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Judge says report shows Norton in contempt

WASHINGTON ? The federal judge overseeing the contempt trial against Secretary of Interior Gale Norton said that a court investigator's report, on its face, contains enough evidence to hold Norton in contempt of court.

Judge Royce C. Lamberth offered his impressions as he officially submitted the report as evidence. Court appointed Special Master Alan Balaran completed the report. It documents serious breaches in computer security and efforts to mislead the court and Indian beneficiaries of BIA administered trust accounts.

Judge Lamberth also said he was withholding his ruling on whether to issue a preliminary injunction to force

Norton to provide adequate computer security and to get Interior's computer systems back on the Internet.

"I'm hopeful that all can be ironed out in the next few days and checks can be issued to trust beneficiaries," said Lamberth.

Lamberth also released a recent report by Balaran saying that Interior has not asked the court for permission to reconnect to the Internet, despite telling the media and the general public that a court-ordered shutdown is the cause for its Web sites being down and trust beneficiaries not getting their checks.

"Interior's representations to the press and others, while not inaccurate, fail to adequately convey the delicate and extremely difficult process currently uder way to bring IT systems online," said Balaran.

Balaran, with permission from the court, hired a computer security firm in June and July 2001 to hack into the Interior Department's system. The probers created a false account in Balaran's name, which went undetected by BIA employees. Balaran also criticized Interior for misleading the court about the status of security within the system, after knowing for years that there were major problems protecting important trust data. Balaran said that nothing has changed, despite numerous warnings that the system was not secure and Judge Lamberth's concerns, voiced in 1999, that he was "alarmed and disturbed" by the lack of a plan to fix security breaches.

Judge Lamberth now places the burden of proof on Secretary Norton to show that she should not be held in contempt of court

The judge had granted a request by Indian plaintiffs to close down the system after he unsealed Balaran's Nov. 15 report documenting "deplorable and inexcusable" lapses in computer security for trust data. However, under a subsequent order, Interior was granted permission to operate and reconnect some of its systems, but only after a 72-hour notice and Balaran's approval

Interior has yet to receive that approval.

Judge Lamberth's latest action now sets the stage for Norton to take the witness stand. Plaintiffs in the case say they plan to call Norton to testify.