Perkins: Pretexting dates don't match

When did the company begin targeting reporters' records? Some accounts of the start date don't match up.

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
3 min read
A government investigator says that Hewlett-Packard began accessing CNET News.com reporters' phone calls in mid-January. But that time line differs from the account that former director Tom Perkins says was given to him by HP Chairman Patricia Dunn.

Two CNET News.com reporters were told Tuesday that their phone records were accessed the week of Jan. 17, the week before CNET News.com published a key story on a management and board retreat held earlier that month. A representative for Perkins said on Wednesday that Dunn told him that the stepped-up leak investigation did not start until after the Jan. 23 article was published.

"It was Tom Perkins's understanding that the CNET article triggered the investigation," Perkins spokesman Mark Corallo told CNET News.com on Wednesday. "That clearly was his understanding."

Perkins stepped down from HP's board in May amid differences with Dunn over the leak probe. Starting with a Sep. 6 Securities and Exchange Commission filing, HP has acknowledged that its investigators used a legally questionable practice known as "pretexting," or obtaining personal information under false pretenses, to access phone records of directors, journalists, employees and others as part of a probe into the release of company information to the media.

CNET News.com reporter Dawn Kawamoto was told by investigators that that her records were accessed on Jan. 17, while reporter Tom Krazit was told that his phone records were accessed Jan. 20, the same day he called HP media relations vice president Robert Sherbin for comment ahead of the Jan. 23 story. Sherbin said on Tuesday 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 said the personal phone records of board members, two HP employees, nine journalists and an unknown number of other people were accessed by investigators hired by the company to look into news leaks. The probe also extended to physical surveillance and background checks of reporters, investigators have told CNET News.com reporters.

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. The FBI and U.S. Attorney's Office are also conducting criminal probes, while the Securities and Exchange Commission has notified HP that it is looking into whether HP provided adequate disclosure of the reasons behind Perkins' departure from the board.

Dunn has said she will step aside in January as chairman, but HP has said she will remain a director. After Dunn announced those plans, George Keyworth, a longtime director, resigned from the board, acknowledging in a statement that he was a source for a January CNET story, but also lashing out at the techniques used by HP investigators.

Meanwhile, the House of Representatives' Committee on Energy and Commerce is considering whether to grant its chairman the power to issue subpoenas in connection with the committee's investigation into pretexting.

The committee already has subpoena power, but Chairman Joe Barton, R-Texas, is seeking the power to issue subpoenas without first calling a business meeting of the committee. If approved, all that would be needed now to compel those involved in the HP investigation to testify is the OK from the ranking Democrat on the committee.

The subpoena powers would cover that part of the committee's investigation that involves HP's use of pretexting, Barton said in a press release. Barton also wants the same authority to help the committee investigate sexual exploitation of children on the Internet.

The committee also added two more names to the list of those it wants to appear at a Sept. 28 hearing, asking HP Senior Counsel Kevin Hunsaker and investigator Fred Adler to provide testimony.

An HP representative declined to say if Adler or Hunsaker would appear. The committee has gotten indications that Dunn will appear, as well as General Counsel Ann Baskins. Outside lawyer Larry Sonsini also will testify, according to a representative of his law firm.

CNET News.com's Greg Sandoval contributed to this report.