By Philip Giraldi
There has been surprisingly little media follow-up on the story about the July 25th Dulles Airport arrest of House of Representatives’ employed Pakistani-American IT specialist Imran Awan, who was detained for bank fraud while he was allegedly fleeing to Pakistan. The mainstream media somewhat predictably produced minimal press coverage before the story died. The speed at which the news vanished has prompted some observers, including Breitbart, to sound the alarm over a suspected cover-up of possible exposure of classified information or even espionage that just might be part of the story that we are now calling Russiagate.
To be sure, the tale is a strange one with plenty of unsavory links. Thirty-seven year old Awan, his wife, sister-in-law and two brothers Abid and Jamal worked as IT administrators, full and part-time, for between 30 and 80 congressmen, all Democrats, including former Democratic National Committee (DNC) chairman Debbie Wasserman-Schultz. They did not have security clearances and it is not even certain that they were in any way checked out before being hired. Nor were their claimed skills at IT administration confirmed as their work pattern reportedly turned out to consist more of absences than time spent in the House offices. One congressional IT staffer described them as “ghost employees.”
At one point, Imran brought into the House as a colleague one Rao Abbas, someone to whom he owed money, best distinguished by his being recently fired by McDonald’s. Abbas lived in the basement of a house owned by Imran’s wife as a rental property. He may have had no qualifications at all to perform IT but the congressmen in question did not seem to notice. Abbas wound up working, on the rare occasions that he went into the building, in the office of Congressman Patrick Murphy, who was at the time a member of the House Intelligence Committee as well as for Florida Congressman Theo Deutch. He was paid $250,000.
To cover for all the non-working but on the payroll employees, Imran also hired a high school friend Haseeb Rana, who actually did know something about computers. Rana reportedly did “all the work” and kept wanting to quit for that reason. It was also against House rules for an IT administrator to fill in for someone else, as Rana routinely did, since each such employee had be personally registered by the congressman.
The Awans and their two friends were all taken on as salaried employees of the House of Representatives at senior civil service level paygrades of ca. $165,000 annually, which normally is what is paid to highly experienced senior managers or chiefs of staff. Imran’s younger brother Jamal was only twenty years old when he was hired at that level in 2014.
The process of granting security clearances to Congressional staff is not exactly transparent, but it is not unlike the procedures for other government agencies. The office seeking the clearance for a staff member must put in a request, some kind of investigation follows, and the applicant must then sign a non-disclosure agreement before the authorization is granted. Sometimes Congress pushes the process by demanding that its staff have access above and beyond the normal “need to know.” In March 2016, for example, eight Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee requested that their staffs be given access to top secret sensitive compartmented information.
It is not known if the Awans, who were working for several Intelligence Committee members simultaneously, would have been involved or had access to the computers able to pull up classified material being used by those staffers, but Buzzfeed, in its initial reporting on the investigation of the Awans family, repeated the concerns of a Congressman that the suspects might have “had access to the House of Representatives’ entire computer network.” Indeed, it is difficult to imagine that that was not the case. In office environments, the IT administrators routinely ask for passwords if they are checking out the system. WikiLeaks emails confirm that Imran certainly had passwords relating to Congressman Debbie Wasserman-Schultz as well as to others on her staff.
Congress paid the Awans more than $4 million between 2004 and 2016 at their $165,000 salary level, a sum that some sources suggest to be three or four times higher than the norm for government contractor IT specialists performing similar work at the same level of alleged competency. Four of the Awans were among the 500 highest paid of the 15,000 congressional staffers. The considerable and consistent level of overpayment has not been explained by the congressmen involved. In spite of all that income being generated, Imran Awan declared bankruptcy in 2010 claiming losses of $1 million on a car business that he owned in Falls Church Virginia that ran up debts and borrowed money that it failed to repay. The business was named Cars International A, abbreviated on its business cards as CIA.
The Awans family also was noted for its brushes with the law and internal discord, though it is doubtful if the congressional employers were aware of their outside-of-the-office behavior. The brothers were on the receiving end of a number of traffic citations, including DUI, and were constantly scheming to generate income, including what must have been a hilarious phone conversation to their credit union in which Imran pretended to be his own wife in order to wire money to Pakistan. They were on bad terms with their father and step-mother, including forging a document to cheat their step-mother of an insurance payment and even holding her “captive” so she could not see their dying father. Their father even changed his last name to dissociate himself from them.
As of February 2016, the Awans came under suspicion for having set up an operation involving double billing as well as the theft and reselling of government owned computer equipment. It was also believed that they had somehow obtained entry to much of the House of Representatives’ computer network as well as to other information in the individual offices’ separate computer systems that they were in theory not allowed to access. The Capitol Hill Police began an investigation and quietly alerted the congressmen involved that there might be a problem. Most stopped employing the Awan family members and associates, but Wasserman-Schultz kept Imran on the payroll until the day after he was actually arrested.
Some of those defending the Awans, to include Wasserman-Schultz and the family lawyer, have insisted that he and his family were the victims of “an anti-Muslim, right-wing smear job,” though there is no actual evidence to suggest that is the case. They also claim that the bank fraud that led to the arrest, in which Imran obtained a home equity loan for $165,000 from the Congressional Federal Credit Union based on a house that he owned and claimed to live in in Lorton Virginia, was largely a misunderstanding It has been described as something “extremely minor” by his lawyer Chris Gowen, a high priced Washington attorney who has worked for the Clintons personally, the Clinton Foundation and the Clinton Global Initiative.
It turned out that Imran and his wife no longer lived in the house which had been turned into a rental property, a clear case of bank fraud. The Awans had tenants in the house, an ex-Marine and his Naval officer wife, who were very suspicious about a large quantity of what appeared to be government sourced computer equipment and supplies, all material that had been left behind by the owners. They contacted the FBI, which discovered hard drives that appeared to have been deliberately destroyed.