The Betrayal of a Naive Hacker; AN AFFRONT TO BRITISH JUSTICE; ANALYSIS

Daily Mail (London), July 3, 2009 | Go to article overview
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The Betrayal of a Naive Hacker; AN AFFRONT TO BRITISH JUSTICE; ANALYSIS


Byline: James Slack Home Affairs Editor

GARY McKinnon's life fell apart on April 14, 2003, as he sat, nervous and scared, opposite U.S. prosecutor Scott Stein in the intimidating surroundings of the American Embassy in London.

Make no fuss and agree to extradition for crimes of computer hacking and supposed 'cyber-terrorism', and Gary's punishment would be three or four years in jail, mostly spent in the UK, said Mr Stein.

Fight against the might of the Bush administration, keen to make a post-9/11 example of Gary, and it would be far longer - raising the prospect that he would die in a high-security prison.

Nevertheless Gary chose to fight, sparking a six-year legal battle which continues to this day.

Here, we explain his case, and how he has been betrayed by a system supposed to protect him.

WHAT DID HE DO AND WHY ISN'T HE BEING TRIED IN THE UK?

ON every one of the 97 occasions on which Gary is alleged to have hacked into military and NASA computers, he was at his flat in North London, using only a modem and a primitive computer borrowed from his then girlfriend's aunt. Gary, who was given to staying up late into the night, committed his offences over a period of two years, starting in 2001.

He would sit at his computer day and night, often in his pyjamas, drinking beer as he breached the security of sensitive U.S. naval information systems. He even, allegedly, wiped important files at the Earle Naval Weapons Station near New Jersey, paralysing munitions supply for the U.S. Atlantic fleet. He is also alleged to have shut down 2,000 Army computers for 24 hours - posting a notice on the military website saying: 'Your security is cr*p.'

He insists he was doing nothing more sinister than looking for proof of something in which he genuinely believes - evidence on NASA com-puterof the existence of alien life.

He was arrested by British police at the request of the Americans after investigators traced software he had used back to his girlfriend's email account.

U.S. authorities allege that Gary caused [pounds sterling]500,000 worth of damage to their computers, a charge he fiercely denies. He also left messages which - in a post-9/11world - were extremely foolish and provocative.

One read: 'U.S. foreign policy is akin to government-sponsored terrorism these days ... It was not a mistake that there was a huge security standdown on September 11 last year... I am SOLO. I will continue to disrupt at the highest levels.'

What appears undeniable is that his actions constitute a clear crime here, under the Computer Misuse Act. The potential punishment is five years in jail. Lawyers and campaigners argue that there is a duty to prosecute in Britain, rather than in the U.S. In interviews in 2002, the Metropolitan Police clearly told Gary there was sufficient evidence to prosecute here, and he provided them with a detailed written confession which would make any court case a formality.

Not even his most ardent supporters are insisting he should escape punishment for his crimes.

But the Director of Public Prosecutions has repeatedly refused to bring charges in the UK, apparently to appease a U.S. administration which was aggressively demanding extradition.

That is because by prosecuting Gary here, it would make him safe from extradition, as he could not be punished twice for the same crime.

The DPP's defence is that the victim of Gary's crimes was the U.S., and that is where most of the evidence against him is held. The U.S. has also raised concerns about what might happen to any 'unused' sensitive material in the case, and the 'availability of procedures to deal appropriately with it' in the UK.

WHY DID THE U.S. DELAY EXTRADITION?

THERE are strong suspicions that the U.S. worked the system to exploit the hugely contentious and inequitable Extradition Act 2003, which formally came into operation on January 1, 2004.

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