House Aides Wonder if Dem IT Suspects Are Blackmailing Members of Congress
The Pakistani clan that managed office information technology for congressional Democrats until they were accused of data theft in February and banned from the network still have not been charged with a crime, The Daily Caller reported Monday. What's more, it's not even clear whether or not they are still employed by Democrat members of Congress.
The lack of action on the case has reportedly baffled congressional technology aides who now "fear the integrity of sensitive high-level information." The strange passivity Democrats have demonstrated since the breaches were discovered have some even wondering whether blackmail is involved.
The three brothers — Abid, Imran, and Jamal Awan — were "abruptly relieved of their duties" in early February on suspicion that they accessed congressional computers without permission, but it's not clear whether they are still receiving paychecks. Imran's wife, Hina Alvi, and another House staffer with connections to Imran Awan were also being investigated in connection with the alleged theft, a senior House official close to the investigation said back in February. From The Daily Caller:
Imran Awan and three relatives were colleagues until police banned them from computer networks at the House of Representatives after suspicion the brothers accessed congressional computers without permission.
Five Capitol Hill technology aides told The Daily Caller News Foundation’s Investigative Group that members of Congress have displayed an inexplicable and intense loyalty towards the suspects who police say victimized them. The baffled aides wonder if the suspects are blackmailing representatives based on the contents of their emails and files, to which they had full access.
“I don’t know what they have, but they have something on someone. It’s been months at this point” with no arrests, said Pat Sowers, who has managed IT for several House offices for 12 years. “Something is rotten in Denmark.”
A manager at a tech-services company that works with Democratic House offices said he approached congressional offices, offering their services at one-fourth the price of Awan and his Pakistani brothers, but the members declined. At the time, he couldn’t understand why his offers were rejected but now he suspects the Awans exerted some type of leverage over members.
“There’s no question about it: If I was accused of a tenth of what these guys are accused of, they’d take me out in handcuffs that same day, and I’d never work again,” he said.
The Awans’ ban sent 20 members searching for new IT workers, but another contractor claims he’s had difficulty convincing offices to let him fill the void, even when he seemed like a shoo-in. He says he has the sense some members wrongly believed that he blew the whistle on the Awans’ theft and they were angry at him for it.
Politico reported the Awan crew is “accused of stealing equipment from members’ offices without their knowledge and committing serious, potentially illegal, violations on the House IT network.”
A House IT employee who requested anonymity said tech workers who have taken over some of those offices found that computers in some — but not all — offices were “thin clients” that sent all data to an offsite server in violation of House policies. Additionally, staffers’ iPhones were all linked to a single non-government iTunes account.
Awan began working for Democratic Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida in 2005, and his wife, his brother’s wife, and two of his brothers all appeared on the payrolls of various House Democrats soon after, payroll records show. They have collected $4 million since 2010.
That's well over the median salary for legislative assistants — which is $43,000 annually, according to InsideGov.com.
For years, it was widely known that Awan, and eventually his 20-year-old brother Jamal, did the bulk of the work for various offices, while no-show employees were listed on members’ staffs in order to collect additional $165,000 salaries, workers said. This circumvented a rule that prevents any one staffer from making more than members of Congress.
Members were fiercely protective of the business, despite objectively shoddy work and requests for computer help routinely ignored for weeks, all said. An IT specialist who took over an Awan office said they did not keep an inventory of what hardware was there, and the office was paying for phone lines it hadn’t used in years.
“The number of offices they had would definitely be suspicious. The loyalty [members] had [coupled with] customer service that wasn’t there,” Sowers said.
The implications are obvious.
The investigation goes far beyond the theft of millions of dollars. The employees could read all emails dozens of members of Congress sent and received, as well as access any files members and their staff stored. Court records show the brothers ran a side business that owed $100,000 to an Iranian fugitive who has been tied to Hezbollah, and their stepmother says they often send money to Pakistan.
“When you’re an admin for an office, yes, you have access to everything, you’re the one providing access for others,” the IT specialist said.
Wasserman Schultz, the victim of a disastrous hack while she was chairman of the Democratic National Committee, renamed Awan an “advisor” to circumvent the Capitol Police’s computer network ban on the brothers. Ohio Democratic Rep. Marcia Fudge’s office told Politico a month after the ban that she had not fired Imran either.
As PJ Media reported back in February, a House rule requiring security tests for IT employees was in place that would have blocked the employment of some members of the family.
According to a congressional source on the Hill, the House passed a rule last year requiring all employees with access to IT to pass background checks in order to flag potential problems such as the credit and legal issues, the DCNF discovered. This congressional source told PJ Media that FBI background checks were applied to all IT employees retroactively. The only way around a background check would have been if a "hiring authority" in a congressional office had signed a waiver attesting to the "trustworthiness and judgment" of the privileged user.
Authorizing Official (AO) Designation form 16.01 designates an employee to be an "Authorizing Official for the purpose of administering and managing privileged accounts."
It is not known whether these employees received background checks or obtained waivers and if they did receive waivers, who signed them. Democratic members of Congress contacted by PJ Media in February declined requests for comment.
A Democraticic IT contractor told The Daily Caller that members “are saying don’t say anything, this will all blow over if we all don’t say anything.”
The Awans “had [members] in their pocket,” and “there are a lot of members who could go down over this.”