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FBI Let a Congressional Cyber Breach Suspect Fly Away

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FBI Let a Congressional Cyber Breach Suspect Fly Away

It seems like it should have been an open and shut case. In March of 2017, FBI agents while tailing House of Representatives IT aides who were suspected of hacking Congress, arrested one at the airport trying to make a quick escape to Pakistan. The woman refused to speak with them and after a search, it was revealed that she was carrying what seemed to be an illegal amount of cash.

But the FBI allowed Hina Alvi, wife of Imran Awan, to board the plane anyway and filed paperwork detailing that agents thought she had no plans for returning to the U.S.

In the last year, the Office of Inspector General (OIG) has determined that this Pakistani family had “unauthorized access” to Congress’s data just before the 2016 election. Now there is increased attention focused on the FBI’s apparently lax attitude toward the congressional cyber breach case and their failure to enforce the law.

The OIG alleges that Awan and his family members logged into servers of congressmen for whom they did not work, using their personal usernames and even continued to access data after they were fired.

Here is a portion of the FBI affidavit that was filed in July of 2017:

On March 5, 2017, your Affiant, along with agents from the FBI and U.S. Capitol Police, approached Alvi at Dulles International Airport, in Dulles, Virginia. Alvi was about to board Qatar Airlines, Flight 708, to Doha, Qatar, on her way to Lahore, Pakistan. Alvi was with her three children, who your Affiant later learned were abruptly taken out of school without notifying the Fairfax County Public School System. Alvi had numerous pieces of luggage with her, including cardboard boxes. A secondary search of those items revealed that the boxes contained household goods, clothing, and food items. US Customs and Border Protection conducted a search of Alvi’s bags immediately prior to boarding the plane and located a total of $12,400 in US cash inside. Alvi was permitted to board the flight to Qatar and she and her daughters have not returned to the United States. Alvi has a return flight booked for a date in September 2017. Based on your Affiant’s observations at Dulles Airport, and upon his experience and training, your Affiant does not believe that Alvi has any intention to return to the United States.

This FBI affidavit was filed in July 2017 after Awan also attempted to board a flight to Pakistan. The FBI did arrest Awan, and both Awan and Alvi were indicted on charges of lying to the government to cash out their congressional retirement fund and lying to a bank to secure a loan. Prosecutors believe that all of this was a part of a plan to flee from the underlying investigation.

“Based on the suspicious timing of that transaction, Awan and Alvi likely knew they were under investigation at that time,” prosecutors later wrote.

The suspicion around this case comes mainly from the indictment centering on fraud and no real attempt to indict on the congressional cyber breach. The truth is that the alleged fraud didn’t even occur until after the cyber breach investigation had already begun.

“We don’t use surveillance assets for loan fraud,” Michael Sharkey, a retired FBI agent with 24 years experience, said. “The bureau doesn’t just do physical surveillance willy-nilly. It’s a lot of manpower; they only do it when its a serious case. I was thinking they just didn’t have anything to hold her on. But when they found that $12,000 in cash, that changed.”

The law states that anyone “transporting more than USD $10,000 or its equivalent” must declare it on a form before going through customs (Code Title 31 section 5361). The penalty for this is “not only forfeiture of the money, but a fine ranging from $250,000 to $500,000 and jail time from 5 to 10 years.”

Former U.S. attorney Andrew McCarthy noted that prosecutors waited until Alvi left the country to indict her — even though the alleged fraud occurred weeks before she left.

“The office is low-keying the Awan prosecution,” McCarthy wrote. “The indictment itself is drawn very narrowly. All four charges flow from a financial-fraud conspiracy of short duration. Only Imran Awan and his wife are named as defendants. There is no reference to Awan family (an IG report names other suspects: brothers Abid and Jamal Awan and friend Rao Abbas) perfidy in connection with the House communications system.”

According to the IG report, several congressman’s data was being funneled into one server and that entire server was physically stolen.

Michael Sharkey, a retired FBI agent with 24 years experience, said, “That should have set the nation’s primary law enforcement and intelligence bodies into full gear,” Sharkey said. “I cannot fathom that there’s not some major investigation going on. It’s outrageous the things that have happened in this case,” he said.

What do you think is going on in this case? What’s behind the laxity? Do you think the fraud is being used as a placeholder and deeper information will eventually surface?

Credit: Daily Caller

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