Suspect in House IT Security Probe also had Access to DNC Emails
Imran Awan — the lead suspect in a criminal probe into breaches of House of Representatives information security systems — possessed the password to an iPad used by then-Democratic National Committee Chairperson Debbie Wasserman Schultz when DNC emails were given to WikiLeaks, The Daily Caller News Foundation Investigative Group has learned.
Wasserman Schultz resigned the DNC post in the wake of WikiLeaks posting damaging internal emails, blaming the scandal on hacking by Russians.
Imran and his family members, all of whom worked as IT professionals for members of Congress, were banned from the House network Feb. 2, 2017, by the House Sergeant at Arms, but Wasserman Schultz has declined to fire him and circumvented the ban by having him “advise” her office.
WikiLeaks emails show that although Imran was employed by her taxpayer-funded House office, the Florida Democrat’s world — and iPad — mixed DNC, House and campaign business, and that Imran was on call for, and on a first-name basis with, top DNC staff.
Garret Bonosky, deputy director of the DNC, wrote in a May 4, 2016 email: “Amy — I will call you shortly. I have to get this ipad thing figured out. Need to make sure I have her username and password.”
DNC Assistant to the Chair Amy Kroll responded: “I do not have access to her ipad password, but Imran does.”
Bonosky replied: “Just gave AK the cell phone for Imran.”
Kroll responded: “Just spoke to Imran, call me whenever GB and I’ll update you.”
WikiLeaks began publishing July 26, 2016, “44,053 emails and 17,761 attachments from the top of the U.S. Democratic National Committee … The leaks come from the accounts of seven key figures in the DNC.”
Past interim DNC Chair Donna Brazile initially claimed after the emails became public that they were fabricated, then switched explanations and said the Russians stole them.
The FBI requested access to the DNC’s server to find out who was responsible, but the DNC refused, FBI Director James Comey said, according to The Hill.
Politico reported that New York Rep. Gregory “Meeks and, to a larger extent, Wasserman Schultz, are said to have a friendly personal relationship with Awan and his wife, according to multiple sources.”
House authorities set their sights on the Awans while investigating the existence of a secret server that was funneling congressional data off-site.
They also suspect Imran of stealing money and equipment. Soon after he joined Wasserman Schultz’s congressional payroll in 2005, four of his relatives and one of his friends began getting paid by House members. It is not clear whether ghost employees are part of the theft being investigated, but the family collected a combined $5 million.
Over the last six years, the individuals in question worked for some 80 members of Congress, all Democrats, including members of the homeland security, foreign affairs and intelligence committees. They worked for multiple members at once, since the offices did not require full-time IT services.
Wasserman Schultz spokesman David Damron did not respond to questions about whether the stolen emails might have come from Imran. Damron also declined to respond when asked if Wasserman Schultz has stronger evidence the theft was committed by a Russian.
Computer security experts say the most common threat comes from someone abusing a position of trust, trusting the wrong person or a perpetrator manipulating someone using “social engineering” to gain access; all such explanations defy the prevalent stereotype of distant strangers using high-tech tricks.
Politico reported “Meeks said he was hesitant to believe the accusations against Alvi, Imran Awan and the three other staffers, saying their background as Muslim Americans, some with ties to Pakistan, could make them easy targets for false charges,” Politico reported, adding that, he did not see a “smoking gun.”
Earlier this year, the brothers were accused of using high-tech listening devicesagainst their own stepmom as part of a scheme to ensure that she didn’t stop them from accessing money stashed in Pakistan under their father’s name. A relative said they threatened to have the woman’s loved ones in Pakistan kidnapped if she didn’t give them power of attorney to access assets stored in their dying father’s name.
Their stepmother called the Fairfax County, Virginia police shortly before the Capitol Police disclosed the individuals as targets of the investigation.
In a May 12, 2016, email that went out to Bonosky and other top DNC staff, Wasserman Schultz staffer Rosalyn Kumar wrote: “Pelosi is doing s closed door meeting. No staff or anyone allowed. Kaitlyn come to Rayburn room and get her iPad for Imran.”
As the IT employees who set up user accounts, they had superuser privileges and could read any emails and files saved on the computers of House members’ offices.
While they were supposed to be working for the House, they were also running a limited liability corporation called “CIA,” apparently a car dealership, that racked up massive debts and fraud accusations.
CIA took and never repaid a $100,000 loan from Dr. Ali Al-Attar, an Iranian-Iraqi who is a fugitive from U.S. authorities and has been linked to Hezbollah.
Abid Awan filed for bankruptcy in 2012, listing $1 million in liabilities. Employers typically don’t allow people with money problems to have access to sensitive information, because the financial pressures can cause them to misuse it.
Former Secretary of Labor Tom Perez was elected the DNC’s new chair in February, along with Minnesota Democrat Rep. Keith Ellison, as his deputy.
Neither Perez nor Ellison responded to a request for comment on what the House and DNC are doing to accurately assess whether the Awans stole data.