(Read the full story and get all the details on the Democrat’s hacking scandal the establishment media is ignoring in WND’s look at “The biggest scandal you’ve never heard of.”)
WASHINGTON – Federal agents arrested the top suspect in a major Democratic hacking scandal at Dulles Airport in Virginia as he tried to flee the U.S. Tuesday and fly to the Mideast.
Former House IT staffer Imran Awan was then arraigned in federal court in Washington, and he pleaded not guilty to one count of bank fraud following allegations he tried to defraud the Congressional Federal Credit Union.
But he is suspected of much more, including the possible theft of sensitive information from the office computers of numerous Democratic Party lawmakers and sending that data to a secret server. It is a major scandal almost completely ignored by the establishment media.
Awan headed a group of IT workers, mostly relatives, employed by dozens of House Democrats, including former Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., for whom he had worked since she took office in 2005 as the representative from Florida’s 23rd district.
Awan was arrested at the airport by agents from the U.S. Capitol Police, the FBI and Customs and Border Protection, according to Fox News.
The 37-year-old suspect was released but ordered to surrender his passports, wear a GPS monitor and observe a curfew. He was ordered to reappear in court for a hearing on Aug. 21.
Court documents show Awan, a Pakistani national, had booked a flight to his home country.
Awan headed a group of at least five IT contractors working for dozens of House Democrats. That group included his wife, two of his brothers and one of their wives, all of whom are Muslims from Pakistan.
After word broke in February that Capitol Police were investigating the group and had blocked their access to the House computer system, most Democratic lawmakers fired the staffers.
However, Wasserman Schultz defended Awan, with whom she reportedly has a personal friendship, and she refused to fire him.
After Awan’s arrest, a spokesman for the congresswoman finally announced she had fired Awan.
Ironically, it was the famous computer hack of the Democratic National Committee, or DNC, that cost Wasserman Schultz her job as party chairman, after leaked emails indicated she and other top party officials colluded to deny Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., the presidential nomination in favor of Hillary Clinton.
After it became clear that the Awans were suspected of more than overcharging lawmakers for services and stealing equipment, but also stealing data, the FBI reportedly began assisting Capitol Police in the investigation.
Just Sunday, it was reported the FBI had seized smashed hard drives from Awan’s former residence.
WND reported Thursday that Wasserman Schultz apparently and abruptly decided to finally stop her seemingly inexplicable stonewall of investigators.
As WND reported, U.S. Capitol Police seized one of her laptops months ago, hidden in a crevice in a House office building, as part of a criminal investigation into the suspected hacking of the office computers of potentially scores of House Democrats.
Not only had Wasserman Schultz refused for months to give investigators permission to inspect the contents of the laptop, she publicly threatened the chief of the Capitol Police, telling him during a May hearing there would be “consequences” if he did not return the item to her.
According to Fox News, investigators were apparently prevented from looking at the contents of the laptop without her permission by the Constitution’s “Speech and Debate” clause, which “bars law enforcement from interfering in lawmakers’ official congressional business,” and which “was designed to keep law enforcement from targeting lawmakers for their political views or legislative work.”
Of greatest concern to investigators is that Awan apparently had access to any and all of the sensitive, and/or confidential, information in her congressional computer system, including any material that could be politically embarrassing, as was the case with the hacked DNC emails which caused a disgraced Wasserman Shultz to resign as party chair on the eve of their national convention in 2016.
Awan’s associates apparently had the same access to her computer system, as well as the office computers of dozens of other Democrats.
The Awan brothers and their associates have been under criminal investigation since late 2016, suspected of secretly accessing lawmakers’ computer networks, storing information on secret servers and stealing equipment from Congress.
After stonewalling for months, out of the blue came word that Wasserman Schultz’s attorney had begun negotiations with Capitol Police last week regarding the investigation. The congresswoman’s representatives wouldn’t say why she suddenly decided to cooperate with investigators after refusing to do so for months.
But just as mysterious as her sudden about-face has been why Wasserman Schultz refused to cooperate in the first place with an investigation into the hacking of her own office computer system, in which she was apparently the victim.
House IT staffers have suggested blackmail may be involved.
“I don’t know what they have, but they have something on someone. It’s been months at this point,” Pat Sowers, who has managed IT for several House offices for 12 years, told the Daily Caller in May. “Something is rotten in Denmark.”
“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,” said the manager of a company that provides high-tech services for House Democrats.
Although the Awans raked in millions over the years for their House IT work, they had severe financial problems including substantial debts and a million-dollar bankruptcy.
