. It later emerged that the probe went far beyond phone records to include physical surveillance and other covert operations against employees, board members and journalists.
Fred Adler, who heads IT security investigations for the company and who masterminded the plot to plant the tracking device, said the company had used the technique on a dozen to two dozen occasions and that he believed the practice was legal.
Mr Adler said he believed the company had employed the practice of pretexting on a seperate occasion not linked to the leak investigation, because a colleaugue, Vince Nye, had complained about the practice to Anthony Gentilucci, who managed HPs global investigations unit in Boston.
Mr Gentilucci and private detectives declined to testify on Thursday.
The events came as Verizon, the telecoms group, said it had filed suite against 20 people suspected of using deception to obtain telephone records in the HP case.
HP’s shares rose 0.6 per cent to $35.60.