Helpful Hint: Before trying to fight extradition to the U.S., first make sure you do not look exactly like Richard Ramirez.
Free Gary! He can save the world!
British national Gary McKinnon , 42, perpetrated what one U.S. prosecutor called “the biggest military computer hack of all time”. (1)
Between February 2000 and March 2002, he hacked into 97 systems belonging to NASA, the US Army, the US Navy, and The Department of Defense, allegedly causing hundreds of thousands of dollars in damage. The government alleges he altered and deleted files on a U.S. Naval Air Station computer shortly before 9/11, and that the combination of the attacks and his vandalism rendered some crucial systems inoperable on the day of the attacks. He also took down a network of 2000 Army computers.
While the Crown decided not to charge McKinnon, he was indicted by the U.S. government. Until June 2005 he remained a completely free man. Then a new U.K.-U.S. extradition treaty placed him under bail conditions (he had to check in with police and remain at home each night).
In July 2006, a British court ruled he could be extradited to the U.S. This judgement was upheld on appeal last year. The European Court of Human Rights also rejected his appeal. In short, almost everyone is in agreement that McKinnon can and will be extradited to the U.S. for hacking into U.S. computers.
Yet groups around the world are trying to help him fight extradition. Why?
Because he’s the Daniel Ellsberg of the UFO community.
Once a hairdresser, Gary McKinnon took a computer course in the late ’90s and began doing contract work. In 2000 he read a book put out by Dr. Steven Greer’s Disclosure Project
, which – along with Project Camelot
– is basically a clearinghouse for the nuttiest of UFO nuttiness.
Anxious to learn more, he forayed into recreational hacking, entering U.S. government databases from the basement of his North London flat in search of secret UFO data. McKinnon said the hacking became an obsession. He lost his job, his girlfriend, his appetite, and his hygiene habits while hacking late into the night. By the time he was caught, in 2002, he actually wanted to be caught just so the insanity could end. (3
McKinnon insists he didn’t do any damage to the systems he hacked; he simply wanted to find suppressed information on UFOs, antigravity, and free energy. He also left one message on a government computer, in 2002: “US foreign policy is askin 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.” (1)
Now he swears he never wanted to disrupt at the highest levels, or disrupt at all, for that matter. McKinnon’s excuses for his behaviour and reasons for why he should not be extradited are, well, freaking weird. They include:
– I shouldn’t be extradited because I was high on beer and pot.
– I shouldn’t be extradited because I’m not even a good hacker.
– I shouldn’t be extradited because the systems were too easy too hack.
– I shouldn’t be extradited because the government should be thanking me for exposing their crap security.
– I shouldn’t be extradited because I hacked for humanitarian reasons.
– I shouldn’t be extradited because I was only looking for goofity-ass UFO/free energy shit.
– I shouldn’t be extradited because I actually found goofity-ass UFO/free energy shit.
– I shouldn’t be extradited because a few other hackers haven’t been extradited.
– I shouldn’t be extradited because I have Asperger’s. That’s got nothing to do with hacking, but I shouldn’t be extradited anyway.
– I shouldn’t be extradited because lots of people hack into U.S. government computers.
Thus far, McKinnon’s lawyers have not resorted to the “beer ‘n pot” or “but everybody else hacks into high-level foreign government databases!” defenses.
McKinnon’s right about at least one thing: He isn’t much of a hacker. He was working with commercial software, had a dial-up modem, and simply found computers that had default passwords. But the notion that “everybody does it” is absurd. Your average, unemployed, potsmoking basement-dweller doesn’t have even these rudimentary skills.
As mentioned, McKinnon has remained at liberty in the UK. He has given numerous TV and press interviews (to Channel 4’s Richard and Judy
, the BBC’s Click
, and of course Project Camelot
). He was part of a hacker panel at the 2006 Infosecurity Europe
conference. He presents himself well, giving lie to the notion that Asperger’s hampers his social interactions in any way.
His attorneys have claimed that U.S. authorities made threats during a 2003 plea bargain attempt which violated his family and private life rights under Article Eight of the European Convention on Human Rights. Specifically, New Jersey prosecutors allegedly told McKinnon he “would fry”. McKinnon’s counsel interpreted this as “chilling and intimidating” reference to capital punishment. (2)
Virginia does have the death penalty and tough anti-cyberterrorism laws, but is it even necessary to remark that cyber-terrorism is not a capital offense? Or that Virginia doesn’t even have an electric chair?
