Senate IT Office Hit With ‘Housecleaning’ in Hassan Aide Scandal

April 13, 2019 Updated: April 14, 2019

WASHINGTON—Senate sergeant-at-arms officials have conducted a “general housecleaning” that resulted in “massive personnel changes” in the upper chamber’s information technology and cybersecurity systems staff, The Epoch Times has learned.

“There’s been massive personnel changes over there,” said a Senate source with knowledge of the situation who requested anonymity. “The new people are a lot more strict and putting on a lot more rules and restrictions. They have just been tightening down a lot since then.”

Among those who have left is John Clayton Porter. He was branch manager for information assurance–cybersecurity from March 2017 until earlier this month, according to LegiStorm. He was paid $88,628 annually at the time of his departure, according to Senate records.

The sergeant-at-arms (SAA) office declined to discuss Porter or personnel changes that have been implemented in his former office. A spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) also declined to comment.

The staff and rules changes come in the wake of a guilty plea entered in federal court April 5 by Jackson Cosko, a former information technology aide to Sen. Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.) and Rep. Sheila Jackson-Lee (D-Texas).

Sen. Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.) speaks with reporters outside the U.S. Capitol in Washington on June 26, 2018. (Aaron P. Bernstein/Getty Images)

Mannal Haddad, press secretary for the House Administration Committee, which oversees the House computer networks, declined to comment when asked by The Epoch Times about Cosko and whether new cybersecurity measures were implemented as a result of the case.

Cosko admitted guilt in the pleading to two counts of making public restricted private information in October 2018 about McConnell, and other senators, including Lindsay Graham (R-S.C.), Mike Lee (R-Utah), Rand Paul (R-Ky.), and Orrin Hatch (R-Utah).

Cosko also admitted guilt to one count each of computer fraud, witness tampering, and obstruction of justice. Prior to agreeing to the plea, Cosko faced as many as 11 separate felony counts.

The case was heard in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia and was first reported by The Daily Caller News Foundation’s Luke Rosiak.

Cosko’s offenses commenced after he was terminated from Hassan’s staff in May 2018 for reasons the New Hampshire senator has refused to make public.

He then obtained the position on the House side with Jackson-Lee, and during the following months, with the assistance of a second person, gained access to at least six computers in Hassan’s office.

“Beginning no later than July 2018 and continuing until October 2018, the defendant engaged in an extensive computer fraud and data theft scheme that he carried out by repeatedly burglarizing Senator Hassan’s office,” prosecutors said in Cosko’s April 5 pleading.

“The defendant engaged in an extraordinarily extensive data-theft scheme, copying entire network drives, sorting and organizing sensitive data, and exploring ways to use that data to his benefit.”

Cosko became angry at the Republican senators in October 2018, according to prosecutors, while watching the Senate Judiciary Committee’s confirmation hearing for Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Cosko used Wikipedia to make public the senators’ home addresses, credit card data, and health information. He was able to gain access to the Hassan office computers by placing an unobtrusive keystroke logging device on them.

The Wikipedia entries by Cosko were investigated by the U.S Capitol Police, which tracked them to the former Hassan aide, according to the government’s Oct. 3, 2018, criminal complaint.

When Cosko was observed in Hassan’s office by another aide after his termination, prosecutors said, he wrote the aide a threatening email, stating: “If you tell anyone, I will leak it all. Emails, signal conversations, gmails. Senators’ children’s health information and socials.”

Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) at the New Mount Olive Baptist Church in Fort Lauderdale, Florida on Nov. 11, 2018. (Joe Skipper/Getty Images)

Cosko also had downloaded Senate information that was too sensitive to be discussed in open court, according to the judge hearing the case.

There are multiple parallels between Cosko’s case and a scandal on the House side involving former information technology aide Imran Awan and members of his family.

Originally from Pakistan, Awan, one of his two wives, two of his brothers, and a close friend were hired as information technology aides by dozens of House Democrats, including many who were members of the House Foreign Affairs, Homeland Security, and Intelligence committees.

Their positions provided the Awans with access to all of the office computer files of their employing representatives. Awan was found to have downloaded substantial amounts of data from the House computer network to an off-site server.

He was also in possession of a laptop owned by former Democratic National Committee chair Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.). Awan first began working in Congress when he was hired in 2004 by Wasserman Schultz.

“Imran and his family were banned from the House computer network in February 2017 after the House’s top law enforcement officer wrote that Imran is ‘an ongoing and serious risk to the House of Representatives, possibly threatening the integrity of our information systems,’ and that a server containing evidence had gone ‘missing,’” Rosiak reported.

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