What is it with Democrats and secret servers?!
Authorities decided to ban Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz’s (D-FL) IT aide Imran Awan from the House network due to a secret server. From The Daily Caller:
Now-indicted former congressional IT aide Imran Awan allegedly routed data from numerous House Democrats to a secret server. Police grew suspicious and requested a copy of the server early this year, but they were provided with an elaborate falsified image designed to hide the massive violations. The falsified image is what ultimately triggered their ban from the House network Feb. 2, according to a senior House official with direct knowledge of the investigation.
The secret server was connected to the House Democratic Caucus, an organization chaired by then-Rep. Xavier Becerra. Police informed Becerra that the server was the subject of an investigation and requested a copy of it. Authorities considered the false image they received to be interference in a criminal investigation, the senior official said.
Awan used Dropbox to backup data “in huge quantities.” The offices cannot use Dropbox, which means Awan had to use an unofficial account and possibly gave him “access to the data even though he was banned from the congressional network.” The Daily Caller continued:
Awan had access to all emails and office computer files of 45 members of Congress who are listed below. Fear among members that Awan could release embarrassing information if they cooperated with prosecutors could explain why the Democrats have refused to acknowledge the cybersecurity breach publicly or criticize the suspects.
Each House member’s data is supposed to be stored on his own server, but Imran moved files to a computer that was only supposed to hold the files of the administrative office of the Democratic Caucus, the senior official said.
The senior official said the data was also funneled offsite via a Dropbox account, from which copies could easily be downloaded. Authorities could not immediately shut down the account when the Awans were banned from the network because it was not an official account.
“For members to say their data was not compromised is simply inaccurate. They had access to all the data including all emails. Imran Awan is the walking example of an insider threat, a criminal actor who had access to everything,” the senior official said.
Becerra left Congress in January to take the attorney general post in California. The senior official told The Daily Caller that Becerra “wanted to wipe his server” and authorities told him it was under investigation:
The light-off was we asked for an image of the server, and they deliberately turned over a fake server,” the senior official said.
“They were using the House Democratic Caucus as their central service warehouse … It was a breach. The data was completely out of [the members’] possession. Does it mean it was sold to the Russians? I don’t know,” the senior official said.
Capitol Police considered the image a sign that the Awans knew exactly what they were doing and were going to great lengths to try to cover it up, the senior official said. The House Sergeant-at-Arms banned them from the network as a result.
The Daily Caller reported at the end of August that Awan still has an active email account connected to Rep. André Carson (D-IN). The email address is “linked to the name of a House staffer who specializes in intelligence and homeland security matters” for Carson, who sits on the House Intelligence Committee and House Homeland Security Committee.
On August 21, a New York Post article stated that authorities started to investigate if the aides stole sensitive information and sold it to Pakistan and Russia:
“It’s clear that large bytes of data were moved off the secure network,” said another source close to the investigation, adding that Awan and the other four staffers under investigation had “full and complete access” to lawmakers’ e-mails, calendars, schedules, hearing notes, meeting notes and memos and other sensitive information.
Investigators are trying to determine if any classified information was compromised. Although the network that was breached is an unclassified system, it’s possible that members or staff cleared to handle classified information inadvertently sent such information in e-mails after getting classified briefings, sources believe.
“Logic dictates that sensitive data was compromised,” the senior official speculated. “An accused criminal with close ties to Pakistan had full and complete control over data that went out over the network.”
On July 23, the FBI seized destroyed hard drives from Awan’s home after a Marine Corps veteran and his Navy Officer wife discovered the items. The veteran described the equipment as “wireless routers, hard drives that look like they tried to destroy, laptops, [and] a lot of brand new expensive toner.”
Then Awan found out and became angry when he couldn’t get back his equipment:
The Marine said Imran wanted the hard drives back so desperately that he threatened to sue the renter for stealing them.
“It was unbelievable. I don’t know where they get off thinking they’re going to sue us for items we have no obligation to hold onto,” he said.
Imran came to the house for the items “three to four times,” but the Marine wouldn’t let him enter.
“Their lawyer contacted us today via email and said we owed $350 in late charges and the items he left in the house,” the Marine said.
In February, reports surfaced that five House employees face an investigation for breaching House IT systems and stealing equipment. Media named Awan, Hina Alvi (Awan’s wife), and Awan’s brothers Abid and Jamal in reports the following days. Lawmakers fired the four when the suspicions arose and barred the brothers “from computer networks at the House of Representatives.”
Alvi gathered the daughters she has with Awan and fled to Pakistan, which gave her protection.
Wasserman Schultz kept Awan on her payroll until the end of July when authorities arrested him at Dulles on bank fraud charges. He had just wired $300,000 to Pakistan. Politico reported that he faces accusations “of attempting to defraud the Congressional Federal Credit Union by obtaining a $165,000 home equity loan for a rental property, which is against the credit union’s policies since it is not the owner’s primary residence.” At his arraignment, he pled not guilty “to one count of bank fraud.”
Awan and other IT aides for House Democrats have been on investigators’ radar for months over concerns of possible double-billing, alleged equipment theft, and access to sensitive computer systems. Most lawmakers fired Awan in February, but Schultz had kept him on until his arrest in July.
The indictment itself, which merely represents formal charges and is not a finding of guilt, addresses separate allegations that Awan and his wife engaged in a conspiracy to obtain home equity lines of credit from the Congressional Federal Credit Union by giving false information about two properties – and then sending the proceeds to individuals in Pakistan.
On September 6, The Washington Examiner reported that Alvi struck a deal with authorities and will return to the states:
A document filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia indicates that federal prosecutors have struck a deal with Alvi that would allow her to return to the U.S., but would also require her to surrender her passport and afterwards not book any international travel. The deal only surrounds how Alvi will turn herself in, and is structured so that she can avoid being arrested in front of her children when she returns to the U.S., “during the last week of September 2017.”
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