This month, McKinnon signed a statement acknowledging his violation of the U.K. Computer Misuse Act of 1990, and was granted a Judicial Review of his case, slated for March. This raises the question: If it’s this simple, why in the hell did it take so long? Why have British taxpayers been forced to foot the bills for this farce for a large part of the decade?
The fact that the extradition proceedings have dragged on so slowly for so many years is due, in part, to the groundswell of support McKinnon is receiving. His emotional pleas have hit a nerve with many people, and his ridiculous claims have piqued the interest of fringe-science believers. He has complained that he could end up in Gitmo, and that he faces up to 70 years in a U.S. prison (he actually faces as little as 3 if he cooperates).
McKinnon and his supporters contend that he found evidence of secret, reverse-engineered antigravity technology as well as secret space programs (including a “space cadet force”), and that the U.S. hadn’t provided sufficient evidence of the damage McKinnon allegedly caused. Not that they have to; the hacking itself constitutes a crime, whether there was damage or not.
However, it’s not just certifiable nutbars and gullible ufologists who are arguing against Gary’s extradition. London mayor Boris Johnson, in one of his Daily Telegraph columns (4), urged the U.S. Justice Department to drop its “demented quest” to extradict McKinnon. Numerous MPs have protested the extradition. Writer/TV presenter Jon Ronson has declared that McKinnon shouldn’t be extradicted because he poses no threat to American defense. DJ Ron Hemsworth says he’s trying to organize an all-star benefit concert. Last November, 20 MPs (including McKinnon’s own) 20 UK MPs signed a motion which calls for any sentence imposed by a US court to be served in a British jail.
And the National Autistic Society has sent out a mass email asking its supporters to help fight the extradition, because Asperger’s Syndrome people often develop “single-minded, obsessional interests.” (6) Having met a few Asperger folks, I have no trouble accepting this. But the NAS doesn’t bother to mention that these particular obsessional interests are illegal, and that McKinnon knows perfectly well they are illegal. Remember, he has said he wanted to get caught. The NAS also expresses concerns that McKinnon will be incarcerated in a supermax facility, which is vanishingly unlikely. I would really like to know where McKinnon supporters get their information about the U.S. justice system, because their concerns are more reminiscent of Kafka than of any recent court decisions.
The bottom line for supporters, however, is not the specific crime of Gary McKinnon. It’s the extradiction treaty between the U.S. and Britain, which is considered lopsided and unfair to British citizens. If not for the treaty, I sincerely doubt that McKinnon’s case would have drawn any more attention than blurbs in a few UK tabloid magazines. His only supporters would have been UFO enthusiasts.
But do people really know much about the treaty issue? An expose of the U.K.-U.S. extradition treaty at statewatch.org identifies that U.S. Attorney General as “Tom Ashcroft”. (5) It claims the U.S. doesn’t have to provide prima facie evidence to extradite someone from the U.K., but the U.K. must provide “reasonable” evidence when extraditing someone from the U.S. What Statewatch doesn’t mention: The U.K., unlike the U.S., has no constitutional protection against extradition on the say-so of a foreign government. Also not mentioned: The U.K. can refuse extradition if the U.S. state seeking prosecution refuses to guarantee that the death pentaly will not be sought.
The Bottom Line
So does McKinnon possess any, you know, proof that the government is suppressing UFO information and free-energy devices? Nope. Not a shred. He says he found some interesting photos of cigar-shaped UFOs on a computer stored in Building 8 at Johnson Space Center, but they were too large to download. He didn’t write down any of the anti-gravity stuff. So even if he isn’t extradited, there’s zilch he can do for ufology. A FOIA request turned up a whole lot of nothin’.
The idea that McKinnon is being “silenced” is hilarious. How silenced can he can be if he’s sitting on conference panels and chatting with Richard and Judy, for crying out loud? Besides, why silence someone if he has absolutely no evidence of all this wonderful stuff he supposedly found?
Sorry, Dr. Greer. You’ll have to ask the space people for help if you want free energy anytime soon.