This editorial was first published in The Providence (Rhode Island) Journal, a fellow GateHouse Media publication. Guest editorials don’t necessarily reflect the Daily Messenger’s opinions.
One does not get a great sense of confidence that politicians and political insiders are protecting America’s secrets very well. Hillary Clinton’s decision to conduct official business as secretary of state using an unsecured private server dogged her throughout her campaign for president last year. And now there are concerns about computers managed by the U.S. House of Representatives.
Here’s the story: Starting in 2004, one Imran Awan began serving as an IT specialist at the House. In his job, Mr. Awan performed routine technology work for more than two dozen Democratic members, including Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the South Florida congresswoman who at one point headed up the Democratic National Committee. Mr. Awan’s wife, two of his brothers and a close friend were eventually hired as well to do similar work.
Things started to get fishy early this year, when it emerged that Mr. Awan and his associates were at the center of some sort of criminal investigation. Details remain somewhat sketchy as to what, exactly, Mr. Awan is suspected of doing. (The relevant authorities have remained tightlipped as their investigation has proceeded.) But it’s clear that the matters were serious: After a briefing about the subject, almost all of the congressional offices that employed Mr. Awan immediately cut ties with him. The IT worker was also barred from accessing the Capitol’s computer network. That seems to have been a prudent choice, given that, in his role, Mr. Awan had access to things such as emails between members of the House Intelligence Committee — sensitive information, in other words.
Yet one member didn’t immediately terminate Mr. Awan’s employment: Schultz. Indeed, she kept him on the congressional payroll while her Democratic colleagues apparently unanimously agreed that he wasn’t worth the risk.
In fact, it wasn’t until Mr. Awan was arrested last month, while attempting to leave the country, that he finally lost his job with the Florida congresswoman. It appears that this arrest was unrelated to the Capitol investigation, by the way: The New York Times reported that it is charged that Mr. Awan “and his wife, Hina Alvi, had conspired to defraud the Congressional Federal Credit Union by claiming on a $165,000 loan application in January that a property they owned was their primary residence when it was actually being rented out. The money was then included as part of a $283,000 wire transfer to Pakistan.” (Mr. Awan and his wife are Pakistani natives.)
In other words, it is clear that Mr. Awan was surrounded by impropriety. It’s alarming that, for many years, he had access to sensitive government information. And it is doubly alarming that Mr. Awan reportedly attempted to destroy hard drives as his home was raided. What was he trying to hide?
This sad story stands at the confluence of two trends: Bad governance and alarming threats to cybersecurity. Illegal hacks on corporations, governments and political parties are widespread. And meanwhile, an alarming number of our political leaders — in both the executive and legislative branches — demonstrate a cavalier attitude toward their serious responsibilities. (A president, for example, needs to have the ability to conduct secure conversations with foreign heads of state, rather than finding leaked transcripts published in the newspapers.) This cannot end well.