Sunday, April 19, 2020

CARES Act Tribal Data Breached: One Observer Calls it Indian Country’s ‘Watergate’

By Levi Rickert - April 19, 2020 at 02:10PM

One tribal leader says there is confirmation the breach of tribal data came from the Department of the Interior on Friday.

Published April 19, 2020

WASHINGTON — In what one observer called Indian Country’s “Watergate,” a breach of tribal information occurred early Friday evening. 

On the deadline day for tribes to submit requests for a share of the $8 billion in relief funds earmarked for Indian Country, tribal leaders began getting phone calls, emails and texts on Friday night from their attorneys and lobbyists. They were informed of the disturbing news that information provided by the tribes to the U.S. Department of Treasury’s portal to certify for Coronavirus Relief Funds (CARES Act) funds had been sent out via email to non-federal government employees, including to attorneys and lobbyists.

Tribal data and financial information related to some 600 tribes and Alaska Native corporations was distributed in a spreadsheet, a copy of which Native News Online has reviewed. The spreadsheet includes information requested last Monday by the Treasury Department and the Department of the Interior (DOI), including tribal name, population, land base, numbers of employees and expenditures for the most recently completed fiscal year.

While the submission deadline was Friday, April 17, at 11:59 p.m. – EDT., the Tribal Registration Report sent out was generated at 11:47:32 Eastern Time.

The source of the breach is not now known.

One unnamed tribal leader sent out the following information to fellow tribal leaders on Friday night:

“It was confirmed that it was provided and breached from someone within Interior. The information is being distributed among people in DC and outside of the agency.”

On Saturday morning, Native News Online sent an email to DOI for comment. Here is the response via email from DOI spokesperson Connor D. Swanson:

In our consultation efforts with the Department of the Treasury regarding CARES Act funding, we have not been provided any confidential financial information,”

An email inquiry be Native News Online to the Treasury Department remained unanswered at press time.

On Saturday, the National Congress of American Indians sent of a statement on the tribal data breach:

The National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) is extremely disappointed and disturbed by the release of sensitive information that tribal governments and other entities submitted to the U.S. Department of the Treasury related to CARES Act Coronavirus Relief Funds. This release of sensitive information comes at a time when tribal governments are in dire need of resources to respond to and recover from the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. NCAI demands a full and swift investigation into the source of the data breach.

A group of tribal chairmen from the Great Plains region has called for Tara Sweeney to be removed from her post as Assistant Secretary – Indian Affairs.

The breach comes on the heels of a week when Interior Assistant Secretary-Indian Affairs Tara Sweeney faced severe criticism from tribal organizations for including the Alaska Native Corporations (ANCs) into consideration for CARES Act funding. 

Tribes and advocacy organizations across Indian Country said the CARE Act’s funds were never intended for the ANCs. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Senate Committee on Indian Affairs Vice Chairman Sen. Tom Udall (D-NM) and other senators agree with tribal leaders that the money should not go to ANCs.

The Tribal Registration Report shows that all 13 regional ANCs have registered for funds. They are Arctic Slope Regional Corporation, Ahtna, Inc., The Aleut Corporation, Bering Straits Native Corporation, Bristol Bay Native Corporation, Calista Corporation, Chugach Alaska Corporation, Cook Inlet Region, Inc., Doyon Limited, Koniag Inc., NANA Regional Corporation, and Sealaska Corporation 

On Friday, six federally recognized tribes, including three Alaska tribes (Akiak Native Community, Asa’Carsarmiut Tribe and Aleut Community of St. Paul Island) filed an injunction lawsuit with the U.S. District Court of the District of Columbia to stop funds going to ANCs.

Editor’s Note: This is a developing story and Native News Online will update as the more information becomes available.

The post CARES Act Tribal Data Breached: One Observer Calls it Indian Country’s ‘Watergate’ appeared first on Native News Online.

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