Luke Rosiak and the rest of the team at the Daily Caller News Foundation (DCNF) have done an outstanding job exposing how three to four IT contractors comprised the security of House IT systems as well as stole information from servers from various Members of Congress and national security committees. I hope Congress is closely following their reporting.
There are several underreported political stories of 2017 that Congressional Republicans should seriously put on the oversight front burners in 2018, especially one that directly impacts the day-to-day operations of the U.S. House of Representatives. The House IT scandal ranks as one of the top three, and the folks at the DCNF deserve accolades for sticking with this story as long as they have,
The most recent development on the House IT scandal, if it turns out to be correct, could be one of the more politically explosive aspects of this saga. DCNF journalist connects recent revelations by POLITICO of a botched Obama-era Hizbollah crackdown to the House IT scandals.
In “House IT Aides Ran Car Dealership With Markings Of A Nefarious Money Laundering Operation,” Rosiak write that one House IT contractors “ran a car dealership that took money from a Hezbollah-linked fugitive and whose financial books were indecipherable and business patterns bizarre, according to testimony in court records.” It is not a far-fetched connection. It is plausible and merits further review by the Congress as well as law enforcement.
I spent several years working on the Capitol Hill starting in the mid-1990s when Republicans won majorities in the House and Senate. Part of that time I worked with the committee in charge of overseeing House operations, including the Capitol Police, Congressional office budgets, and related issues including cybersecurity. For perspective, when I started working on the Hill Members still used electronic pagers or beepers, and the Blackberry was only available to a few. E-mail? Some Congressional offices did not even use computers.
Overall the time I spent on the Hill was a great experience. I saw how the proverbial political sausages were made and had a backseat to several exciting policy and political battles. The recent DCNF stories, however, also reminded me of a few cyber events and security matters that I was involved with in those years on the Hill. For example, access by foreign nationals to the Congress and Congressional offices.
I recall one incident in the late 1990s where a vendor was hired to hardwire the tunnel system in the House for wireless or cell phone calls. I believe the company had to be released of its contract obligations or replaced because it was owned or had alleged connections to a foreign government. This one went public and was caught early without any significant security damage that I know of; however, there were many other incidents involving foreign nationals that rarely if ever went public.
What happens in the U.S. Congress is of great interest to people the world over including allies, adversaries, and enemies. By design, the institution operates transparently, and it is accessible to just about anyone, Americans and non-Americans alike, interested in how policy-making happens in the United States. This should be welcomed and encouraged; however, this does not mean that every nook and cranny of the Capitol complex should be accessible to anyone who walks in the door. This is especially true for un-vetted foreign nationals.
The latest House IT scandal should serve as a wake-up call to Congressional leaders of both political parties to crack down on foreign national access to Congressional offices and its computer networks. To the extent it can be done, foreign nationals should not be allowed any access to sensitive House or Senate computer systems. If they are not doing so currently, all contractors who work on House and Senate telecommunications and cyber systems must undergo fulsome background checks. Ideally, all of them should be U.S. citizens.
In some cases such as the national security committees, only U.S. citizens should be allowed to work as full-time employees. In situations where foreign nationals are permitted to intern or take part in what is known as inter-parliamentary exchanges, strict protocols must be implemented to train Committee and Member office staff on what can and cannot be shared with those persons. In most cases, however, if the person is not a U.S. citizen or Legal Permanent Resident, foreign nationals should be sparingly granted access to Congressional offices and staff trained accordingly.
You can read more about the House IT scandal at the DCNF website. The POLITICO Hizbollah story is available here and my initial reaction to it here: Hizbollah in Latin America, Old News Recast in a Troubling New Light.