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Message subject : Microsoft-tied groups report 'weird' inc

This message was posted by . on June 19, 2000 :

Following efforts by a shadowy company to buy the office trash of a pro-Microsoft Corp. trade group, a number of organizations allied with the software giant said they too have been the victims of suspicious incidents they believe are related to their work with Microsoft.

In two of the cases in the past year, both involving groups funded by Microsoft, confidential documents and even laptop computers have disappeared from the groups' offices. The pilfered information eventually appeared in the media, usually with embarrassing results for Microsoft.

The reports are the latest twists in a strange tale surrounding the Microsoft antitrust case. Last week, The Wall Street Journal reported that a woman with ties to Upstream Technologies, a largely unknown Maryland company set up by Investigative Group International, tried to buy bags of Microsoft-related trash for $1,200. The offer was made two weeks ago to the cleaning crew of the Association for Competitive Technology, of which Microsoft is a member. The cleaners turned down the money and reported the incident.

A few days later, police said someone tried to break into Microsoft's downtown offices here. According to police, someone damaged the door trying to get in. Microsoft officials said nothing appears to be missing. Items were stolen from other companies with offices in the same building.

In yet another case, the National Taxpayers Union, also allied with Microsoft, reported that a succession of visitors have appeared at its Arlington, Va., offices pretending to be people they weren't. NTU president John Berthoud said he is convinced that unidentified opponents of Microsoft "have been conducting some type of corporate espionage against us."

Earlier this year, Mr. Berthoud's group argued that because of the Microsoft antitrust case, public pensions funds that invested in the software maker's stock had lost $38.6 billion, thanks to the steep drop in the price of company shares. Shortly afterward, the Journal ran a story disclosing Microsoft contributions of more than $201,000 to the taxpayers union, information the taxpayers union said was available only in confidential company papers.

"We take it that there has been no suggestion of any improper activity by the Journal, or any knowledge by the Journal of any such activity by any of its sources, and we know of none," spokesman Richard Tofel said.

There is no evidence linking the cash-for-trash attempt to the pilfered-documents cases, or tying any of the episodes together. Police don't know who is responsible, although police records indicate that four people linked to the trash-buying efforts worked for Investigative Group International, an opposition research firm.

Microsoft allies say the episodes suggest a conspiracy. "There are well-funded interests in this city that have been casting unsubstantiated aspersions for some time, and now they are desperate to find evidence to back up their hysterical claims," said the ACT's head, Jonathan Zuck.

The latest cases all involve organizations funded by Microsoft that have lent support during the antitrust case through advertising, letters to newspapers and visits to lawmakers. Two of the groups, Citizens for a Sound Economy and the Independent Institute, said separately that confidential financial documents related to Microsoft contributions were stolen along with laptops, later turning up in the news.

Citizens for a Sound Economy, a free-market activist group based here, said thieves stole three laptops from its downtown offices between November 1999 and January, including one from a staff member. Information about the group's financial backing from Microsoft, contained on one of the laptops, appeared subsequently in the Washington Post.

"I don't think anyone can draw a bright, clear line between one item and the next, but the timing of it makes everybody start to feel a little more suspicious," said Erick Gustafson, CSE's director of technology and communications policy.

The Washington Post said Sunday that a source provided the document about CSE and that there was no indication it had been stolen. If source material had been obtained illegally, said Jill Dutt, the Post's assistant managing editor for financial news, the newspaper would have contacted its lawyers.

A thief stole two laptops last June from Independent Institute, said David Theroux, the president of the Oakland, Calif., think tank. A stranger visited the group's headquarters under the pretense of asking for directions, then returned moments later and took the machines, he said. One computer included financial records showing that Microsoft had paid for pro-Microsoft ads published by the institute and signed by 240 academic experts.

In September, the New York Times ran a story disclosing the payment. Mr. Theroux said he called police after the theft but didn't raise his suspicions with the Times.

"The best guess we had [about the source of the records] was this strange incident with the laptop," Mr. Theroux said.

A New York Times spokesman Sunday said the newspaper at the time reported that the documents about the Independent Institute ads "were provided to The New York Times by a Microsoft adversary associated with the computer industry who refused to be further identified."

An internal report from a fourth organization, the DCI Group, also subsequently appeared in the Times on June 11.

A spokesman said the consulting firm doesn't discuss its work with clients. The stolen report detailed confidential efforts to lobby lawmakers and recruit sympathetic employees inside Microsoft's rivals.

source: CNBC

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