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Serious questions about Congressional security are being raised after revelations that 44 Democrat representatives failed to do background checks before hiring members of the Awan family as IT technicians, now suspected of unauthorized access to privileged government data.
The Awan saga has involved a litany of criminal allegations and suspicious behavior from Imran Awan and various relatives including his brother and wife. The Pakistani-American dual nationals are thought to have gained illegal access to secure government data while employed by dozens of Democrat members of Congress between 2004 and 2017. It is still unclear what data may have been accessed or what has been done with it; but despite a possible security breach, his former employers remain uncooperative with investigators.
Democrats Neglect Security
Representatives have a duty to perform their due diligence before hiring staff who will have access to confidential information. The House security policy requires members to confirm that they have initiated background checks, though this can be waived if they “have verified that a trustworthiness determination has been made on behalf of this shared resource by another Member.” Daily Caller reporter Luke Roziak has done extensive investigative work on the story and has contacted the Awans’ 44 employers who failed to do background checks – none of whom would specify who had vouched for the technicians.
Imran Awan has had several misdemeanor convictions, filed for bankruptcy with over $1 million worth of liabilities, been accused of domestic abuse by three different women, witness intimidation, and dodgy financial dealings including a loan of $100,000 from a Hezbollah linked Iraqi official – any of which could have flagged him as an inappropriate congressional employee during a background check.
Not only did these members fail to properly verify the Awans’ credentials, but they have also refused to cooperate with investigations. According to the Daily Caller, lack of Democrat support has severely hindered investigators in collecting evidence with which to charge the family:
Capitol Hill officials involved in oversight of the case say the reason is that Democratic employers are acting like “hostile victims” and are refusing to press charges.
Several members of Congress have inexplicably tolerated suspicious behavior from the Awans; New York Rep. Yvette Clarke’s Chief of Staff quietly signed off on $120,000 worth of missing equipment that the Awans are suspected of stealing, without alerting the authorities – why?
Espionage or Lax Conduct?
As senior IT aides, the Awans had high level user privileges, helping users to create accounts that the family then continued to use, logging in under members’ names and even accessing the emails of Democrat representatives that had never employed them. Imran had a secret house email account that is reportedly still active and information was copied from House servers into unsecured Dropbox accounts that the family was able to continue accessing long after they had been removed from their jobs. They are also thought to have transferred information to a secret server belonging to the House Democratic Caucus, which was chaired at that time by former California Rep. Xavier Becerra. A false copy of the server was initially given to law enforcement and the physical copy has reportedly gone missing. According to the Daily Caller, Becerra’s staff was well aware of suspicious activity, but did not report it to law enforcement – an allegation Becerra denies.
An investigation by the House Office of the Inspector General found evidence of “unauthorized access” as well as indications that a “server is being used for nefarious purposes and elevated the risk that individuals could be reading and/or removing information” and “could be used to store documents taken from other offices.” The report suggested that this is a “classic method for insiders to exfiltrate data from an organization” and that “this pattern of login activity suggests steps are being taken to conceal their activity.” The report does not point explicitly to espionage on behalf of the Awans, acknowledging the possibility of simple unprofessionalism.
Complicit Dems: Blackmail or Negligence?
Imran Awan’s chief defender has been Florida representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the former DNC Chairman who was forced to resign after Wikileaks obtained hacked emails revealing an anti-Bernie Sanders bias in the 2016 presidential primaries; it is not known whether Awan was involved in the leak, although he is known to have possessed her iPad password at the time. Wasserman Schultz blamed the intrusion on Russians.
She has denied all allegations of impropriety, threatening the Capitol Hill chief of police with “consequences” if he didn’t return a laptop belonging to her office, which was found under suspicious circumstances and is being held as evidence. She also made conflicting statements about who owned the laptop and used campaign funds to pay a lawyer in an attempt to prevent prosecutors from accessing it.
Wasserman Schultz refused to fire Imran after the family was banned from the House in February 2017, defending him as the target of ethnic and religious discrimination. She only let go after he and his brother were charged with bank fraud.
Imran Awan was arrested while trying to leave the country due to his bank fraud indictment, and although no charges have been made related to his conduct as a house employee, there has been speculation that law enforcement is using the fraud case to buy more time to investigate. The possible security breaches are concerning, but more worrisome is the apparent complicity of so many Democrats in Congress who have refused to cooperate in such a serious investigation. Speculation about blackmail abounds, and indeed one wonders what exactly is this hold that Imran Awan seems to have over so many?