Its been almost ten years since I read the book, “The HP Way: How Bill Hewlett and I built Our Company” by David Packard.  It was a great book about a great company living and realizing business ideals like honesty and openess, early forerunners to the concept of transparency and good corporate governance.

It was just yesterday, that I wrote an article about Apple and Apple’s subcontractor Foxconn that had taken draconian steps to influence journalists in America.  I challenged my readers to consider what would happen if a manufacturer in the United States had pressured journalists by launching a lawsuit against the writer and editor of a paper.

Last night news reports started to come out about the infighting between the board of directors and the Chairman of HP.  Talk about directors leaking sensitive information to the press.  This was not the stuff of life and death like the problems in the Department of State where Deputary Secretary (the number 2 person) Richard Armitage had leaked classified information about the undercover sttaus of a CIA operator.  This wasn’t that type of cloak and dagger.  This was corporate espionage.

The problem is that as the story unravels and finally starts to experience some of the openess and honesty that were foundational in The HP Way its becoming difficult to tell who if anyone in this affair was not involved in corporate espionage.

HP hired investigators to attempt to determine who among its board members was leaking information.  Strike 1: A board member was leaking information.

The investigators engaged in many practices that are now starting to be aired in the light of day and they are painting a picture of HP corporate leadership that is almost uglier than the actions they hoped to uncover.

Yesterday, it came out that the investigators has themselves posed as members of the board to solicit copies of the board members phone records from phone companies.  This practice of duping the phone company into providing a copy of a phone bill or phone record is called ‘pretexting.’   Its results on a small scale provide information reminiscent of part of the NSA domestic spying scandal. 

HP investigators received copies of individual phone records instead of data dumps of phone records of millions of Americans.  The pernicious HP investigators didn’t stop there.

Now its coming out that they also targeted up to nine journalists, who had covered HP.  The theory being that they were monitoring the board members to attempt to determine who might be providing the leak and then targeting the likely journalists to determine who might be receiving the leaked information.  Obviously, the investigators had studied the Water Gate scandal and realized that tracking the information at the point of receipt might yield as many results as watching the people doing the leaking.

HP offered apologies to journalists that were targeted.  These journalists phone records “were accessed without their knowledge,” according to Mike Moeller, a HP spokesman.  HP officials then asked the state Attorney General’s Office for special permission to phone the reporters and apologize.

Attorney General William Lockyer separately responded, “A crime was committed.”  He later went on to add that he does not know how clear the crime was, who committed the crime, how strong a case might be and who might be charged.  This starts to sound a lot like the recent confession of the Jon Benet Ramsey case.  HP as a corporation is confessing that its investigators (some reports indicate they are not HP employees) performed these acts.  However, even though there is a confession the law needs an individual to go after.

On HP’s behalf, the California Attorney General has made assertions that HP has been very cooperative in the state’s investigation.  HP was founded in California in the late 1930’s and is a major employer in the state.

Cnet, The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal have come forward and claimed that reporter(s) on their staffs were targeted by HP’s investigatory methods.  It would appear that the news organizations have everything to gain from cooperating with the state investigation.  Criminal prosecution will help protect the sanctity of the press and will likely open the door for civil lawsuits by news organizations or by individuals, who were harmed during the investigation.

So after posing the question yesterday in regards to the mistreatement of journalists in China, I now ask is there anywhere you can imagine where reporters can work un-molested by corporations?

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