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Gary McKinnon Profile

From: UFO UpDates - Toronto <ufoupdates.nul>
Date: Sat, 02 Jun 2007 08:41:30 -0400
Fwd Date: Sat, 02 Jun 2007 08:41:30 -0400
Subject: Gary McKinnon Profile

Source: Security News Magazine - London, UK


June 1st 2007

Profile Gary McKinnon

Being public enemy number one is a lot more mundane than you
might think, the notorious hacker tells Paul Fisher as he awaits

It's a miserable, cold day and the rain has become persistent.
Standing at the entrance to Wood Green tube station, I'm waiting
to meet Gary McKinnon, the man US prosecutors claim is
responsible for the biggest military hack of all time.

That sounds like an honour, but it isn't. For the man who
arrives in jeans, trainers and a baggy black anorak on the other
side of the station entrance it's part of a story that threatens
to take away his liberty and land him in an American prison for
the rest of his life.

The case surrounding McKinnon has been dragging on for more than
five years. What is widely known is that he allegedly hacked
into a number of US military and NASA computers in 2001 and
2002. He was arrested by detectives from the now-defunct high-
tech crime unit after an indictment was issued by US
authorities. Nothing much happened for three years, and McKinnon
became a bit of a celebrity in the hacking community - although
he's keen to point out that he doesn't see himself as any kind
of anti-hero.

Then the extradition threat that had been in the background
since 2002 suddenly became very real in 2005, when the home
secretary cleared the way. Various appeals followed, but since
the start of this year it began to feel that time was running
out for the former system administrator. His appeal to have the
extradition stopped was turned down by the High Court in April,
and his hopes now rest with the House of Lords. But the
procedure is not encouraging; the High Court has to appeal on
his behalf and may refuse to do so. McKinnon now has to wait and
see if he gets a call from the High Court. "It could take ages,"
he sighs. And even then his fate rests with three unnamed law
lords, who may or may not make themselves fully aware of the
facts in the case.

As we sit down to talk in a coffee shop, he tells me that
waiting around is something he has become quite good at over the
past few years. Unable to work, he has to fill his time on the
=A353.14 a week he gets in benefits. Under the terms of his bail
he is banned from using the internet, which, he says was
annoying at first, but he has got used to it. Then there is the
weekly chore of signing on at Wood Green police station to prove
he hasn't fled the country. Not that the life of a fugitive
appeals. "I wouldn't want to flee. Anyway, my passport has been
taken away - even though it ran out in 1982. I've never really
been much of a traveller, I always preferred camping in the UK."

The teenage McKinnon was more interested in science fiction and
UFOs - an interest that has never left him and is largely
responsible for his current predicament. It was his quest for
evidence of UFO activity that led him to poke around in NASA and
US military computers. He claims that the existence of UFOs is
kept secret by a process of ridicule. "Yet, some of the world's
greatest problems could be solved. The oil-based economy would
be out the window," he says. He really does believe this, too.

Meeting McKinnon you quickly realise that he hardly fits the
bill as far as the quasi-terrorist persona the US seem to have
created for him. He's quietly spoken and polite. He seems
relaxed, sipping his tea, yet it's not hard to imagine the
stress he must be under. The beta-blockers his GP prescribed
have helped, he admits.

He says he has always been quite good at compartmentalising
problems in his mind, although I wonder, when faced with a 70-
year prison sentence, how much of a compartment that must take
up. "It prays on my mind, but I try to maintain a fair bit of
optimism, although my core of confidence and wellbeing, that has
been eroded," he says.

In some ways, McKinnon is unlucky. He happened to be active
around the time of 9/11 and its aftermath. A press release
issued in December 2002 by a prosecuting US attorney talks of
the "grave intrusion into a vital military computer system at a
time when we, as a nation, had to summon all our defenses
against further attack". There is also the matter of the
"calling cards" that he is alleged to have left criticising US
policy. This can't have helped his case?

"I might have left messages criticising their security,
sometimes an anti-US government policy message," he admits. But
nothing, he insists, to do with the country or its people. "I've
been there, had a great time. I'm not anti-American. I'm just
anti-US foreign policy over successive governments." And the
alleged damage? "Either they invented that or someone else did
it. I would love to see the evidence of the damage, what
physical form that took," he says.

