Interior Department trying to function after judge orders Internet shutdown

Friday, December 7th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Much of the Interior Department was without e-mail or Internet access Friday after a judge ordered the systems shut down to protect an Indian trust fund from potential hackers.

Employees with agencies in the department were notified of the shutdown Thursday. It is unclear how long it will last.

U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth issued the emergency order late Wednesday after a report showed an Interior Department system that handles $500 million annually in royalties from Indian land had little security and was an easy target for potential hackers.

The Internet shutdown had affected the e-mail of the Bureau of Land Management, Bureau of Indian Affairs and U.S. Geological Survey among others.

BLM spokeswoman Celia Boddington said she could send e-mail to other BLM employees, but could not contact anyone outside the bureau.

Interior spokesman John Wright said it was not clear how the computer problems were impairing the work done by the various departments.

Lamberth issued the order after a court-appointed watchdog and his computer expert were able to easily break into the system that manages the Indian trust funds and alter and manipulate the data.

Government attorneys admitted there was no way they could guarantee the Indian money was secure. So the judge ordered all Internet access disconnected and also ordered all Interior Department computers that could access the Indian trust system be shut off from the Internet.

But the government attorneys expressed reservations about the order, saying they did not understand its language or exactly how it could be implemented.

Dennis Gingold, the attorney who asked the judge for the order, said Interior didn't need to take such a sweeping approach to comply with the judge's order.

``This just shows you how inept they are,'' he said. ``They don't even understand how these systems relate to each other so they just pull the plug on the entire system.''

Lamberth is presiding in a lawsuit that alleges the government squandered more than $10 billion in royalties from Indian land over the past century. The judge has ordered Interior to fix the system, but repeated reports by court-appointed watchdogs have shown the reform efforts are failing.