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BIA working on sending out IIM checks

Thanks to the hard work of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the Department of Interior will be ready to send out checks to as many as 43,000 Individual Indian Money beneficiaries, a spokesperson said on Tuesday.

As soon as special master Alan Balaran signs off on the government's plan to reconnect the relevant systems, the checks will go out the door, said Nedra Darling. She didn't have an indication of the dollar amount that will be distributed but said $15 million was sent out last December.

"It's the holiday season," Darling said of the BIA workers, "but they can't leave until all payments get sent out."

"They understood their first priority is making sure that payments are made to Indian Country."

Under an order entered by a federal judge, the Interior is required to work with Balaran to ensure its information technology systems can be operated safely without putting the assets of 300,000 American Indians at risk. Balaran and hackers he hired were able to break into the systems during the summer and alter, create and delete trust data -- all without the Interior noticing.

As such, Balaran must approve the Interior's efforts to reconnect its information technology infrastructure. He received the government's plan for the Integrated Records Management System (IRMS), the Trust Fund Accounting System (TFAS) and a related system on Monday night, said Darling.

But there was some reservations about whether the plan was adequate, said Darling. "We heard late this afternoon that he still needs assurances," she said.

"We are working on those and we hope to have them ready this morning," Darling added.

The IRMS was one of several systems Balaran and a computer security firm named Predictive Systems were able to break into. Known as a "legacy" system, IRMS contains six database that contain, among other data, leasing and ownership information for individual Indians.

Balaran and the hackers discovered that they could gain "complete control" to an IRMS server because it had a "blank" password. Predictive could modify and delete user accounts, meaning it could prevent authorized Interior users from entering the system and give access to non-authorized outsiders.

No specific vulnerabilities to the the TFAS were noted, but some of the information in a report unsealed last month was redacted. TFAS contains account balances of all IIM accounts and 1,400 tribal ones and has been in use since 1999.

Deputy Secretary J. Steven Griles has been overseeing the effort to put the Interior's computer systems back online after he authorized a department wide shutdown on December 6 in response to U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth's order to protect IIM assets. Acting BIA Chief Information Officer Debbie Clark is coordinating the effort for her agency.

Due to the security violations, Secretary Gale Norton is facing contempt citations. Her attorneys attempted to get the charge dropped but Lamberth scolded them for bickering over an agreement to resolve the issue while funds to Indian people were being delayed.

"I think their actions, or lack thereof, have prejudiced the beneficiaries but also prejudiced many innocent and unconnected third parties," he said on Monday.

Separately, the Interior has been manually processing general assistance funds for tribes. The BIA was able to work out a contract with the Lower Brule Sioux Tribe of South Dakota to get about 6,400 checks printed out and distributed this week.

Today on Indianz.Com:
Taking lead on trust reform proves tough for Griles (12/19)

Relevant Links:
Indian Trust, Department of Interior - http://www.doi.gov/indiantrust
Office of the Special Trustee - http://www.ost.doi.gov
Trust Management Improvement Project - http://www.doi.gov/bia/trust/tmip.htm
Indian Trust: Cobell v. Norton - http://www.indiantrust.com

Related Stories:
Judge orders Interior reconnect (12/18)
Interior shutdown was 'overreaction' (12/18)
'Not be a very bright Christmas' (12/18)
Cost of Interior shutdown not known (12/17)
Interior computer agreement dropped (12/14)
Interior computer order finalized (12/13)
Editorial: Still ripping off Indians (12/12)
Griles in charge of IT reform (12/11)
Floods more important than Indians (12/10)
Judge holds security hearing (12/8)
DOI Shutdown: 'We're Hurting Tribes' (12/7)
From the top, a gamble in trust (12/7)
Norton acknowledges Internet problems (12/7)
'We're in the Dark' (12/7)
Judge orders Interior to cut Internet access (12/6)
Security contempt charge added (12/6)
Transcript of Dec. 5 trust fund hearing (12/6)
Interior doesn't understand court order (12/6)
Judge cuts trust fund access(12/5)
Report reveals attacks on tribal, Indian trust (12/5)
No Trust: Hacking the Department of Interior (12/5)
Judge holding secret hearings (12/4)
New: Security report released (12/4)

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