According to the New York Times today, the company "conducted feasibility studies on planting spies in news bureaus of two major publications as part of an investigation of leaks from its board, an individual briefed on the company's review of the operation said yesterday."
Yup, spies in news bureaus. Spies disguised as employees or cleaning crews: "The studies, referred to in a Feb. 2 draft report for a briefing of senior management, are said to have included the possibility of placing investigators acting as clerical employees or cleaning crews in the San Francisco offices of CNET and The Wall Street Journal."
According to the Times, "it is not clear whether the plan described in the documents ... was ever acted upon."
And, in the tradition of all great American scandals, there is the inevitable e-mail trail. One of the issues in the government's investigation of HP hinges on whether laws were broken by HP's investigators in using the technique of "pretexting" to obtain phone records – posing as someone else to gain access to the information from the phone company. Apparently, an e-mail exchange over that very issue took place, according to the Times:
Concern over legality was reflected in an e-mail message sent on Jan. 30 by Mr. Hunsaker, the chief ethics officer, to Mr. Gentilucci, the manager of global investigations. Referring to a private detective in the Boston area, Ronald R. DeLia, whom the company had hired, he asked: "How does Ron get cell and home phone records? Is it all above board?"
Mr. Gentilucci responded that Mr. DeLia, the owner of Security Outsourcing Solutions, had investigators "call operators under some ruse."
He also wrote: "I think it is on the edge, but above board. We use pretext interviews on a number of investigations to extract information and/or make covert purchases of stolen property, in a sense, all undercover operations."
Mr. Hunsaker's e-mail response, in its entirety, said: "I shouldn't have asked...."