Report: HP Chief Had Role in Leak Probe

Three separate newspaper reviews of e-mail messages suggest Hewlett-Packard Co. Chief Executive Officer Mark Hurd played a more direct role in an internal investigation of media leaks than previously disclosed.

The Washington Post reported that an e-mail message sent by HP Chairwoman Patricia C. Dunn suggested Hurd approved an elaborate sting operation on a reporter in February in an attempt to plug media leaks.

The Wall Street Journal reported that e-mails it reviewed suggest Hurd was kept abreast of the investigation early this year and offered some of his own suggestions about which HP (HPQ)directors might be leaking.

The New York Times reported investigators looking for the leakers sought a meeting last January with Hurd and Dunn. The Times said it was unclear with any meeting took place, but that other exchanges confirmed the level of concern over the leaks and indicate Hurd was pointing to possible leakers.

All of the papers reported on the e-mails in their Thursday editions. It was not clear whether they reviewed some or all of the same documents, which the papers said were provided to them by people with access to the company's internal investigation.

The Post, which said it obtained more than two dozen e-mails, provided the most detailed account of a planned sting operation involving sending bogus e-mails to a California reporter in an attempt to trick her into providing clues to who had been providing inside HP information to her previously.

The Post said it was not clear whether any of the e-mails it reviewed were to or from Hurd and that they do not detail what information he had when he approved the e-mail sting operation.

Hurd has arranged to brief HP directors Thursday and also had scheduled a news conference in San Francisco to be held Friday after the financial markets close.

Revelations of questionable tactics that HP investigators used this year and last to root out who had been describing boardroom deliberations to the media have been trickling out almost daily for two weeks.

Not only did investigators impersonate board members, employees and journalists to obtain their phone records, but according to multiple reports, they also surveilled an HP director and a reporter for CNet Networks Inc. who was the target of the e-mail sting.

They even snooped on the phone records of former CEO and Chairwoman Carly Fiorina, who had launched the quest to identify media sources in the first place.

Investors have shrugged off the scandal, with HP stock up slightly since the story broke.

Dunn and the company's general counsel are testifying to a congressional committee next week about why they approved the investigations.

Dunn has agreed to cede the chairmanship to Hurd in January, but she plans to remain on the board.