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Hurd: HP's founders would be appalled

In testimony to Congress on Thursday, Hewlett-Packard CEO Mark Hurd said he wishes he had asked more questions.

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
4 min read
Hewlett-Packard CEO Mark Hurd testified Thursday that he wishes he had asked more questions about a leak investigation that has become a national scandal.

"I wish I had asked more questions," Hurd said in his opening statement before being questioned by a subcommittee of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. "There are signs I wish I had caught."

In addition to the congressional hearing, which has stretched for more than six hours, there are federal and state criminal probes, as well as a Securities and Exchange Commission investigation over how HP conducted and disclosed its probe into unauthorized leaks to the press. HP has admitted targeting the phone records of more than a dozen people, including current and former board members, nine journalists, two employees and an unspecified number of others.

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Hurd repeated an earlier apology to the victims and to HP's employees.

"If Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard were alive today, they'd be appalled. They'd be embarrassed," he said.

Asked about a key report that detailed the methods used in the leak probe, Hurd again said that he had not read it. "Not my finest hour, Mr. Chairman," he said.

"I am accountable for everything that's sent to me" Hurd said, acknowledging he should have read it. "I pick my spots where I dive for details."

Under questioning, Hurd said he didn't know about the pretexting of phone records, the digging through trash or the monitoring of reporters and board members. He said he did know about a fake e-mail tip to a reporter.

Mark Hurd Mark Hurd

At the time, he said he thought that method appropriate. "It was appropriate to find the leak," Hurd said, but added he would not approve similar techniques now. "With the benefit of hindsight, I wouldn't do them again."

Hurd said that he does not recall approving or being told of the tracer technology that was included in the e-mail. Rather, he said, his understanding was that the e-mail, sent to CNET News.com reporter Dawn Kawamoto, was designed to make the source call into the company to verify the information.

"The objective was to get whoever it was that was leaking the information to call back into the company to verify that the information was accurate," Hurd said. "I think that's what the team's objective was."

Hurd was also asked about HP's other use of tracers, given that security worker Fred Adler testified earlier Thursday that he has seen them used a dozen or two dozen times in his more than three years at the company. Hurd said he didn't know of any use of tracers to track business rivals.

"I have no evidence of that," he said. "I have no knowledge of us using it against a competitor or in any improper way."

Hurd said he did not have a comment on whether he thought Dunn's assertion was reasonable that she thought phone records were public documents.

But, asked whether that would be appropriate, he said: "I would not want somebody, without my permission, to have my cell phone bill," he said.

Rep. Ed Whitfield, the chair of the subcommittee holding Thursday's hearings, concluded the hearing by praising security worker Vince Nye, who was one of the few HP employees to question the company's investigative techniques. In a Feb. 7 e-mail, first reported by News.com, Nye said he had "serious reservations" about what the company was doing.

Nye said that his understanding of the methods HP was using to obtain telephone records using false pretenses "leaves me with the opinion that it is very unethical at the least, and probably illegal," he said in the e-mail, which was sent to former HP ethics chief Kevin Hunsaker and former security manager Anthony Gentilucci. Both of those men have left HP and were among a host of people who refused to answer questions in the early part of Thursday's hearing.

"If it is not illegal, then it is leaving HP in a position of (sic) that could damage our reputation or worse," Nye said in the e-mail. "I am requesting that we cease this phone number gathering method immediately and discount any of its information."

Whitfield joked: "I think that's an employee at Hewlett-Packard that needs some sort of recognition, maybe get the day off or something."

Following his testimony, Hurd bolted down a side hallway and did not respond to questions.

Click here for a PDF transcript of Hurd's opening remarks.

CNET News.com's Greg Sandoval and Anne Broache contributed to this report from Washington, D.C.