HP investigator twice raised objections

After first warning, Vince Nye sent another e-mail saying that obtaining outsiders' phone records didn't pass smell test.

Ina Fried Former Staff writer, CNET News
During her years at CNET News, Ina Fried changed beats several times, changed genders once, and covered both of the Pirates of Silicon Valley.
Ina Fried
2 min read
A month after first cautioning colleagues that obtaining outsiders' phone records could be illegal, Hewlett-Packard investigator Vince Nye sent a second e-mail warning that such practices didn't pass the smell test.

"If one has to hold his nose and then conduct a task, it is logical to step back and consider if the task or activity is the right thing to do," Nye said in the March 17 e-mail to HP co-worker Ted Crawford, who is described as "Security-Boise." "In this matter, collecting cell phone data in my opinion was a nose closer."

The e-mail was part of hundreds of documents turned over to the House Energy and Commerce Committee and seen by CNET News.com.

Crawford declined to talk about the matter. "No comment, thank you," he said. HP representatives also declined to comment on the e-mail.

In his e-mail to Crawford, Nye, who said he worked for 20-plus years in law enforcement before joining HP, said he would not use the tactic when assigned to investigations. "Speaking for myself I won't use this particular tactic." He also urged HP to "reconsider" using the method in future cases.

A month earlier, Nye warned colleagues in a Feb. 7 e-mail that the use of false pretenses to access phone records appeared to him to be "very unethical at the least and probably illegal."

"If it is not illegal, then it is leaving HP in a position of that (sic) could damage our reputation or worse," Nye said in the e-mail, which was sent to investigator Tony Gentilucci and senior ethics counsel Kevin Hunsaker, who was heading up the leak prove.

Nye's second warning included a Sacramento Bee newspaper article that he said highlighted the issue of obtaining phone records through impersonation, a tactic known as "pretexting."

HP has said that, as part of a now infamous leak probe, it used the method on more than a dozen people, including seven current or former board members, nine reporters, two employees and an unspecified number of other outsiders. Congress held hearings on the matter last week, and the California attorney general, FBI and U.S. Attorney's Office have also launched criminal inquiries.

It is not clear who in addition to Crawford saw the second warning, though Nye says in the e-mail to Crawford that it "will be going to Tony, Kevin and Fred."

In his second e-mail, Nye also disputes a notion apparently held by colleagues that the accessing of phone records was "no different than our plan to send erroneous information via e-mail with a bug."

"I velieve the comparison to be null and void," Nye said. "There are several substantial differences."