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BREAKING: IT staffers may have compromised sensitive data to foreign intelligence


NY POST:

Federal authorities are investigating whether sensitive data was stolen from congressional offices by several Pakistani-American tech staffers and sold to Pakistani or Russian intelligence, knowledgeable sources say.
What started out 16 months ago as a scandal involving the alleged theft of computer equipment from Congress has turned into a national-security investigation involving FBI surveillance of the suspects.
Investigators now suspect that sensitive US government data — possibly including classified information — could have been compromised and may have been sold to hostile foreign governments that could use it to blackmail members of Congress or even put their lives at risk.
This is a massive, massive scandal,” a senior US official familiar with the widening probe told The Post.
Alarm bells went off in April 2016 when computer security officials in the House reported “irregularities” in computer equipment purchasing. An internal investigation revealed the theft of hundreds of thousands of dollars in government property, and evidence pointed to five IT staffers and the Democratic Congress members’ offices that employed them.
The evidence was turned over to the House inspector general, who found so much “smoke” that she recommended a criminal probe, sources say. The case was turned over to Capitol Police in October.
When the suspected IT workers couldn’t produce the missing invoiced equipment, sources say, they were removed from working on the computer network in early February.
During the probe, investigators found valuable government data that is believed to have been taken from the network and placed on offsite servers, setting off more alarms. Some 80 offices were potentially compromised.
Most lawmakers fired the alleged “ringleader” — longtime IT staffer Imran Awan — in February. But Florida Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the former Democratic National Committee chief, kept Awan on her payroll until his arrest last month on seemingly unrelated charges of defrauding the congressional credit union.
For more than a decade, Awan, his wife, two relatives and a friend worked for 30 House Democrats. They included New York City pols Gregory Meeks, Joseph Crowley and Yvette Clarke and members of the sensitive Intelligence and Foreign Relations committees.
The Democrats who hired the five suspects apparently did a poor job vetting them. Awan’s brother Abid had a rap sheet with multiple offenses, including a conviction for DWI a month before he was hired, and filed for bankruptcy in 2012.
Most had relatively little IT experience. Yet they hauled in a combined $4 million-plus over the past decade. One, a former McDonald’s worker, was suddenly making as much as a chief of staff.
“These lawmakers allowed an insider threat to come into the House,” the official charged. “Computer equipment was stolen, taxpayers were robbed of hundreds of thousands of dollars, and sensitive data was compromised and possibly sold overseas.”
On Thursday, a federal grand jury indicted Imran Awan on four seemingly unrelated felony counts including bank fraud, conspiracy and making false statements. They also indicted his wife, Hina Alvi. FBI agents seized hard drives and other evidence from their Virginia home.
The indictment says the couple wired close to $300,000 in fraudulently obtained funds to Pakistan in January, as the Capitol Police investigation heated up.
FBI agents last month collared Awan, 37, at the Dulles International Airport airport as he tried to board a flight to Pakistan. Alvi, 33, fled to Pakistan in March.
Now that prosecutors have Awan hung up on the fraud charges, they will try to squeeze him harder in the larger cyberespionage investigation, according to the US official, who expects additional charges and arrests in the case.
Awan’s lawyer, Christopher Gowen, who has worked for Hillary Clinton’s campaigns as well as the Clinton Foundation, maintained that his client was only indicted “for working while Muslim.”
The investigation has touched Democratic leaders including Wasserman Schultz, who has been accused of protecting Awan. She stuck by her close aide, despite being briefed several months ago by House administrators and security officials about his “suspicious activities” on the Hill, sources say.
Wasserman Schultz attempted to downplay his alleged conduct, saying he was “transferring data outside the secure network, which I think amounted to use of apps that the House didn’t find compliant with our security requirements.” Such transfers though, could be a serious, potentially illegal, violation.

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