It’s been a while since I wrote about the strange case of the Awan Brothers – the fugitive IT specialists for House Democrats – so I figured it might be time for an update. For those in need of some background, here is the earlier article.
Imran Awan was arrested July 24, 2017 at an airport as he was attempting to flee the country. He was flying to Pakistan by way of Qatar – following his wife who had fled the country in March with $12,000 in cash. He has been charged with four counts of bank fraud in connection with his wire transfer of nearly $300,000 to Pakistan. Imran and his brothers, Abid and Jamal, are under investigation by the FBI and U.S. Capitol Police for accessing congressional computers and stealing IT equipment.
The Awan brothers provided services to as many as 80 House Democrats over the years and had access to the electronic files and emails of House Intelligence and Foreign Affairs Committee members. They provided their services on time-divided basis among the various Democratic Representatives.
The suspects had full access to the emails and office computer files of the members for whom they worked. A focus of the investigation by the U.S. Capitol Police is an off-site server on which congressional data was allegedly loaded without the knowledge of authorities.
The Awans were each paid roughly $160,000 – well above the $40,000 average of a congressional staffer. Records show they have collected more than $5 million since 2009.
The story started to become public on February 2, 2017, when Imran, Abid and Jamal Awan – along with Hina Alvi (later discovered to be Imran’s wife) and Natalia Sova (later discovered to be Abid’s wife) – were suddenly barred from the House of Representatives computer networks.
After the family was barred from the House computer networks, most individual Democratic lawmakers began the process of termination – each had to terminate the Awans’ employment directly. But noticeably, Debbie Wasserman Schultz did not terminate Imran’s employment.
Amazingly, Imran Awan was still employed by Wasserman Schultz at the time of his arrest.
Since these series of events, things have only gotten stranger.
In early April 2017, a laptop belonging to Florida Democratic Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz – and used by Imran Awan – was found “hidden in an unused crevice of the Rayburn House Office Building. Wasserman Schultz’s office is in Longworth House Office Building, a separate structure. The laptop was later found by Capitol Police and seized because it was relevant to the criminal investigation.”
You may recall that Wasserman Schultz was removed as the head of the DNC after it was revealed that she had been helping to thwart Bernie Sander’s campaign.
Luke Rosiak, who broke the original story, recently provided some interesting updates surrounding the circumstances of the laptop’s discovery.
Read the content list description closely:
On 4/6/2017 at 0021 hours, with the building closed to the public, AOC informed USCP Rayburn offices of an unattended bag in the phone booth on the 2nd floor. The officer received the open-contents visible bag and prepared a found property report. While reviewing the inventory of the bag contents, the officer found:
#1 a Pakistani ID card with the name Mohommed Ashraf Awan
#2 a copy – not original – of a drivers license with name Imran Awan
#3 a copy (front and back) of his congressional ID
#4 an Apple laptop with the homescreen initials ‘RepDWS’
#5 composition notebooks with notes handwritten saying ‘attorney client privilege’ and possibly discussing case details below
#6 loose letters addressed to US Attorney of DC discussing the apparent owner of the bag being investigated.
Approximately 3-4 months ago officer was requested by SAA as police presence of 4 individuals [the Awans] being interviewed, including the bag owner. It is unknown to the officer whether he is still employed.
The collection of documents found in Rayburn tied the laptop to Awan and ensured that police would keep the computer. The reporting officer wrote that when he saw Awan’s name, he recalled guarding an interrogation of him a few months earlier. The “attorney client privilege” notation also prevented police from immediately reviewing some of the papers.
Nonetheless, the officer opened the MacBook and found that its login screen did not have Awan’s username, but rather “RepDWS.”
There has been obvious speculation that Imran intentionally left the laptop to be found by Capital Police.
This is the same laptop that Debbie Wasserman Schultz has been desperately trying to retrieve from Capital Police.
During a televised House Subcommittee budget meeting in May 2017, Wasserman Schultz repeatedly pressed the Chief of the Capitol Police for return of the laptop. You may find the highly unusual exchange here. It ends with the following comments:
DWS: I don’t understand how that is possible. Members’ equipment is members’ equipment. My understanding is the Capitol Police is not able to confiscate members’ equipment when the member is not under investigation. It is their equipment and it is supposed to be returned.
