McCaleb-ordered shutdown 'hurting tribes'
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In response to a federal judge's concerns about computer security, Assistant Secretary Neal McCaleb has ordered a nationwide Internet shutdown that has had the unwanted effect of putting critical operations at a virtual standstill, Bureau of Indian Affairs officials and employees said on Thursday.

According to an internal memorandum signed by McCaleb, all regional officials were told to verify that "all computers have been disconnected" from the Internet. Any employee who "attempts to circumvent" the directive by going online would face termination, stated the document.

Issued on Wednesday, the decision came after U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth said trust assets belonging to 300,000 American Indians were in danger of being hacked by malicious users. In an order of his own that was protested by a government lawyer, Lamberth told the Department of Interior to cut Internet service to systems housing individual Indian trust data and computers with access to that data.

But a number of BIA directors and superintendents have questioned McCaleb's reaction, saying it "doesn't make sense." By removing Internet capabilities from every agency and office, tasks not related to the Individual Indian Money (IIM) trust -- such as e-mail and payroll for employees -- have been shut down, they said.

Beyond daily management, however, officials said McCaleb's dramatic step has impacted the bureau's ability to serve Indian Country. Almost every function carried out by the BIA, including law enforcement, social services, resource management and even education, is being affected one way or another, they said.

And perhaps most importantly, they pointed out, crucial funding and payments to tribes are in danger of being delayed.

"We have been crippled," said a senior regional official yesterday afternoon, describing his state of operations. "I'm beside myself trying to figure it out."

"This has really created havoc for us," added an agency superintendent.

With a consultation session over a controversial reorganization of the BIA scheduled to take place next week, the action comes at critical juncture for McCaleb and his boss, Secretary of Interior Gale Norton. Both are facing contempt charges for their handling of the IIM trust and Lamberth yesterday added an additional citation for the security issue.

According to officials and employees, though, the entire ordeal could have been avoided if top officials in Washington, D.C., addressed problems identified by a court investigator who hacked into IIM systems. Known security vulnerabilities to DOINET and BIANET -- the Interior's internal networks which are also connected to the Internet via "nodes" -- have been ignored for years, they alleged.

The memorandum McCaleb signed was unnecessarily broad, added an employee of BIA's computer technology force. "They could have set up a network perimeter" around DOINET and BIANET without affecting critical services, said the employee.

Instead, the employee said, "checks aren't going out the door."

Contacted at an energy summit he is hosting in Denver, Colorado, McCaleb said through an aide he took the extra step to cut access to all computers because special master Alan Balaran's report documented the existence of "back doors" to individual assets. "The Internet was the problem," said Nedra Darling.

All the BIA's networked infrastructure "will stay down until a system has been developed that will protect Indian trust data," she added.

When that will happen is not exactly known. Darling said the Interior has been working with Predictive Systems -- the same firm who hacked into the IIM system -- to come up with a solution.

A Predictive spokesperson yesterday declined to comment about the nature of its involvement with the government. "As we are under contract, we're not allowed to divulge information," said the spokesperson.

Today at noon, the Interior is to present Lamberth with an update on its efforts. Depending on the situation, the emergency order could be lifted and access could be restored.

Regardless of the government's presentation, attorneys representing the Indian beneficiaries said the "crisis" that has resulted is further proof that Lamberth needs to appoint a receiver for the IIM trust. They also said they would ask Lamberth to lift the order and allow the BIA to do its job -- with judicial oversight.

"We're not going to let the situation go on like this," said Dennis Gingold. "We will not allow the Secretary of the Interior to take the trust completely off the edge of the earth."

With the holiday season fast approaching, directors and superintendents said that ensuring tribes get their general assistance and treaty "drawdown" payments is their biggest concern. At best, the funds could be delayed a day or two; at worst, they might not come until a fix is in place, they said.

"Our business is to support tribes, not to hurt them," said a top regional official. "This is really hurting tribes."

Today on Indianz.Com:
From the top, a gamble in trust (12/7)

Relevant Links:
Indian Trust, Department of Interior -
Office of the Special Trustee -
Trust Management Improvement Project -
Indian Trust: Cobell v. Norton -

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