Senior BIA officials implicated in e-mail probe
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Senior Bureau of Indian Affairs officials have been circumventing a court order by using the public Internet to transmit government-related documents, according to information uncovered as part of an expanding probe into Assistant Secretary Neal McCaleb.

The order was designed to protect billions of dollars of Indian trust data from the prying eyes of computer hackers. It was prompted by a court investigator's blistering report into the BIA's inadequate information technology systems and it forced the entire Department of Interior to shut down its Internet connection until the problems were fixed.

Although the rest of the department has reconnected, the BIA has yet to recover from the crippling and embarrassing event. But some officials have effectively thwarted the court's directive against unauthorized Internet access by using Hotmail and other widely-available services, opening up their communications to the same types of computer attacks that originally brought down the struggling agency.

A copy of an e-mail obtained by Indianz.Com confirms the practice by two McCaleb aides, both of whom are Bush administration political appointees. Aurene Martin, the deputy assistant secretary, and Dan DuBray, the special assistant for communications, used the public Internet to exchange an official press release regarding McCaleb's recent destruction of e-mails.

An October 21 e-mail from DuBray advises Martin to "review and edit" the document for Eric Ruff, another political appointee who serves as Secretary Gale Norton's communications director. The following day, Indianz.Com published an article detailing the McCaleb incident.

The statement -- with Martin's handwritten edits -- was released by DuBray shortly thereafter. Other news outlets, including Federal Computer Week and Government Computer News picked up the story.

The extent of the unauthorized Internet usage by senior BIA officials is unknown but government sources said it was common practice among McCaleb's inner circle since last year's shutdown. Whether McCaleb, who occasionally uses a laptop when away from the office, and other close aides -- including chief of staff Jerry Gidner -- have engaged in the practice is also not known at this time.

But the discovery is expected to bring new action by special master Alan Balaran, who is conducting the e-mail investigation. He could subpoena the Internet accounts of those implicated and call them in for questioning.

Already, Balaran has interviewed McCaleb, Martin and Jean Maybee, a staff assistant, about McCaleb's e-mail habits. McCaleb, in a sworn declaration, tied the debacle to Maybee, whom he insisted was saving his electronic correspondence.

But McCaleb, in testimony on December 6, admitted that he erased e-mails of his own volition. He said that he deleted several reports from the Office of Information Resource Management (OIRM), which handles payments to Indian beneficiaries. The reports were were encrypted because they contained dollar amounts of money owed to account holders.

"Did you delete the OIRM morning reports?" Balaran asked. "I did," McCaleb responded.

McCaleb also said he didn't take seriously government policy that requires e-mails to be filed and printed. "I really didn't think that we had to print them," he testified.

McCaleb returns for another round of questioning this Wednesday.

Relevant Documents:
Dan DuBray E-mail to Aurene Martin | Jean Maybee Notes

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

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McCaleb e-mail probe widens (12/11)
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17 months at arm's length (11/22)
Court cites 'troubling record' at Interior (11/14)
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