A former IT aide suspected of stealing equipment and data from Congress still has an active, secret email account on the House computer system, even though he has been banned from the congressional network because of a criminal investigation into the alleged cybersecurity violations, The Daily Caller News Foundation Investigative Group has learned.
Imran Awan’s still-active email address is linked to the name of a House staffer who specializes in intelligence and homeland security matters for Indiana Democratic Rep. André Carson.
Court documents and emails obtained by TheDCNF show Awan used the address email@example.com in addition to his standard firstname.lastname@example.org account.
He and two of his Pakistani-born brothers, as well as his wife, are at the center of an FBI investigation over their IT work with dozens of Democratic congressional offices. Authorities shut down Awan’s standard email account Feb. 2, and he was arrested by the FBI at Dulles International Airport trying to board a flight to his native Pakistan on July 25.
Authorities apparently did not realize Awan has a second account that is not linked to his identity. While his main email address began rejecting mail after it was shut down, the 123 address was still accepting mail Tuesday.
Mail sent via Gmail fills in the name of the account-holder of 123 as Nathan Bennett, whose LinkedIn profile says his individual legislative portfolio covers “national security and foreign affairs” and includes work on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence.
The member Bennett works for, Carson, is a member of both the House Intelligence and House Homeland Security Committees, and previously employed Awan.
Carson is ranking member of the House intelligence subcommittee on emerging threats, which oversees the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. The subcommittee oversight extends to the National Counterterrorism Center and information-sharing programs.
A spokeswoman for Carson, Jessica Gail, did not express concern or surprise when contacted by TheDCNF about Awan’s still-active email address Monday morning. Bennett said Tuesday morning Gail had not even informed him of the details.
Rep. Andre Carson and Rep. Keith Ellison at the National Press Club. Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images.
Bennett, who is Carson’s deputy chief of staff, told TheDCNF he has no control over the 123 address. “However this happened, it was not with my consent or control,” he said in an email. “For the record, I do not, nor have I ever, had control of the email@example.com email account or any other account connected with Imran Awan or his family.” That could not be confirmed by the House’s chief administrative officer (CAO) because spokesman Dan Weiser has said “the CAO will not comment on matters pertaining to this ongoing investigation.”
Bennett’s response raises questions about whether Awan was misusing Carson’s office, access or staffers.
Gail declined to comment on Awan, or state whether the office is concerned he may have misused Bennett’s identity. She also declined to state whether the office has taken any measures to assess its data security since Awan’s problems came to the attention of the office in September 2016.
Carson had employed Awan since 2015, and did not fire him when his office learned Awan was the subject of an investigation in September. He also did not fire Awan immediately after he was banned from the House computer network by Capitol Police in February. Of the 13 House Democrats who employed Awan, only two — Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Rep. Marcia Fudge — waited longer than Carson to fire him after the red flags emerged, payroll records show.
Gail directed TheDCNF to the House Information Resources Office (HIR). “Our office has no control over House email addresses,” she said. “Those are controlled through the House Information Resources office. Any questions regarding the firstname.lastname@example.org address should be directed to that office.”
Until last year, email addresses were created by individual offices, but now members have to request HIR to set up new addresses. Carson’s office is not showing any concern that an indicted IT guy apparently set up a secret email address using the name of his deputy chief of staff, who is also his top intelligence staffer, and that the account is still active. Since the account was still accepting emails as of Tuesday afternoon, it appears Carson’s office has not alerted anyone of the security vulnerability.
A Democratic IT aide, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of job concerns, told TheDCNF that Awan and Carson used to play video games together in Carson’s office, and that he had been teaching Carson a foreign language. Gail did not dispute either claim.
Court documents and testimony from others back up Awan’s use of the 123 address.
A landlord mentioned the address in a claim he filed against Awan for unpaid rent at an apartment called Morningside. “He told me that he worked for the House of Representatives, his email is email@example.com,” the landlord said in Fairfax, Va., court records show.
Awan and his wife, Hina Alvi, owned four houses and collected $330,000 annually in congressional salaries. It’s unclear why he would be paying rent on the Morningside apartment. His stepmother, Samina Gilani, claims Awan had two wives under Islamic law — both in Virginia — and that he “kept” his second wife in a place she knew as “Morningside.” TheDCNF did not independently verify her account.
Gilani said the second wife’s name is Sumaira Sidiq, also spelled Saddiq, and that Awan divorced her the same month that court records say he stopped paying rent on Morningside. TheDCNF visited the apartment, but no one responded to a knock on the door.
After TheDCNF contacted tenants of a single-family home involved in an alleged mortgage fraud for which Awan has been indicted, a past renter, Laurel Everly, provided TheDCNF with email correspondence with Awan at the 123 address.
Everly described Imran Awan as a highly aggressive landlord who threatened to sue her if she didn’t pay for damage to the basement caused by natural flooding and a broken sump pump. She claimed he broke an air conditioner by installing a part incorrectly and then demanded that she buy him a new one. She also said he “charged me $350 for not gardening.”
“He’s a really bad guy, he laid the pressure on so heavily,” she told TheDCNF. “He absolutely is capable of trying to extort money. … He presents himself well — a clean-cut articulate man — but when he turns snake, I can’t think for a minute that he didn’t turn dishonest in his work [in Congress].”
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