Attack on court comes amid investigation
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FRIDAY, JUNE 21, 2002

Tribal leaders and attorneys representing 300,000 American Indian beneficiaries this week decried the Bush administration's attempt to kick a court investigator off the bitter trust fund dispute.

National Congress of American Indians Tex Hall told Secretary of Interior Gale Norton that he was shocked by the call to remove court monitor Joseph S. Kieffer III. He asked for an explanation at a tribal consultation session in North Dakota on Tuesday night but received none.

The plaintiffs in the Individual Indian Money (IIM) case weren't as taken aback. "Surprise, surprise, they are attacking another critic," said Keith Harper of the Native American Rights Fund.

In court papers, the government's objections were simple. Kieffer, according to Norton's legal team, overstepped his boundaries as a judicial officer and sought to influence decisions before they were made.

But lost in the flurry over a report that criticized Norton is a separate and ongoing investigation that could end prove even more damaging. As the government has public feuded with Kieffer, special master Alan Balaran has been taking sworn depositions of top officials who may have known as early as last summer that computer systems housing Indian assets were vulnerable yet waited months to try and patch up the holes.

Balaran's witness list is impressive. Special Trustee Tom Slonaker and chief aide Tommy Thompson; Assistant Secretary Neal McCaleb; Deputy Commissioner for Indian Affairs Sharon Blackwell; Chief Information Officer Daryl White; and Solicitor Bill Myers and attorneys from his office were informed more than a month ago of the probe.

The slate is significant because the officials sit on a department-wide panel on trust reform that was convened during the Clinton administration. According to Bob Lamb, a deputy assistant secretary who works on budget issues, the group heard about Balaran's court-supervised hacking attempts well before he released the report that led to a crippling computer shutdown.

In frank testimony during the Bush administration's contempt trial, Lamb confirmed a key part of the report. A Bureau of Indian Affairs director over whom Blackwell had direct supervision told the panel last summer that everything was fine.

"And he appeared to me to be a very credible employee," Lamb testified in January. "Seemed to know his business."

As a report made public in November later exposed, the confidence was misplaced. After being told the hacking was possibly only because the BIA "turned over the keys to the store," Balaran again proved how easy it was to break in using commonly available tools found on the Internet.

The Interior and its attorneys have been unusually quiet about Balaran's recent work. In the past, they have opposed his attempts to interview witnesses under oath, citing the same arguments they now use against Kieffer.

But what Balaran ends up showing won't be known until he releases his findings. All of the depositions are under court seal and attorneys from both sides of the case are forbidden to discuss the substance of the proceedings.

Relevant Documents:
Special Master Letter on Depositions (May 2002) | Daryl White Subpoena (May 2002) | CSEAT Draft Report on Indian Trust System (April 2002) | Investigation Into Computer Security (November 2001)

Relevant Links:
Indian Trust, Department of Interior -
Indian Trust: Cobell v. Norton -
Trust Reform, NCAI -

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