HP Crosses into Carl Hiassen Territory; Dunn is Done Gone

This drama at HP needs is turning into a cross between John le Carre and Carl Hiassen. Call it Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Stupid, but I can’t wait for the novelization.

Let’s summarize: HP had a runaway investigation into its own board helmed by its fussbudget chair, Patricia Dunn. Contrary to the wise guys who a) thought this would end with Dunn’s quasi-demotion, and b) thought that it would never hit HP’s share price, this story has legs and is descending quickly into absurdity, and taking HP’s share price with it.

The latest revelations are about CEO Mark Hurd’s involvement and, in particular, about the bizarre strategems concocted to plant a bugged  story with a CNET reporter via a fictitious HP employee named Jacob, and then trace that back to HP’s leaking boardmember. This stuff is, in two words, deliciously nuts. I’m particularly fond of this part of the story:

As the project evolved, Hunsaker and Anthony Gentilucci, an HP global investigations manager in Boston, began to refine Jacob’s character. “I think we have to figure out who Jacob is, weak, strong, vindictive, a Bill and Dave fan, possibly lower level employee . . . will dictate the tone of the e-mail,” Gentilucci wrote on Jan. 28.

Yes indeed, HP’s security braintrust were diligently working up traits for their imaginary leaker. But now it takes a turn for the dangerous, with it obvious that CEO Mark Hurd has approved this ploy to plant material false stories and an electronic bug on a reporter, all to catch an HP boardmember. Here are two emails that confirm it:

Dunn replied: “Kevin, I think this is very clever. As a matter of course anything that is going to potentially be seen outside HP should have Mark’s approval as well.

On Feb. 23, Hunsaker sent an e-mail to Dunn. “FYI, I spoke to Mark a few minutes ago and he is fine with both the concept and the content.”

Dunn is gone. The longer HP pretends otherwise, the worse it gets for Hurd and for the share price. It is all over but the announcing.


  1. “…It is all over but the announcing.”
    Indeed. At what point does power, left unchecked, turn the corner from maliciously unethical to deviantly criminal?
    This certainly seems to be a case that demonstrates the outcome (the CA AG has weighed in on the criminality aspect), but I really want to know *how* a person’s moral compass can go so wholly whacko? It is clear that Tom Kleiner’s compass is operating perfectly after all these years – thanks for a wonderful example, Tom.
    I still behave under the same mores and ethical guidance I learned as a child, and I believe most of my peers do as well.

  2. Mr. Big Guy says:

    I love that word “fussbudget” She so looks the part with what looks like a 3 hour make-up job in the morning.

  3. the story that seems to be missing here is that large companies appear to now have major, elaborate security teams, replete w/ ex-FBI agents, bent on investigating suspected threats as if they had government authority. it seems HP felt as if a crime was being committed (the leak) and then as if it were a police organization, they set about spying on suspects and setting up a sting to catch the suspect. of course this mirrors the “real world”. presumably they were supposed to have check on this, but in this case the “HP corporate ethics officer” was in on the plot. very, vey weird stuff.

  4. Of course the big companies have *always* had corporate security teams. Back in the 80s, I worked at Monsanto HQ in St.Louis supporting the corporate G&A departments, two of which were the Executives themselves (I met both Harbison and Mahoney while working there), and Corporate Security.
    At that time, Corp Security was headed up by an ex-Secret Service dude who made it clear he was in charge & would tolerate absolutely nothing outside the bounds. He & I got along well, but his mission was clear: protect Monsanto assets, which in those days – when Greenpeace had Monsanto in its crosshhairs – meant protecting physical plants.
    I can only imagine his reaction to this BS at HP.

  5. Funny people should mention the security angle. I keep having visions of Wilford Brimley’s Devasher character from The Firm.

  6. I haven’t seen this asked anywhere, but when the CEO of a country argues (in public) for his administration’s right to 1) suspend numerous civil rights for certain groups, 2) use coercive measures (approaching or passing torture) to question those groups, and 3) electronically monitor ALL of its citizen’s eleectronic communications…
    is it really a surprise when other CEOs believe that those sorts of tactics are permissable in their own cases of “Homeland Security?”

  7. Duncan:
    Yes. Now get back to work.

  8. Moments ago, HP CEO Mark Hurd announced that HP Chair Patricia Dunn has resigned from Hewlett Packard, effective immediately, as a result of the investigation into the pretexting scandal.