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.