business news in context, analysis with attitude

The Wall Street Journal this morning reports that Bruce Gabbard, the Wal-Mart employee who was fired this week for taping phone calls between a New York Times reporter and Wal-Mart public relations staffers, has explained his actions by saying that he felt internal pressure from senior management to ferret out leaks about the retailer’s operations.

"Our job was to plug any information hole," Gabbard, a member of Wal-Mart’s information security operation, says. "That was the primary reason for our team to be there."

Gabbard worked for Wal-Mart for almost twp decades, according to the Journal, “and was a member of its Threat Research and Analysis team, a group of about 20 employees in its information-systems division. He and others would sweep rooms for electronic-listening devices and do ‘forensic’ data gathering for use in court cases.”

Not only was Gabbard fired because of the wiretapping, but his boss, Jason Hamilton, was fired for not providing sufficient management oversight.
KC's View:
We have no reason to disbelieve Gabbard on his explanation, and we suspect that Wal-Mart wouldn’t argue, either, even while saying that he crossed the line.

That’s what happens when things aren’t running smoothly – you start worrying about who is saying what, and get paranoid about who is with you and who is against you. Of course, if people and companies spent as much time and effort trying to fix the real problems and issues as they do being paranoid, then they might not have anything to be paranoid about.

There’s another problem, of course.

The news about the wiretapping opens the door to Wal-Mart’s critics. WalMartWatch.com sent out the following email yesterday:

“Next time you talk on the phone, you may want to say ‘Hello’ to Wal-Mart.

“After all, recent news stories revealed they've been wiretapping phone conversations between their own PR staff and a New York Times reporter. Think about that for a second: Wal-Mart can't even trust its own spokespeople to ‘stay on message’ with the media.

“What’s more, Wal-Mart spies also intercepted text messages from people with no connection to the company at all.

“Who knows who else they're listening to?

“America's news reporters need your help. Send a letter to the editor of your local paper, and warn them that if they talk to someone from Wal-Mart, someone else might be listening.

“Wal-Mart has always been about control -- control of their employees, control of their suppliers, control of government officials, and control of their image. That's why they've assembled a massive corporate intelligence operation, headed by a former CIA official…”

And so on.

We think that maybe the folks at WalMartWatch.com have their own paranoia issues.