Not one of 44 House Democrats bothered with background checks for members of a close-knit group of Pakistani IT aides who ended up gaining “unauthorized access” to congressional data, a new report from The Daily Caller shows.
House security rules require members to start a background check for employees, but they can also put down that another member has vouched for the person.
The background check was waived for all five IT workers, who made headlines last year for what the House inspector general’s report described as activity with “nefarious purposes.”
Pakistan-born Imran Awan, who served as a tech aide in Congress for 13 years, managed to snag congressional IT jobs with salaries as high as $165,000 for his brothers Abid and Jamal, his wife Hina Alvi, and his friend Rao Abbas, who had just been fired from McDonald’s. Together the group was found logging into accounts of representatives who had not hired them, using representatives’ private usernames, and uploading data off of the House network, according to the inspector general’s report.
Abid was working for Representative Yvette Clarke (D., N.Y.) when $120,000 of computer equipment disappeared. Then-congressman Xavier Becerra, who hired Imran, had his server stolen after the inspector general listed it as evidence in an investigation.
Some of the inspector general’s investigators who reviewed the aides’ network activity mused that they may have been ignoring House security protocol simply to share job duties, but others felt it was something more sinister.
“Steps are being taken to conceal their activity,” the report found, adding the group “could be reading and/or removing information.”
The group was using one congressional server for personal material like children’s homework and family photos.
The Capitol Police and the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force both investigated the matter, and the five aides were blocked from accessing the House network in February, 2017.
A background check on Imran or Abid would have found several red flags. Abid had a $1.1 million bankruptcy, at least three misdemeanors, and six lawsuits against him or his companies in his past. Imran had several misdemeanor convictions for vehicular crimes, committed bank fraud on a home-equity loan, and had the police called on him multiple times by at least three Muslim women, one of whom was found bloodied and two of whom said they felt like slaves or as if they were in captivity.
Both brothers were involved with a car dealership that obtained $100,000 from an Iraqi government official on the run from U.S. authorities.
Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D., Fla.) was reluctant to fire Imran after questions about him and his family arose, even after he lost access to the House computer servers. The former Democratic National Committee chairwoman suggested last year that the accusations against Imran might be because of Islamophobia. “As a mother, a Jew, and a member of Congress,” she stuck by him, she said.
Lawyers for the men have called claims of espionage “ludicrous” and have described “a very lax environment” regarding House computer security.