Report reveals attacks on tribal Indian funds
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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 -
EDS Corporation -
Indian Trust, Department of Interior -
Office of the Special Trustee -
Trust Management Improvement Project -
Indian Trust: Cobell v. Norton -

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