Luke Rosiak and Wajid Ali Syed
FAISALABAD, Pakistan — The father of Imran Awan — an IT aide to Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz who investigators concluded made “unauthorized access” to House servers — transferred a USB drive to a Pakistani senator and former head of a Pakistani intelligence agency, the father’s ex-business partner, Rashid Minhas, alleged.
Minhas told The Daily Caller News Foundation that Imran Awan’s father, Haji Ashraf Awan, was giving data to Pakistani official Rehman Malik, and that Imran bragged he had the power to “change the U.S. president.”
Asked for how he knew this, he said that on one occasion in 2008 when a “USB [was] given to Rehman Malik by Imran’s father, my brother Abdul Razzaq was with his father.”
“After Imran’s father deliver (sic) USB to Rehman Malik, four Pakistani [government intelligence] agents were with his father 24-hour on duty to protect him,” he said. Minhas did not say what was on the USB.
TheDCNF traveled to Pakistan for this story and interviewed numerous residents who interacted with Imran, and they confirmed that he does travel that country with a contingent of armed Pakistani government officials and routinely brags about mysterious political power.
The House Office of Inspector General charged in Sept. 30, 2016 that data was being funneled off the House network by the Awans as recently as September 2016 — shortly before the presidential election.
Nearly Imran’s entire immediate family was on the House payroll working as IT aides to one-fifth of House Democrats, and he began working for the House in 2004. The inspector general, Michael Ptasienski, testified this month that “system administrators hold the ‘keys to the kingdom’ meaning they can create accounts, grant access, view, download, update, or delete almost any electronic information within an office. Because of this high-level access, a rogue system administrator could inflict considerable damage.”
Minhas said “Imran Awan said to me directly these words: ‘See how I control White House on my fingertip…’ He say he can fire the prime minister or change the U.S. president,” Minhas said. “Why the claiming big stuff, I [didn’t] understand ’till now.”
“I was Imran father’s partner in Pakistan,” Minhas said, in two land deals in Pakistan so big that they are often referred to as “towns.” In 2009, both men were accused of fraud, and Haji was arrested but then released after Imran flew to Pakistan, “allegedly… exerting pressure on the local police through the ministry as well as the department concerned,” according to local news. Minhas and multiple alleged victims in Pakistan also told TheDCNF Imran exerted political influence in Pakistan to extricate his father from the case.
Minhas is now in U.S. federal prison for additional fraud, and TheDCNF could not confirm whether Minhas’ claims about the USBs are true. But Minhas said the DOJ or FBI never interviewed him about the Awans, an indicator the potential for espionage may not have been explored extensively. The probe involves money allegedly disappearing to Pakistan and Minhas was, prominently, their business partner there.
He is also one of many people with past relationships with the Awans who have said they believe they are aggressive opportunists who will do anything for money. And parts of Minhas’s story correlate with observations elsewhere. Haji’s wife, Samina Gilani — Imran’s stepmother — said in court documents that Imran used his IT skills to wiretap her as a means of exerting pressure on her.
Haji would frequently boast that Imran’s position gave him political leverage, numerous Pakistani residents told TheDCNF. “My son own White House in D.C.,” he would say, according to Minhas. “I am kingmaker.”
Sen. Malik is a former intelligence agent who served as director of the Federal Investigation Agency from 1993 to 1996. From 2004 to 2007, he was chief of security for former prime minister Benazir Bhutto. In 2013, he became an adviser to Prime Minister Yousaf Gillani, and served as Interior Minister until 2013, a capacity in which he interfaced with then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. He now serves in the Pakistani Senate.
Sen. Malik denied any relationship with the parties allegedly involved, saying “I am hearing their names for the first time. I am in public and people always do name-dropping.” Chris Gowen, an attorney for Imran, said Minhas’s contentions were “completely and totally false.”
House Sergeant-At-Arms Paul Irving banned the Awans from the congressional network on Feb. 2, 2017 after the IG report alleged that the Awans were making “unauthorized access” to House servers. They logged in using members of Congress’s personal usernames and logged into servers of members for whom they did not work, the IG report said. After some members fired them, they still kept accessing their data, an IG presentation charged.
The behavior mirrored a “classic method for insiders to exfiltrate data from an organization,” and “steps are being taken [by the Awans] to conceal their activity,” it said.
In the months before the election, the epicenter of the cyberbreach was the server of the House Democratic Caucus, a sister group of the Democratic National Committee (DNC). Authorities said they believe Imran secretly moved all the data of more than a dozen House members’ offices onto the caucus server.
The server may have been “used for nefarious purposes and elevated the risk that individuals could be reading and/or removing information,” an IG presentation said. The Awans logged into it 27 times a day, far more than any other computer they administered.
Imran’s most forceful advocate and longtime employer is Florida Democratic Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who led the DNC until she resigned following a hack that exposed committee emails. Wikileaks published those emails, and they show that DNC staff summoned Imran when they needed her password.
Democrats have blamed the DNC hack for former Clinton’s loss in the 2016 presidential race.
Soon after the IG report, the entire House Democratic Caucus server was physically stolen, three government officials said, in what authorities took as evidence tampering. Then-Caucus Chairman Xavier Becerra has refused to discuss the incident except to say that he would cooperate with authorities.
The Awans began selling their assets during the same time period. In January 2017 they took out a loan intended for home improvement, falsely claimed a medical emergency in order to cash out their House retirement account, and wired $300,000 overseas, according to an FBI affidavit.
