HP targeted reporters before they published

The personal phone records of two News.com reporters were targeted prior to the publishing of story that detailed boardroom planning.

Hewlett-Packard's surveillance of CNET News.com reporters began before a key story was published and, following that story, expanded to include bogus e-mail tips and physical surveillance, government investigators have told the reporters involved.

HP began tracking the phone records of CNET News.com reporter Dawn Kawamoto on Jan. 17, Kawamoto said she was told on Tuesday. That was about a week after a January strategy meeting for directors and executives, but six days before News.com published its Jan. 23 story about the meeting.

News.com reporter Tom Krazit also was told by investigators that his personal phone records were accessed on Jan. 20, the same day he called HP spokesman Robert Sherbin for comment about the board meeting. In records provided by HP to government investigators regarding its leak hunt, there is a notation that says Krazit made a "call to BS (presumably Sherbin) for comment." The story was published three days later.

It has been widely thought that HP reignited and intensified a nearly yearlong leak probe after that story published, but the account given to Krazit and Kawamoto suggests HP had in place the means to quickly track down private phone records before publication of that or other articles.

Sherbin, HP's vice president of external communications, said Tuesday evening that he does not recall whom he notified about his conversation with Krazit, but had been asked some time earlier to flag other HP officials of potential news leaks. It's not clear how news of Sherbin's conversation with Krazit reached HP's investigators, nor is it clear what prompted HP to target Kawamoto before the story was published.

HP has come under fire for for employing the legally questionable practice of "pretexting," or obtaining personal information under false pretenses. HP has said the personal phone records of board members, two HP employees, nine journalists, including three CNET News.com reporters, and an unknown number of other people were accessed by investigators hired by the company to look into news leaks.

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California's Attorney General Bill Lockyer said in a television interview last week that his office believes it has enough information to bring charges against people both inside and outside the company. Charges could come within a week, according to a spokesman for Lockyer, although there is no set timetable.

The Wall Street Journal cited internal HP e-mail on its Web site late Tuesday night that indicated HP Chairman Patricia Dunn and General Counsel Ann Baskins helped direct the company's board-leak investigation as early as summer 2005, including planning and execution of many steps of the probe. The Journal reported that the investigation reached a new phase in January, referred to in e-mails as KONA II.

The firestorm of controversy led to HP's announcement last week that Dunn would step down as chairman in January and turn over that job to CEO Mark Hurd. Dunn will remain a director. Director George . Venture capitalist Tom Perkins also quit the board earlier this year to protest the investigation.

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