Monday, September 1, 2008

Hacker's plea to beat extradition

A UFO enthusiast who hacked into top-secret US military computers appealed to the British Home Secretary to stop his extradition last week after losing a legal appeal.

Gary McKinnon is due to be extradited to the US within weeks and could face a sentence of up to 80 years in a maximum-security prison if found guilty.
He admits to breaking into 97 US Navy, US Army, NASA and Pentagon computers in what has been described as "the biggest computer hack of all time".
Mr McKinnon, 42, an unemployed systems analyst, has said that he was looking for computer files containing details about UFOs and aliens. The US Government says that he stole passwords, deleted files and left threatening messages.
Mr McKinnon admitted carrying out the hacks using a computer in the London bedroom of a house owned by his girlfriend's aunt. He says that he was motivated by curiosity and gained entry only because of lax security.
He had asked the European Court of Human Rights to stay his extradition pending an appeal, but the application was refused on Friday. He lost appeals to the High Court last year and to the House of Lords last month.
US prosecutors allege he caused nearly $US1 million ($1.16 million) in damage. The US military says he rendered 300 computers at a US navy weapons station unusable immediately after 9/11 attacks.
Mr McKinnon had become obsessed with a theory that the US was using alien technologies to create weapons and "free energy". He quit his job and spent hours every night hacking in search of evidence. He hacked into 79 US military computers, including those at US Naval Weapons Station Earle in New Jersey, which is responsible for replenishing munitions and supplies for the Atlantic fleet.
Calling himself Solo, he left a threatening message: "US foreign policy is akin to government-sponsored terrorism these days? It was not a mistake that there was a huge security stand-down on September 11 last year ... I am SOLO. I will continue to disrupt at the highest levels."
He was caught in November 2002 as he tried to download a black and white photograph that he believed was of an alien craft held on a NASA computer in the Johnson Space Centre in Houston, Texas. He was traced because he used his girlfriend's email account.
Mark Summers, an official representing the US Government, said Mr McKinnon's hacking was "intentional and calculated to influence and affect the US Government by intimidation and coercion".
If extradited, Mr McKinnon faces trial on eight charges of computer fraud. Each charge could carry a sentence of 10 years in jail and a $US250,000 fine. It is likely that he would receive a much lighter sentence and that, under a plea-bargain offer, he would spend six to 12 months in a US jail before being returned to Britain to serve the rest of his sentence.
Mr McKinnon has previously said: "What I did was illegal and wrong, and I accept I should be punished. But I am not a member of al-Qa'ida. I believe my case is being treated so seriously because they're scared of what I've seen. I'm living in a surreal, nutter's film."
He has suggested that the US authorities should take advantage of his expertise rather than prosecute him. "The reason I left not just one note, but multiple notes on multiple desktops, was to say 'Look, this is ridiculous'."
Lawyer Karen Todner said Mr McKinnon was "distraught" about the European court's decision and appealed to Home Secretary Jacqui Smith to intervene.
"He is terrified by the prospect of going to America," she said, adding that Mr McKinnon had recently been found to have Asperger's syndrome.


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