Hewlett-Packard's board wavering on Dunn's fate

AP , SAN FRANCISCO

Tue, Sep 12, 2006 - Page 10

Hewlett-Packard Co's board of directors adjourned an emergency phone conference without announcing a decision on the fate of embattled chairwoman Patricia Dunn, who is facing calls to resign or be fired for ordering an investigation that may have used illegal means to spy on colleagues and journalists.

The board was scheduled to meet again yesterday afternoon, according to HP, a major maker of computers and printers.

Dunn, a former freelance journalist, ordered the outside investigation of fellow board members to determine who anonymously leaked confidential company information to journalists, especially as it related to the job status of former CEO Carly Fiorina.

As part of their surveillance, the investigators used social security numbers and other personal information to impersonate HP directors and journalists.

The impostors tricked AT&T and other phone companies into turning over detailed logs of their home and cellphone calls.

Although a common tactic among private investigators, the subterfuge -- known as "pretext-ing" -- tests the bounds of California law. The California attorney general has launched a criminal investigation into the matter.

Board member George Keyworth II was identified as the source of the leak, and HP res-ponded by barring him from seeking re-election.

Another HP director, longtime Silicon Valley venture capitalist Tom Perkins, resigned from the board in May in protest of the investigators' tactics.

Perkins' departure triggered a chain of events that finally forced HP to publicly disclose its role in the pretexting. Perkins this weekend called on Dunn to resign.

"I acted not from any ill will toward Ms Dunn but to protect the best interests of HP," Perkins said in a statement. "I think the past months and days have shown that those interests are best served if Ms Dunn would resign from the board."

Dunn told the Associated Press last week she would resign if asked, but said several fellow board members had urged her to remain on the job despite the criminal investigation.

"I serve at the pleasure of the board," she told the AP on Friday. "I totally trust their judgment. If they think it would be better for me to step aside, I would do that. But a number of directors have urged me to hang in there."

Dunn apologized for the invasion but insisted that the problem began with Keyworth's leaks and Perkins' angry resignation. She said she has distanced herself from the attorneys and investigators who conducted the investigation.