Trusted insider at the federal level raises concerns

Charged with bank fraud, Imran Awan provided IT services to the U.S. House of Representatives for 14 years. Is he a white-collar criminal or something more sinister?

Trusted insider at the federal level raises concerns
Glyn Lowe Photoworks (modified) (Creative Commons BY or BY-SA)

The name Imran Awan may not mean anything to you. But when you hear he's connected to members of the U.S. House of Representatives, myriad preconceptions evolve. Digging deeper, looking at court records and reports, we learn about the IT services he, his wife and his brothers provided to House members and the crimes he's alleged to have committed.

It appears Awan and his wife conducted white-collar fraud against the Wright Patman Federal Credit Union — charges that came about during an investigation by the U.S. Capitol Police into Awan's alleged criminal activity associated with his IT services role.

That investigation has not yet produced sufficient evidence to charge Awan with wrongdoing associated with his IT services role. But there is no denying Awan and his wife had unfettered access to the email correspondence and devices of several U.S. Representatives and staff.

Whether Awan exploited this access on behalf of a foreign power has yet to be demonstrated. However, the fact that his wife absconded to Pakistan in March 2017 following the group's termination of employment by many members of the House leads to a logical degree of speculation.

Who is Imran Awan?

Imran Awan is a naturalized U.S. citizen originally from Pakistan. He, his wife Hina Alvi and his siblings (Abid and Jamal) operated an IT services company that provided services to various members of the U.S. House of Representatives since 2004.

These services were contracted with individual members of the House (20-25 members of Congress utilized these services). The Washington Post tells us how Awan and his team were among the highest paid members of the House support, garnering between $157,000 and $168,000 each.

What is Awan's crime?

Awan and his brothers were being investigated for procurement theft — stealing IT equipment from more than 20 members. The investigation began in late 2016.  Buzzfeed quoted U.S. Capitol Police describing the situation in February 2017:

“At the request of Members of Congress, the United States Capitol Police are investigating the actions of House IT support staff. No Members are being investigated. No arrests have been made. It should be noted that, administratively, House staff were asked to update their security settings as a best practice. We have no further comment on the ongoing investigation at this time."

Awan was arrested in July 2017 — not for the above alleged procurement crime, but for “bank fraud.” The remaining House member still working with Awan terminated his services upon learning of his arrest.

Awan and his wife, according to Department of Justice allegations contained within a criminal complaint dated July 24, 2017, defrauded the Wright Patman Congressional Federal Credit Union to the tune of $165,000 in obtaining a Home Equity Line of Credit (HELOC). In early January 2017, the couple received the $165,000 HELOC, added that to their credit union account and then transferred $283,000 to two individuals in Faisalabad, Pakistan, via two international wire transfers.

In March 2017, Alvi and the couple's three children were stopped by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (USCBP) at Dulles International Airport as the four were departing for Pakistan. The USCBP inspected her belongings and found $12,400 in cash, as well as clothing and household items. The criminal complaint wryly notes, “Your Affiant does not believe that ALVI has any intention to return to the United States."

Ultimately, officials let Alvi and her children board the plane.

In July 2017, Awan attempted to join his family in Pakistan, but he was stopped at the airport and arrested on bank fraud charges. 

What’s happening with Awan and his family now?

Awan’s wife and children remain in Pakistan — out of both reach and observation of U.S. law enforcement. While one may speculate that she is able and willing to share her knowledge of the U.S. House of Representatives IT infrastructure with Pakistani or another nation's intelligence officers, there is no evidence to suggest that is the case. 

Awan is in the U.S. with an ankle bracelet tracking his whereabouts. He has turned in his U.S. passport and is awaiting trial.

According to the Washington Post, the procurement criminal investigation into Awan et al revealed that the IT workers had apparently manipulated the procurement system on 34 purchases, totaling $38,000. In addition, investigators found that the Democratic Caucus server, to which only Alvi was authorized access, had been accessed more than 5,700 times over a seven-month period, of which Alvi was signed in fewer than 300 times — indicative of the individuals operating as a team, as opposed to discrete individual IT support personnel. 

The investigators were looking for signs of espionage, but instead found workers used "one congressional server as if it were their home computer, storing personal information such as children’s homework and family photos,” the Washington Post reported.

Conclusion

The allegations remain concerning. Awan is a white-collar criminal who fooled a credit union into giving him and his wife a HELOC, a crime that may have come to light as a result of the separate criminal investigation into procurement fraud.

Awan and his actions make it easy to jump to conclusions, but “caution” is the watchword in this case. Further investigation may turn up treasure troves of congressional correspondence and data from the many servers, but it may also come up with a big goose egg. Time will tell.

We’ll keep an eye on this evolving story, as it is a unique instance of a trusted insider with access who was arrested for an unrelated crime, casting doubt on the trustworthiness of the individual.

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