FROM THE ARCHIVE

Report reveals attacks on tribal Indian funds

Facebook Twitter Email
WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 5, 2001

Billions of dollars in tribal and individual Indian trust assets are, and always have been, extremely vulnerable to computer hackers because the Department of Interior has failed to correct serious and long-standing problems it has known about for a decade, a court investigator said in a devastating investigation made public on Tuesday.

While promising tribes and Indian beneficiaries that protection of $3.1 billion in trust assets was of the "highest priority," top officials and senior management neglected to ensure basic security precautions were in place, special master Alan Balaran charged in 166-page report.

Even if the Interior were able to complete its much heralded trust accounting software -- a $40 million effort teetering on collapse -- the department can't guarantee any of the data it processes is safe because the underlying computer hardware, servers and network routers are prone to internal and external hacking, he asserted.

"It cannot be argued that Interior was unaware of the hundreds of deficiencies and suggested remedies chronicled in this report," writes Balaran. "It also cannot be argued that Interior was unaware that the manner in which it stores trust data violates public laws and federal regulations."

"In truth, the system is in its current state of disrepair because protecting trust funds is not now and, and never has been, a 'priority' deserving of adequate resources," he continues.

"After ten years of blistering reviews generated by federal agencies and private contractors, this deplorable record is inexcusable," he concludes.

Based on a few-month investigation, Balaran's findings couldn't have come at a worse time. Facing an all-out assault from tribes worried about their funds being hijacked by a new bureaucracy and from a federal court threatening to take individual Indian assets under his own wing, Secretary of Interior Gale Norton is about to stand trial to answer to charges she has failed to fulfill her most basic obligations to Indian beneficiaries.

Indeed, Norton's defense team fought tooth-and-nail to prevent the report from being made public. During closed hearings held the past two days and at a secret meeting on Thanksgiving eve, attorneys from the Department of Justice's civil division pleaded with U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth to keep their inadequacies away from prying eyes.

But according to Balaran, the problem -- like every trust issue that has surfaced over the years -- dates far beyond Norton's troubled administration. Private contractors, government auditors, Congressional critics and internal whistle blowers have warned the department repeatedly, and in no easy terms, that the trust data has been at risk from the start, he said.

As a result, the attorneys representing approximately 300,000 Individual Indian Money (IIM) account holders whose funds have been mismanaged for more than a century have filed an emergency request to shut the entire trust system -- from computers to web servers to databases to network routers -- down.

At a special public hearing tomorrow morning, they will ask Lamberth to disconnect, temporarily, the Interior's network connection to the outside world so that malicious groups can't break into their client's accounts, if such a breach hasn't already occurred.

Alternatively, they want Balaran -- who has told the court to "intervene and assume direct oversight" -- and his team to take control, said Dennis Gingold. "There is no trust," he stated plainly.

"They get away with lying about everything and nobody calls them on it," Gingold said of government officials.

Ironically, the release of the report came as the Interior praised itself for creating a new web site to provide information on its controversial reorganization of the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Although Deputy Secretary J. Steven Griles, who said in a sworn court declaration that he is in charge of trust reform, told tribal leaders last week that documents about the overhaul were available online, the department didn't get around to publishing them until late yesterday morning.

In response to Balaran's report, the Interior admitted "problems exist" but that it is taking steps to address the issues raised in the report -- including hiring the same computer security experts, Predictive Systems, who broke into its network repeatedly and with ease. "The department is working aggressively to eliminate the most significant concerns identified in the report to ensure the integrity of the system," said Mark Pfeifle, Norton's press secretary, in a statement.

