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The Big Lie by Anthony Bianco

This article was inspired by Anthony Bianco's The Big Lie . If you enjoy this article then consider purchasing or borrowing the book.

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How the Hewlett-Packard Scandal Unfolded

“HP’s spooks took themselves very seriously, communicating with one another in a semi-literate argot studded with code names.”

Through a long-forgotten scandal, businesspeople can learn a great deal about scandals and how to avoid them. Hewlett-Packard’s corporate scandal of 2006 would later come to be known as “Spygate,” and it would also result in congressional hearings. How did boardroom conflicts become so scandalous?

Patricia “Pattie” Dunn began her career as a secretary for Wells Fargo Investment Advisors (WFIA), where her reserved demeanor suggested to most that she was a pushover. Despite others judgments, Dunn helped arrange the $445 million sale of WFIA to Barclays. By 1998, HP invited Dunn to join its board.

When the new CEO, Mark Hurd, was appointed in 2005, he immediately put strict controls on employees to prevent information leaks, which had been prevalent under former CEO Carly Fiorina. Dunn was appointed HP’s board chairman, and she met with the company’s security expert – Kevin Huska. Having served as a special agent for the US State Department, Huska was able to point Dunn to Ron DeLia, an ex-military policeman. Looking through the phone records for HP’s directors, the now hired DeLia began “Project Kona” for Dunn.

Despite the new project, leaks still continued into June of 2005. Following board member George A. “Jay” Keyworth II’s interview with a reporter representing the website CNET, an interview where the reporter didn’t take notes, the reporter quoted Keyworth anonymously. Hurd and Dunn decided to put the “Kona II” investigation into effect.

HP’s amateurish security staff tried to find a CNET’s informant, but their plots failed to yield results. DeLia turned to the Action Research Group, which had experience in getting phone records from carriers by posing as subscribers and phone company representatives, as a means to catch Keyworth in the act of releasing information. This strategy, called pretexting, wasn’t illegal until 2007, so Action Research was able to garner the phone records of two dozen people.

Despite an HP attorney’s warning against the practice, denouncing it as unethical, pretexting solved the case of the informant, uncovering Keyworth’s communications with CNET. Though Dunn was unaware of pretexting, HP’s security team continued to employ it. When Keyworth was fired, Dunn enraged Tom Perkins, a friend of Keyworth, which led to his resignation.

Executing revenge by disclosing the story of the phone records to David Kaplan, the author of a book about him, Tom Perkins had become Dunn’s enemy. After hiring a Washington lawyer, spreading word of pretexting to the Department of Justice and offering up documents as evidence, Perkins made the scandal big news. Soon, a reporter for the Wall Street Journal discovered that HP had pretexted company directors as well as reporters.

Hurd practically threw Dunn under the bus. Despite Perkins attempts to demonize Dunn, she managed to escape criminal charges. HP’s Spygate scandal demonstrates the dangerous outcomes of conflicts amongst board members and the adoption of unethical solutions to solve this in-fighting.


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