Imran was arrested at Dulles Airport in July 2017 trying to fly to Pakistan with a wiped cell phone and a resume that listed his address as Queens, New York, prosecutors said. Imran and his wife, Hina Alvi, were indicted in August on bank fraud charges, with prosecutors contending in court filings that shortly before moving the money, the couple had likely learned that authorities were closing in on them for their other activities.
Yet Imran and Hina have not been charged with unauthorized access to congressional data, despite an analysis of server logs by House investigators that determined that unauthorized access by Imran and Hina occurred. Three other suspects – Abid Awan, Jamal Awan and Rao Abbas – have faced no charges. Abid’s wife, Ukraniane-born Nataliia Sova, was also on the payroll but left before the Awan family was banned.
The separation between the legislative and executive branch has complicated the prosecution. Congressmen have refused to publicly address the IG’s findings, and Wasserman Schultz’s brother is a prosecutor in the office of the U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia, which is handling the case.
Two months after the ban, Capitol Police found that Imran was in the building and left a laptop with username RepDWS in a phone booth along with a note that read “attorney client privilege,” according to a police report.
Wasserman Schultz hired a private lawyer to block prosecutors from looking at the computer. Imran’s attorney then said the laptop should not be looked at unless he withdraws his claim of attorney-client privilege. Their next court date is May 4.
The suspects worked for foreign affairs committee members such as Ted Lieu of California and for intelligence committee members Joaquin Castro of Texas, Andre Carson of Indiana, and Jackie Speier of California. All have ignored repeated requests for comment.
Imran appeared to still have a backdoor into the congressional network as late as August 2017 through the email account firstname.lastname@example.org, according to civil court filings. Instead of Imran’s name, the email address was associated with the name Nathaniel Bennett, an intelligence specialist for Carson.
Minhas said “Last time I seen Mr. devil Awan in Pakistan 2010 about him and his father commit fraud with me and other landlords in Faisalabad.” Minhas and Haji Awan acquired a large tract of farmland from elderly farmers to turn into a housing development, but allegedly failed to pay them. When the farmers filed charges, Imran tried to have the elderly victims arrested by claiming they beat and “tortured” him, and used political influence to have police drop the charges against his father, according to a detailed 2009 article in Pakistani newspaper Dawn.
Minhas said that was Sen. Malik’s influence. “The way he used his resources through Congress to call U.S. Embassy in Islamabad and Pakistani officials, it was so bad,” Minhas said. “What the hell Rehman Malik was doing” being involved in a local case?
The alleged scam Minhas and Haji ran was not the only one for either. Minhas is now in federal prison in Minnesota for swindling money from American Muslims.
According to court documents, Minhas stole $700,000 from American Muslims by using their faith against them. He set up travel agencies that sold cheap tickets to the Hajj, the obligatory trip to Mecca. But instead of providing the tickets, he sent buyers letters saying “Allah didn’t invite you. That’s why you guys didn’t go,” as one victim recounted in court papers. “So, he blamed the whole thing on God, not on his thing what he did to us.”
Prosecutors said “he used the travel agency down in Falls Church, Va., as a stalking horse to make it appear to his customers that he was doing what he was supposed to be doing, knowing all along that he wouldn’t get those visas.”
Minhas lived in Chicago at the time, while Imran ran a car dealership in Falls Church on top of his $165,000-a-year job in Congress. But no connection between Imran and the travel agency was apparent.
The Awans’ car dealership business partner Nasir Khattek said in sworn testimony that the automobile business — called Cars International A, or CIA — used false bookkeeping and took $100,000 from Ali Al-Attar, an Iraqi government official who is wanted by the U.S. Department of Justice.
Minhas has been in prison since 2014. He said his brother, Abdul Razzaq, witnessed one handoff of a USB between the elder Awan and Malik in 2008. He said his brother has since died.
Sen. Joe Donnelly of Indiana, then a House member, inexplicably paid the elder Awan $116 in late 2007 to be his “systems administrator,” according to payroll records, even though he did not have any computer training and said on insurance documents that he worked as a religious figure.
Imran told Laurel Everly, a tenant of one of his family’s numerous Virginia rental homes, that Imran sometimes performed his job administering congressional servers from Pakistan.
Several people, including Imran’s stepmother Gilani, said Imran used his job as a congressional IT administrator to exert pressure, particularly among foreigners and immigrants.
Minhas said the Awans also defrauded him. “My brothers brought all customers and investors. I stay in Pakistan March 2006 to August 2006 and sold about 79 percent town name Gulshan-e-Moin (sic), after sold that town end of 2006, we purchased another land and sold 40 percent land to Faisalabad Agriculture University staff.
“In 2007 Awan family showed me dirty blood in their body, and from 37 acres they only transfer 1000 square feet oh yes only 1000 square feet in my name, and I was third 34 percent partner.”
Even with Minhas out of the picture and the Awans in full control of the land business, multiple people said Imran and his family have continued to defraud them in Pakistan. The land was subdivided and a portion sold to the faculty of the Faisalabad Agriculture University to build a housing complex for professors.
Dr. Zafar Iqbal, a faculty member and the group’s president, told TheDCNF in an interview on his front porch that the group paid Haji for the land, but he never turned over the deed, and they have been fighting him and Imran for it for years.
In January 2017, Haji died and Imran traveled to Pakistan, where the association members cornered him, Dr. Iqbal said. Imran cautioned them that he “has got powerful political connections in Pakistan and in the U.S,” Dr. Iqbal said, adding that he had seen the government agents protecting him. Imran promised to either refund their money or get them the deeds.
But Imran “pulled another trick,” Dr. Iqbal said. “He’s such type of person.”
Wajid Al-Sayed reported from Faisalabad, Pakistan.
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