Oracle CEO Larry Ellison defended his company's decision to spy on Microsoft and some of its secret allies as "a public service" and "civic duty," noting that its efforts were justified because of Microsoft's business practices. Oracle uncovered information proving that several supposedly independent consumer advocacy groups were in fact shell organizations financed by Microsoft. And while the sudden and unexpected revelation that Oracle conducted a secret campaign against Microsoft might have embarrassed any other company, the controversial Ellison seemed to revel in the freakish sideshow. "I don't know if we're alone in this," he noted. "The Justice Department felt the need to investigate this company too."

"Oracle discovered that both the Independent Institute and the National Taxpayers Union were misrepresenting themselves independent advocacy groups, when in fact their work was funded by Microsoft for the express purpose of influencing public opinion in favor of Microsoft during its antitrust trial," Oracle announced earlier this week.

Oracle's investigation was revealed when the detective agency it hired was caught trying to buy trash from a Microsoft ally called the Association for Competitive Technology for $1200. It was third company the detectives have linked to Microsoft: Reports in the New York Times and Wall Street Journal previously demonstrated that the Independent Institute and National Taxpayers Union were also financed by Microsoft. "Left undisclosed, these Microsoft front groups could have improperly influenced one of the most important antitrust cases in U.S. history," Ellison said.

And though Ellison claims to have only recently found out about the tactics used by the detective agency, he took full responsibility for the investigation. "I really didn't spend a lot of my time planning the investigation," he said. "We have a group in Washington that looked after that. Believe it or not, I spend most of my time worrying about our e-business suite, our applications server and our database server." Ellison even offered to ship his own garbage to Microsoft. "We will ship our garbage to Redmond, and they can go through it," he said. "We believe in full disclosure."

Microsoft's response, however, was less humorous. In a tersely worded response to the revelation, the company condemned Oracle's actions. "The only thing more disturbing than Oracle's behavior is their ongoing attempt to justify these actions," the company said in a statement. "Mr. Ellison now appears to acknowledge that he was personally aware of and personally authorized the broad overall strategy of a covert operation against a variety of trade associations. This is dramatic evidence that Microsoft's competitors have engaged in a massive and ongoing campaign to unfairly tarnish Microsoft's public image and promote government intervention to benefit themselves. Unfortunately, the published reports and Mr. Ellison's attempts to justify his company's behavior only raise many more questions about the nature, scope and duration of Oracle's activities." Microsoft also notes that Oracle has its own group of lobbying companies, including the Progress and Freedom Foundation and the Software and Information Industry Association