BIA incident prompts high-level recommendation
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A high-ranking Bureau of Indian Affairs official tipped off subordinates to a secret visit by a team of investigators looking into computer security vulnerabilities, according to an internal report completed last week.

Jeanette Hanna, director for the BIA's Eastern Oklahoma region, warned employees to "turn off the servers" due to potential violations of a court order, the report said. She directed subordinates to "answer what you are asked, and no more," prompting a Washington, D.C., aide to recommend widespread changes in the way the Department of Interior works with a court investigator.

"I recommend that the department issue a memorandum instructing the staff to fully cooperate," BIA chief of staff Jerry Gidner wrote to Associate Deputy Secretary Jim Cason in the March 20 report, "and specifically countermanding any 'answer only what is asked' approach that department staff may take in their dealings with the [court's] special master."

Despite the mild rebuke, Gidner said he found no wrongdoing by Hanna or other BIA officials and employees. Even though the special master's visits are to be unannounced, he concluded that the staff did not "deliberately mislead" the information technology (IT) investigation.

But a Department of Justice attorney who is a member of the investigative team believes otherwise, according to the report. Glenn Gillett said there is "no doubt in his mind" that the BIA staff at the Chickasaw Agency, which primarily serves the Chickasaw Nation, intended to hide potential problems.

"He read my draft report and believes I am being charitable to the agency staff," Gidner wrote of the DOJ attorney.

Special master Alan Balaran isn't convinced either. In a letter to Gillett, he said Gidner's report wasn't satisfactory and that he would conduct his own review.

"The proposed recommendation is unsupported by the facts as presented; there is no attempt to reconcile conflicting statements concerning key events; and the investigator failed to satisfactorily answer his own question," Balaran wrote on Tuesday.

The events leading to the dueling assessments occurred last December, a year after the Interior was forced to shut down its computer systems due to vulnerabilities that exposed billions of dollars in Indian funds to hackers. The BIA remains crippled as of this date, unable to receive permission to reconnect systems to the public Internet.

Most of the systems, however, have since reconnected to the BIANet, the BIA's internal network. But Gillett and three IT experts made an unannounced visit to Eastern Oklahoma to check up on security problems because DOJ believed that two BIA agencies -- the Wewoka and Chickasaw agencies -- should not be connected even to BIANet, according to the report.

Gillett and the team first arrived at the the Wewoka Agency and found a possible violation, the report said. Although Gillett now believes he was mistaken -- according to Gidner -- he "unplugged the BIANet connection" at Wewoka.

The team then made its way to Chickasaw, about a 45-minute drive from Wewoka. By this time, a number of BIA officials were warned of the visit. Hanna called the Chickasaw Agency and told a subordinate to "pull [the server] off the wall," the report said.

When the team finally arrived, Gillett and the others found some oddities, according to the report. They discovered that the server was disconnected, per Hanna's orders, but there was dispute as to when and how it might have occurred. The BIA employees had few concrete details to share.

"She told the Chickasaw staff to 'Answer [w]hat you are asked and no more,'" Gidner wrote of Hanna's instructions.

Balaran did not take part in the December 2002 trip. He intends to make his own visit as part of the investigation and said in his letter he will file a report with U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth, the judge handling the Indian trust fund case.

Hanna was named the Eastern Oklahoma regional director in May 2002. She was appointed to the post by former assistant secretary Neal McCaleb, who retired in December.

The BIA is currently undergoing a reorganization and several regional directors have been reassigned. But Hanna is staying put, based on a directive by acting assistant secretary Aurene Martin.

Relevant Documents:
Jerry Gidner Report (March 20, 2003) | Special Master Letter (March 25, 2003)

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

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Martin read about deposition online (12/23)
BIA aides circumventing court (12/16)
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