He's not alone in this. Other security experts I spoke to have
also expressed a degree of scepticism at the US government's
damage estimates - it's extremely difficult to prove. Plus
there's the issue, often overlooked, at the ease with which
McKinnon managed to access so many military-grade systems with
off-the-shelf hacking tools. Others in the security community
have questioned why no one has been brought to book for this.
Some of his supporters say that it is the system administrators
that should be tried and prosecuted, he says.

Has the Free Gary McKinnon website helped or hindered his cause?
"It's definitely helped. In terms of support I've gotten, it
gives a warm feeling." he tells me. He likes the fact that some
US military personnel have left abusive messages - with their IP
addresses traceable.

If his final appeals fail, then this, he says, is what will
happen. It's almost worthy of Kafka. He will get a letter
telling him to report to Heathrow airport, where he will be met
by two US marshals. He will be cuffed, put into leg irons and
taken on to a plane. This will be done by foreign police
officers on British soil to a British citizen.

And when he gets to the US, he may have to wait up to two years
for his case to come to trial - in jail. In an interview with
The Guardian in 2005, he spoke of his terror at the prospect, so
bad that he could hardly control his legs as he walked down the
road or sleep at night. Now he says, it's not as bad, the fear
comes and goes.

He has support from the US as well, especially from the UFO
community, who post onto the website. "Dan Aykroyd mentioned me
on a US chat show, with David Sereda," he tells me with pride.

He believes that he is caught between two conflicting schools of
thought in the US. One is that he has embarrassed the US
government and it might be best if the whole thing was
forgotten, while others feel he should be made an example of. So
what does he think should happen to him? "If I am completely
neutral, I would say that I should be tried, but tried in the
UK. If I am not, I would say that I would like the whole case to
be dropped, as since 2002 my life has been a sentence in
itself," he says.

As far as McKinnon is concerned, the UK government has not
covered itself in glory over this affair. He feels an affinity
with the NatWest Three, extradited to the US for different
reasons, but subject to what many people feel is a one-sided
extradition treaty. He feels very let down by home secretary
John Reid.

"I realised when he was speaking that he understood very little
of the US/UK extradition agreement. He was given an A4 brief. I
understand more than he does," he says. He claims that someone
very senior in the Crown Prosecution Service, told him that
someone "very high up" had gone over Reid's head to ensure he
would be extradited.

So now his hopes of remaining in the UK rest with the High Court
and three unknown Law Lords who will look at his appeal. What
would he say to them? "Please review the US/UK extradition
treaty in its entirety - it's very definitely one-sided. The US
has an agreement with 119 countries. The UK is the only one that
will hand over its own citizens without evidence," he says. And
if, and it's a big if, he is acquitted and gets his life back,
he promises he would devote much of his time to getting that
treaty changed.


In its indictment, the US government charges seven counts of
fraud and related activity that took place between February 2001
and March 2002. Gary McKinnon is accused of illegally accessing
98 computers, variously belonging to the US army, navy, air
force, NASA, Department of Defense and a number of private

On each count, McKinnon faces a maximum sentence of ten years in
prison and a $250,000 fine. According to the US Department of
Justice, he is responsible for "an estimated loss of
approximately $900,000 (=A3454,000)".

However, the exact level of damage caused is one of the most
controversial points in the case against McKinnon. Different
figures are routinely bandied about by the press, and the
wording of the original indictment is ambiguous; it does not
state the actual levels of damage for each of the computers
McKinnon is said to have accessed and damaged.

According to the Free Gary McKinnon website (freegary.org.uk/),
he admits accessing NASA computers as part of his search for
evidence of extra-terrestrial life, but denies deliberately
causing any damage.

McKinnon now faces extradition to the US to face these charges.
If found guilty, he is effectively looking at life imprisonment.
At the time of writing, he is waiting to hear whether his
application of appeal to the House of Lords against the
extradition has been approved by the High Court.

[Thanks to Stuart Miller of http://uforeview.net/ for the lead]

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