UNCASVILLE, CONN. - Senior homeland security officials recently held a
top-level planning session and identified up to 37 tribes of strategic
importance in defending against terrorist attacks.
But of the $3.2 billion the Department of Homeland Security sends to state
and local governments, said one of its top officials, tribal governments
get only $5 million.
"That's a national crime," said Giles Crider, chief of staff for the Center
for Domestic Preparedness.
Crider spoke at a well attended Homeland Security session at the recent
National Congress of American Indians meeting at the Mohegan Sun Convention
Center. Along with speakers from other security programs in the nooks and
crannies of government, he was eager to reach somewhat skeptical tribal
leaders. His own center in Anniston, Ala., offered all-expenses-paid
training to "first responders" in dealing with chemical, biological or
nuclear terror attacks. Other speakers promised access to a secure
communications and information network widely used by federal and state law
officers or to a State Department disaster monitoring service that would
reposition spy satellites on request.
But the big problem, all agreed, was Congress. The funding formula in the
original Homeland Security Act severely shortchanged tribal governments,
neglecting to deal with them as sovereigns. Although several bills are in
the works to fill the gap, tribal leaders argued in lively exchanges from
the floor that these too had flaws.
In an interview with Indian Country Today, NCAI President Tex Hall singled
out a fix in the Homeland Security law as a top priority. He cited a number
of tribes who provided domestic security services out of their own budgets.
The St. Regis Mohawk tribe in Upstate New York and the Tohono O'odham in
Arizona, for instance, policed important stretches of the border. "Our
tribe [the Three Affiliated Tribes of North Dakota] has 23 Minuteman
missiles we have to protect," he said, referring to Air Force silos on the
Fort Berthold Reservation.
Sometimes tribes have had surprisingly direct encounters with alleged
allies of the al-Qaeda or Hezbollah terrorist networks.
Two Seneca Nation women, a grandmother and granddaughter, were sentenced to
federal prison earlier this year for helping a Michigan man of Arab
descent, the granddaughter's common-law husband, smuggle cigarettes to
Arab-owned convenience stores. According to the charges, the profits helped
finance Hezbollah. Seneca Nation President Rickey Armstrong Sr., has
responded with a crackdown on smuggling, including several banishments.
A radical Islamic cleric in London, Abu Hamza al-Masri, was recently
charged in New York City with 11 counts of terrorist activity, including a
plan to set up an al-Qaeda training camp in Bly, Ore., on the fringes of
the Klamath Tribes' territory.
Tribal law enforcement has often played a crucial, but not widely
acknowledged, role supporting federal agencies. Assistant Chief Ed Duda of
the U.S. Border Patrol in Upstate New York has said "we'd be in a deep
problem if we didn't have the cooperation we do" with the St. Regis Tribal
Police Department. Tribal officers have received credit for helping
dismantling large drug and human smuggling operations. After the 9-11
attacks, the St. Regis Tribal Council and Tribal Police Chief Andrew Thomas
issued a "Special Alert" to the community "to report any suspicious people
or questionable activity."
Yet in something of a slight, Federal Bureau of Investigation Director
Robert S. Mueller III left out the St. Regis Tribal Council when he
traveled to Albany May 25 to celebrate the opening of a Counter-Terrorism
Unit to share information among law enforcement agencies. Instead, he
shared the podium with the governors of New York state and Vermont. (An FBI
spokeswoman said in the Bureau's defense that the arrangements had been
made by New York state Governor George Pataki.)
The Homeland Security bill wrote this type of oversight into law when it
channeled its funding assistance entirely through state governments. Alan
Cohn of the Akin Strauss Gump Hauer & Feld law firm told the NCAI panel
that states had passed on no more than 1.5 percent of the funds to tribal
governments and had sometimes attached abusive conditions like loyalty
oaths and waivers of sovereign immunity. He said tribes could apply to the
states for funds, but only as local governments. "It's not a correct
interpretation of the law," he said, but it did make tribes eligible.
Cohn said, "both described the House and Senate are working to fix that."
He described parallel bills, H.R. 3266 and S. 1245 that added funding for
"directly eligible tribes." Because Congress was leery of the paperwork in
disbursing funds to all 560 plus Indian nations, he said, it limited the
initial program to tribes meeting a series of criteria, including strategic
But other federal departments weren't waiting for Congress to get their
programs going. The BIA announced in February it was seeking $1.4 million
to support Tohono O'odham Nation border security. Touring the reservation,
BIA Deputy Chief Aurene Martin said its 65-mile border with Mexico had
become the crossing of choice for drug and immigrant smugglers and that the
69 commissioned Tohono O'odham police were overwhelmed by an estimated
1,500 illegal border crossers a day.
Crider said that his facility in a converted former Army chemical warfare
base had been training state and local emergency responders since 1997. He
said it was the only federally chartered center providing hands-on training
to civilians in dealing with Weapons of Mass Destruction: "Hands-on," he
said, included live exercises in chambers flooded with poison gas. He said
he was now trying to recruit tribal personnel for the two-to-five day
training courses. The federal government, he said, paid all expenses.
"We'll buy you the plane ticket, meet you at the airport and put you up for
the length of the course," he said.
A team from RISS-ATIX described their network, run by private contractors
to provide "terrorist threat communication and information exchange" to
state local and tribal first responders. The initials stand for Regional
Information Sharing Systems - Anti-Terrorism Information Exchange. It
includes an electronic bulletin board and secure e-mail for sharing
information and alerts.
State Department officer Larry Roeder Jr., made an even more dramatic
high-tech offer. As a policy adviser on disaster management, he ran a
network that included U.S. surveillance satellites to provide immediate
information on the extent of natural catastrophes such as volcano eruptions
and wild fires. He said he was trying to establish a Native American
network that would link into his global monitoring service and even have
the ability to reposition satellites to observe emergencies.