Chief: I think there are extenuating circumstances in this case, and working through my counsel and the necessary personnel, if that in fact is the case, and with the permission of through the investigation, then we’ll return the equipment. But until that happens we can’t return the equipment.
DWS: I think you’re violating the rules when you conduct your business that way and you should expect that there will be consequences.
Two months later, Wasserman Schultz changed her story claiming, “This was not my laptop. I have never seen that laptop. I don’t know what’s on the laptop.”
She also hired an attorney to keep the laptop from being examined:
Wasserman Schultz has hired an outside counsel, William Pittard, to argue that the laptop not be examined. Pittard argued that the speech and debate clause — which only protects a member’s information directly related to legislative duties — should prevent prosecutors from examining the laptop’s contents.
Hiring an outside counsel to argue the speech and debate clause on behalf of Wasserman Schultz is highly unusual, because the general counsel of the House offers opinions on speech and debate issues for free.
Yesterday, it was reported why the Awans were suddenly banned from the House of Representatives computer network:
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.
Data was also backed up to Dropbox in huge quantities, the official said. Congressional offices are prohibited from using Dropbox, so an unofficial account was used, meaning Awan could have still had access to the data even though he was banned from the congressional network.
Despite Democrats’ acute awareness of the importance of cybersecurity after the Democratic National Committee’s emails appeared on Wikileaks in July 2016, the employing members have gone to great lengths to avoid condemning Awan or have said nothing about whether they checked their office data’s security following the breach.
“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.
This is a breach. A serious one.
I have been hearing rumors of a second server as well. We shall see.
On September 6, 2017, it was reported that Imran’s wife, Hina Alvi, had struck a deal with prosecutors and would return from Pakistan to face charges on bank fraud:
A former House Democrat tech staffer who fled the country to Pakistan while under criminal investigation has struck a deal with federal officials to return to the U.S. and appear at an arraignment, according to court documents.
Hina Alvi is the wife of Imran Awan, and both face charges of conspiracy and bank fraud. Both worked for Democrats for several years, and Awan worked directly for Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., when she was chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee.
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.”
Ask yourself what type of deal Alvi must have struck if she is willing to return from Pakistan – with her children – where she successfully fled to specifically avoid the very charges she is returning to face…
Finally, it appears the Awans were never properly vetted for security clearances:
Federal law enforcement agents working the Imran Awan and Hina Alvi fraud probe said the couple, along with other members of the family, were never properly vetted for Congressional security clearances.
Instead the clearances, which provided the Awans access to dozens of Congressional Democrats computer networks and IT systems, were likely approved absent each individual background file getting “fully investigated.”
“I seriously doubt they could have passed a full background (check),” one FBI insider said. “These clearances were pushed through.”
FBI insiders used the word “forged” to describe the process of what happened to the Awan files. Federal law enforcement sources with knowledge of the case divulged:
- Either someone with clout in Congress, or higher, made sure the Awans received their security clearances despite glaring problems or the investigators pushed their files through for approval as part of a systemic breakdown.
- Many assertions in the Awan-linked applications and files could not be verified by subsequent FBI vetting as part of the criminal case now pending against Imran and Hina. The files are problematic, FBI sources said.
- The FBI did not conduct the background checks on members of the Awan family who were granted security clearances in Congress.
I have been following this fascinating – and puzzling – story for over seven months. It continues to grow more intriguing. The charges of bank fraud are almost certain to morph into far more serious charges.
As Andrew McCarthy of National Review noted, “this is no run-of-the-mill bank-fraud case”.
The silence from the 45 House Democrats who employed the Awans is equally intriguing.
It feels like this story is quickly coming closer to breaking into the open – and being revealed as something far more serious than simple bank fraud.
Here is a recent interview with Rep. Trent Franks (R-AZ) on Fox Business with host Lou Dobbs on the Awan case.
Franks notes that he believes “we are going to see some revelations that are going to be pretty profound…I will just predict this is going to be a very significant story and people should fasten their seat belts on this one”.
Thomas Paine, who has also been closely involved in the reporting of this story at True Pundit, sent out the following cryptic tweet just as I was finishing this article:
Awan Contra …
— Thomas Paine (@Thomas1774Paine) September 13, 2017
Here is a link to all the articles Luke Rosiak has written on the Awan case. They make for interesting reading.
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