Security experts consider the combination money trouble and access to sensitive government information to be a bright red flag marking a security risk with the potential for blackmail.
The Awans were employed by three members of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence and five members of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, which store sensitive national security documents, including material related to terrorism, on their own committee servers.
Congressional committees dealing with national security are confident their computer systems were not compromised, but the length of the investigation suggests the FBI may be looking into whether sensitive material may have been illegally accessed on the individual computer systems of the Democratic lawmakers who employed the Awan group.
And, even if portrayed to WND as unlikely, it is not impossible lawmakers stored classified information on their own electronic devices, including office computers.
But information doesn’t have to be classified to be private, privileged, extremely sensitive and of the utmost importance. Or, embarrassment.
According to House IT workers, the term “classified” is used to describe secret and important material by spy agencies and intelligence committees, but not by regular members of Congress.
Sensitive material stored on their computers need not be related to national security to be so politically embarrassing as to be useful to a potential blackmailer.
When congressional staffers downplayed the significance of the Awan investigation because they apparently did not have access to classified information, multiple House IT workers told the Daily Caller that rankled them, because “those semantics misleadingly made it seem like they didn’t have access to extremely sensitive information.”
That was especially true because the Awans had installed everything on their clients’ systems, set up all the accounts and granted all the required permissions and restrictions, which effectively gave them full control over the lawmakers computer systems.
And their remote access meant lawmakers would never even know when the Awans were on their system.
A central IT worker said members of Congress were simply trying to ignore the seriousness of the problem, and “security of computer systems on the Hill is not really taken seriously.”
Five congressional IT aides told the Daily Caller they were baffled by the loyalty shown by those lawmakers who still had not fired Awan group suspects.
That led them to wonder if the lawmakers were being blackmailed.
Especially as there still had been no arrests until Tuesday.
A House IT employee said the new technicians who took over those offices no longer employing the Awans found some had all the office computer data sent to a secret off-site server.
They also discovered a non-government iTunes account to which staffers’ iPhones were linked.
And while the Awans were allegedly committing all those security risks, it doesn’t appear lawmakers were getting stellar service in return.
An IT specialist who took over an Awan office told the Daily Caller they did not keep a hardware inventory and had a lawmaker paying for phone lines that hadn’t been used for years.
Sowers said the number of lawmakers who showed such loyalty for such bad customer service “would definitely be suspicious.”
He added, “I love the Hill, but to see this clear lack of concern over what appears to be a major breach bothers me. Everyone has said for years they were breaking the rules, but it’s just been a matter of time.”
And yet, despite all the problems, the Awans reportedly worked for more congressional offices than any other IT group.
A Democratic IT contractor implied there was a cover-up, telling the Daily Caller that lawmakers are saying, “Don’t say anything, this will all blow over if we all don’t say anything.”
The technician said the Awans “had [members of Congress] in their pocket,” and “there are a lot of members who could go down over this.”
On top of all that, there was the bizarre demand made by Wasserman Schultz that investigators return her laptop,
It may be difficult to imagine how the demand to return of a key piece of evidence in an ongoing criminal investigation, and the threat of “consequences” if that were not done, would not amount to obstruction of justice.
But that’s what the congresswoman did in public, in an incident that received remarkably little press coverage, and none in the mainstream media.
It happened as she was questioning Capitol Police Chief Matthew Verderosa during the annual police budget hearing of the House Committee On Appropriations’ Legislative Branch subcommittee on May 18.
The Florida congresswoman’s questions were triggered by investigators’ seizure of her laptop.
A federal employee told the Daily Caller, as investigators were zeroing in on the Awan brothers, someone had hidden a laptop used by Imran in a crevice of the Rayburn House Office Building. (Rayburn is connected by a tunnel to the adjoining Longworth House Office Building, where Wasserman Schultz’s office is located.)
The source said police later found the laptop and seized it as evidence in the criminal investigation.
But, during the May 18 hearing, Wasserman Schultz openly pressured police to return the evidence to her.
“My understanding is the Capitol Police is not able to confiscate Members’ equipment when the Member is not under investigation,” she told the police chief.
“We can’t return the equipment,” replied Chief Verderosa.
Wasserman Shultz then responded with a not-so-veiled threat, warning the chief, “I think you’re violating the rules when you conduct your business that way, and you should expect that there will be consequences.”
In the context of the hearing, the most obvious “consequence” would be cutting the Capitol Police budget.
Wasserman Schultz is one of the eight members of the subcommittee in charge of that budget.
All told, she spent three minutes of the hearing trying to get the chief to return her laptop, without apparent success.