Three Democrats on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence have been “dangerous” and “negligent” by seemingly failing to react to evidence of a major security breach by their own IT aides, a former Air Force colonel and career intelligence staffer charged. In light of this, he told The Daily Caller News Foundation, their concerns on committee Republicans voting to release a classified memo ring hollow.
The House inspector general found that a family of Pakistanis working for Democrats made “unauthorized access” to House servers, logging in using members’ personal usernames, covering their tracks, and continuing to access servers even after efforts to stop them. The IG found evidence that data from 17 members may have been funneled onto one server, which law enforcement said was later physically stolen.
Intelligence committee members Democratic Reps. Joaquin Castro of Texas, Andre Carson of Indiana, and Jackie Speier of California employed the aides until they were banned from the network in February 2017. Castro and Speier both said they did not know of any cybersecurity breach, but then they refused to respond when TheDCNF revealed two reports by the House’s internal investigator that showed there was a breach.
“As a member you have an obligation and a responsibility to know. To say you don’t know is a cop-out and excuse. You had no interest in it nor did you care about safeguarding official government documents,” James Waurishuk, a retired Air Force colonel, senior career strategic intelligence officer and National Security Council staffer, told TheDCNF. People with clearances, he said, are obligated to proactively find and report threats.
One of the aides, Imran Awan, had a secret email address — firstname.lastname@example.org — that was set up in the name of an intelligence specialist who works for Carson. The secret address remained active after Imran’s main account was blocked. In August, TheDCNF discovered in civil court documents that the address actually belonged to Imran, and alerted Carson’s office of the vulnerability. Carson spokeswoman Jessica Gail did not openly express any alarm.
“Where someone has knowledge that something wasn’t right and rather than make an issue of it — the individual was a friend or someone they had to deal with every day and they wanted to turn a blind eye — in the end it winds up catching both of them,” Waurishuk told TheDCNF. “If you fail to follow the necessary procedures, then depending on the level, people go to jail for that.”
Democrats are “outraged over publishing the memo in accordance with House rules, yet they have nothing to say at all about major security breaches by a staffer they themselves employed,”a Republican intel committee source told TheDCNF on background because the person was not authorized to comment. “Their level of concern about information security issues obviously depends on that issue’s political ramifications for themselves and their party.”
Ranking Member of the intelligence committee Democrat Adam Schiff has attacked the GOP for voting to release a classified memo Republicans say shows abuses of spying authority. Democrats charge Republicans are showing a disregard for security procedures. Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said committee Chairman Devin Nunes “has disgraced the House Intelligence Committee.” Republicans say the document contains information that Americans have a right to know about.
The Awans were banned from the House network in February but not arrested. Yet in April, Awan was in a House office building at midnight and left a government laptop with the username RepDWS in a decommissioned phone booth.
“With these three members on intel with this whole investigation going on with FISA and unmasking, did these individuals have any access to that info?” Waurishuk asked of that incident and the active email address tied to Carson’s office. “I’d like to see Schiff briefed on this and see what he knows about it.”
The aides could read all the emails and files of the three members and their staffs, though intelligence committee information is stored separately and firewalled. Castro hired Jamal, the youngest brother, as his sole IT guy when he was 20 years old, and entrusted him with all his data, keeping him on even though another member, Kyrsten Sinema, fired him because of “incompetence.”
The IG report said the family logged onto the systems of numerous members for whom they did not work, and moved files that appeared to be “sensitive” off the network.
“And I don’t care if it’s unclassified systems in Congress, unless you work for a particular member you have no need to access that system,” Waurishuk told TheDCNF. “So I see a lot of danger and a lot of negligence on the part of the members.”
TheDCNF told Castro’s staff in early September that it had seen evidence that the office’s data may have been copied onto another server, and that the server was later stolen. Then-spokeswoman Erin Hatch said she was not familiar with such evidence.
On Sept. 12, Castro told TheDCNF when leaving a vote, “The only thing I’m aware of is that he’s being charged with bank fraud.”
The lack of awareness suggests staff may have never relayed information on the suspected transfer when it was brought to them that month. In addition, Awan wasn’t charged with bank fraud until July, but was banned from the House network five months earlier in Feburary because of “suspicious activity,” the Committee on House Administration said in a statement.
Prosecutors alleged that he committed the bank fraud as part of a scheme to move money overseas and flee the country — actions they contend he was taking because he had learned he was the subject of an underlying investigation.
“Do you have evidence that there’s anything more than a bank investigation?” Castro asked TheDCNF on Sept. 12. “If someone’s given you a document to that effect, please give it to me, I’ll be glad to review it and give you a comment on it. If you have those documents, please submit it.”
TheDCNF published the highlights of the IG reports Jan. 17 and emailed Castro press secretary Amanda Crane, telling her where the office could obtain the documents for themselves. Crane did not respond.
A reporter told Rep. Jackie Speier on Sept. 12 that the Awans may have moved members’ data to a server — the House Democratic Caucus’s server — that was later stolen. “I am not aware of this, I don’t know if my chief of staff has been made aware of it,” she replied. “He’s been having regular meetings with the chief of the administrative office, he hasn’t informed me of that, but that would be deeply troubling to me. I can’t say ours was actually sent to a different server, I don’t know that yet.”
Speier spokeswoman Tracy Manzer did not respond to repeated requests for comment after TheDCNF revealed the contents of the IG report, including remarks on whether she had pressed the chief administrative office to find out whether her office was one of those affected. She also did not respond to questions about the stolen server.
None of the three intel committee members would say that they would press charges on the aides if they found out that they had made unauthorized access.
Imran’s stepmother alleged in court papers that the brothers wiretapped her; that they were running a car dealership called CIA, and that their business partner testified in court that its books were fraudulent and it had taken $100,000 from an Iranian who was a minister in the Iraqi government and is wanted by the U.S. government; that members of Imran’s family say he wired money to a police officer in Pakistan in exchange for protection; and that Hina Alvi — Imran’s wife and fellow Speier employee — filed a lawsuit in Pakistan against him, saying he made violent threats.
“You have an absolute obligation that if you know of any wrongdoing, you are obligated to do whatever is possible to stop this … to say we have a serious problem and these guys are going outside of their parameters,” Waurishuk told TheDCNF. “If the people who are serving members on the intel committee there better be a higher level of scrutiny on them.”
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