IT staffers on Capitol Hill are confused over the lack of attention being paid to the story of recently banned House IT workers and fear that the reason may be that the banned workers possess sensitive high-level information, the Daily Caller reported Tuesday.
Imran Awan is the lead suspect in a criminal probe into security breaches within the House of Representatives that was launched Feb 2. Awan, three members of his family, and close friend Rao Abbas were House IT workers and are accused of stealing equipment from members’ offices without their knowledge and committing potentially illegal violations on the House IT network, including leaking sensitive information stored within the servers and personal devices of House members.
Awan was in possession of an iPad belonging to the then-Democratic National Committee chair, Florida Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, around the time that DNC emails were been leaked to WikiLeaks in July 2016, prompting suspicion from authorities. Also, members of Awan’s group were paid $165,000 a year, roughly the same salary as a congressman. Together, the five tech workers accumulated some $4 million from 2010 to the time of their firings earlier this year, according to the Daily Caller.
The Awans worked in 32 House member offices, all Democrats, including the office of Wasserman Schultz and members of the Homeland Security Committee, the Foreign Affairs Committee, and the Intelligence Committee. The tech team also worked in the office of the House Democratic Caucus. (A list of potentially compromised House members, as well as which of Awan’s group worked with the members and when, is available at the Daily Caller.)
Capitol Police banned Awan’s group from working on congressional members’ servers directly, but Schultz circumvented the ban by keeping Awan employed in an advisory position and allowing him to conduct business remotely.
Now, five Capitol Hill tech aides have come forward and told the Daily Caller that members of Congress have shown an unusual amount of loyalty to Awan group. The aides fear that the Awans may be blackmailing Democratic members.
“I don’t know what they have, but they have something on someone. It’s been months at this point” with no arrests, Pat Sowers, who has managed IT for several Republican House offices for 12 years, told the Daily Caller. “Something is rotten in Denmark.”
An anonymous manager at an unnamed tech company that works with Democratic House offices told the Daily Caller that he approached the congressional offices to offer his company’s services at one-fourth the price the Awan family was charging. To the manager’s confusion, House members rejected his offer. The manager told the Daily Caller that he now suspects that the Awan family has leverage over members of Congress.
Sowers and other IT staffers are reportedly concerned that the lack of action from House members against the Awans stems from the possibility that the former tech workers — who had access to members’ personal devices and servers, which would include emails and files — possess sensitive, and potentially embarrassing, information about 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,” the anonymous manager said.
According to one anonymous Democratic IT staffer, Awan would work with only the members of Congress directly, because “staffers come and go.” The source told the Daily Caller that on one occasion, a member’s staffer complained that his computer was broken and that he would not pay the invoices owed to Awan until the computer was fixed. Awan allegedly went to the member, and the staffer who complained was fired that day.
“Imran has that power,” the source said.
The Daily Caller also reported that House members were oddly protective of Awan’s business despite work going undone or being done poorly. Additionally, an IT specialist who took over an office of the Awans after they were banned noted that they did not keep any inventory of the hardware that was there and that the office was paying for phone lines it hadn’t used in years.
Another IT staffer wishing to retain anonymity claimed that some of the offices that were taken over by the Awans’ replacements were “thin clients,” or computers specifically designed for “remoting” or sending information to off-site servers. This “remoting” would be in violation of House policies. Also, the Daily Caller reported, some staffers’ iPhones were linked to a single non-government iTunes account.
The Daily Caller said that IT workers were encouraged by members of Congress to keep quiet about the Awans in the hopes that the problem would blow over if no one was discussing it.
“The Awans had [members] in their pocket,” one IT staffer said. “There are a lot of members who could go down over this.”