HP's chief executive Mark Hurd knew of plans for a disinformation campaign designed to find the source of leaks from boardroom discussions, The Washington Post has reported.

The report implicates Hurd, who is set to replace chairman Patricia Dunn when she stands down in January, into the scandal that swamped the company. Dunn agreed to leave the company following an investigation into practices used to find the source of news leaks.

The disinformation campaign was designed to uncover the source of the leaks by creating a phony HP insider who would gain the trust of a reporter, feed her false information, and in the process place a software tracer on her email using an attachment, according to emails obtained by the Post. The non-existent insider's persona was created by HP senior counsel Kevin Hunsaker and an unnamed colleague in Boston.

None of the emails are from or to Hurd, but refer to his knowledge or approval of various actions, the report said. The Post did not say how it obtained the "more than two dozen" emails. HP declined to comment or to make Hurd available for an interview.

Some of the emails were sent by Dunn, such as a 9 February email to Hunsaker and HP's general counsel Ann O. Baskins. Dunn wrote: "I spoke with Mark and he is on board with the plan to use the info on new handheld (device)." The company had planned to feed the journalist information about an upcoming handheld product to help tease out the source of the leaks, the Post said.

HP's investigation into the leaks, and potential illegal conduct that may have occurred as part of it, will be the subject of House Subcommittee meeting next week. Dunn and others are scheduled to testify voluntarily regarding their role in and knowledge of the investigation and its methods.

An outside private investigation firm hired by HP to look into the boardroom leaks may have illegally obtained the phone records of HP employees, nine journalists who had written about the company, and some of its own board members. The use of a technique called pretexting, in which people disguise their identity in order to obtain private information about others, is at issue.

So far the scandal has led to the resignation of two HP board members, along with Dunn saying she will step down as chairman in January.