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HP's ethics chief had worries on spy tactics

Documents show official questioned legality of `ruse'

SAN FRANCISCO -- Hewlett-Packard Co.'s chief ethics officer learned the company's detectives were relying on shady tactics to gather private phone records long before a boardroom battle over media leaks triggered criminal and congressional investigations .

HP chief executive Mark Hurd will discuss the firm's investigation of news leaks at a press conference tomorrow.

The latest evidence about HP's internal knowledge of its contractors' subterfuge emerged in excerpts from e-mails and other documents published yesterday in The New York Times.

To help them fool the phone companies, HP's detectives obtained and then used the targeted individuals' Social Security numbers.

Called ``pretexting," that piece of the covert operation is now under investigation by state and federal authorities.

Kevin T. Hunsaker, HP's chief ethics officer, expressed his concerns about the legality of the investigators' methods in a Jan. 30 e-mail to Anthony R. Gentilucci, who manages HP's global investigations unit in Boston, the Times said.

``Is it all above board?" Hunsaker wrote in part of the e-mail.

Gentilucci wrote back to inform Hunsaker that one of HP's detectives -- Ronald DeLia of Security Outsourcing Solutions of Boston -- had investigators ``call operators under some ruse."

``I think it is on the edge, but above board," Gentilucci's e-mail continued. ``We use pretext interviews on a number of investigations to extract information and/or make covert purchases of stolen property, in a sense, all undercover operations."

In his response, Hunsaker wrote, ``I shouldn't have asked."

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