Get the Report:
Report and Recommendations of the Special Master Regarding the Security of Trust Data at the Department of the Interior (12/4)

Related Documents:
Statement by Department of Interior | Statement by Elouise Cobell

Today on Indianz.Com:
No Trust: Hacking the Department of Interior (12/5)

Relevant Links:
Predictive Systems - http://www.predictive.com
EDS Corporation - http://www.eds.com
Indian Trust, Department of Interior - http://indiantrust.doi.gov
Office of the Special Trustee - http://www.ost.doi.gov
Trust Management Improvement Project - http://www.doi.gov/bia/trust/tmip.htm
Indian Trust: Cobell v. Norton - http://www.indiantrust.com

Related Stories:
McCaleb doubts tribal opposition (12/4)
Interior extends comment period (12/4)
Trust fund report still can't be found (12/4)
Tribal leaders worried about consultation (12/4)
Judge holding secret hearings (12/4)
New: Security report released (12/4)
GOP push may be tied to Indian preference (12/4)
Indian leader happy for contempt trial (12/4)
Norton set for 'worst nightmare' (12/3)
Judge holding secret trust fund hearing(12/3)
McCaleb to discuss trust fund on radio (12/3)
Okla. leaders question Norton's plan (12/3)
Tribal leaders clamor for trust report (12/3)
Editorial: Hold Norton in contempt (12/3)
Judicial role in Norton's fate recognized (11/30)
Interior slammed on trust fund progress (11/30)
New NCAI president vows BIA fight (11/30)
Interior will send 'someone' to hearing (11/30)
Interior says tribal leaders can have report (11/30)
Norton ordered to trial for 'fraud' (11/29)
Tribal leaders reject BIA overhaul (11/29)
Indian Country deserves answers (11/29)
McCaleb suffers leg injury (11/29)
Report: Interior can't be trusted (11/29)
Norton to attend consultation session (11/29)
Big showing expected at Norton meeting (11/29)
Griles: Receiver ends sovereign relationship (11/29)
Swimmer: No clue on historical funds (11/29)
Contempt trial important somewhere (11/29)
Developing: Norton, McCaleb ordered to contempt trial (11/28)
Norton sees GOP support on overhaul (11/28)
Trust fund settlement talks fail (11/28)
NCAI shoring up Norton opposition (11/28)
Tribal leaders challenging Norton (11/28)
Norton wants to cut Interior jobs (11/28)
Norton failing on trust fund backup (11/27)
Interior schedules first consultation (11/27)
Interior cutting off tribal comments (11/27)
BIA collecting Indian preference info (11/27)
Norton's BIA overhaul blasted (11/26)
Interior changes mind on consultation (11/26)
Indian Country opposition gains momentum(11/26)
Norton faces big week on trust (11/26)
Editorial: Give Norton plan a chance (11/26)
Norton's attorney decries unfairness (11/26)
Norton's choice raises questions (11/26)
Judge holds secret hearing (11/23)
Indian Country slams 'sham' consultation (11/21)
Top trust fund official questioned (11/21)
No Thanksgiving for Indian Country (11/21)
Domenici praises Norton's 'bold move' (11/21)
BIA reorganization a focus of NCAI (11/21)
Reagan's Indian chief is back (11/20)
McCaleb faces Indian preference question (11/20)
Norton defends overhaul of BIA (11/20)
Norton promises fast start (11/20)
Developing: Swimmer tapped by Bush administration (11/19)
Few answers on BIA overhaul (11/19)
Norton challenges trust fund receiver (11/19)
Gover: Indian Country had it coming (11/19)
BIA reorganization focus of radio show (11/19)
Norton defends quarterly reports (11/19)
Norton's 'runaway train' denounced (11/17)
Norton stripping BIA of trust duties (11/16)
Tribal leaders in uproar over proposal (11/16)
Top Democrat calls for hearings (11/16)
Bush officials to speak at NCAI (11/16)
Norton files contempt defense (11/16)
Q&A on BIA Reorganization (11/16)
Developing: BIA stripped of trust duties (11/15)
Interior might need year on new agency (11/15)
Gover: Indian Country now 'weaker' (11/15)
News Archive
2018 | 2017 | 2016 | 2015 | 2014 | 2013 | 2012 | 2011 | 2010 | 2009 | 2008 | 2007 | 2006 | 2005 | 2004 | 2003 | 2002 | 2001 | 2000

About This Page

You are enjoying stories from the Indianz.Com Archive, a collection dating back to 2000. Some outgoing links may no longer work due to age.

All stories are available for publishing via Creative Commons License: Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0)